General Laboratory Safety
Principal Investigators (PI) have primary responsibility for activities within their laboratories, including safety, but maintaining a safe laboratory workplace is really a collaborative effort between PIs, academic departments, employees, and EHS.
Laboratories can present a wide variety of hazards to researchers – chemical, biological, and radioactive materials are common, but also physical injuries, extreme hot/cold temperatures, noise, and ergonomic stress. General guidance on laboratory safety is provided in the Laboratory Safety Manual, but specific guidance on hazards within a laboratory must be provided by the PI or his/her department, based on a laboratory hazard assessment.
Regardless of the type or source of hazard, controlling or minimizing the risk for laboratory workers is best accomplished through a tiered approach, called the hierarchy of controls:
- Elimination/Substitution: Removing a hazardous substance or process from your experiment, or substituting a less hazardous alternative. This is the preferred method for minimizing hazards.
- Engineering Controls: Designing the process so that laboratory employee exposure to the hazardous substance or process is minimized. Using closed system piping, automated processes, or mechanical ventilation (e.g., fume hoods, biosafety cabinets, local exhaust) are all types of engineering controls.
- Administrative Controls: Administrative controls include using proper signs and labels to communicate hazards, establishing standard operating procedures (SOP) and protocols for laboratory work, completing relevant safety and equipment training, restricting access to high-risk areas, and prohibiting the consumption or food or beverage within the lab.
- Personal Protective Equipment: Standard PPE requirements for working in a laboratory are a laboratory coat, nitrile or latex gloves, and protective eyewear (glasses or goggles), although individual labs may have more or less stringent requirements. Please remember that laboratory coats and nitrile/latex gloves are for contamination prevention, not for sustained chemical resistance! If you will be conducting operations that are expected to result in sustained contact with chemical substances, please contact EHS.
Each laboratory must maintain a Supplemental Laboratory Safety Plan (SLSP) that should identify laboratory-specific hazards and safety procedures, accident or emergency response measures, and required personal protective equipment. The SLSP also includes a Laboratory Training Signature Sheet that should be used to document lab-specific training for all lab employees.
For assistance in evaluating laboratory hazards within your laboratory, or for more information on general laboratory safety, please contact EHS.