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Laboratory Safety

Today, more than ever, safety considerations are extremely important in our laboratory environments.  Yet often we are so caught up in the work we are doing that we forget or ignore safety practices and procedures.  As a result, accidents and injuries in the laboratory have become all too common.

There are a number of reasons that we need to pay more attention to safety in our environment.  We work with increasingly complex equipment and apparatus while, at the same time, something as simple as a crack in a piece of glassware can be enough to create a significant problem.

Lab-SafetyWe have always known that many of the materials that we use can be hazardous if not handled correctly.  That is true today perhaps more than ever before.  Knowing where to go for information about potential hazards, such as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS’s), can make the difference between running a safe experiment or a dangerous one.

Another thing that has significantly affected our laboratory operations are recent OSHA regulations.  The OSHA Laboratory Standard deals specifically with the handling of hazardous chemicals.  The Bloodborne Pathogens regulations address bloodborne diseases and the ramifications of working with infectious materials.  And with the passage of these regulations OSHA has become much more active in overseeing and inspecting laboratory facilities.

There are many elements that are crucial to the establishment of a safe lab environment. Understanding the proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE), safe handling of glassware, vent control, and even proper housekeeping all affect the overall lab safety.  Additionally, knowledge of hazardous chemicals, container labeling and the steps to take in the event of a spill or exposure have become very important in performing our jobs safely.

Topics for consideration:

  • What are some types of PPE used in your lab, and under what situations are they used?
  • What are some of the various potential emergencies that may be faced in a lab environment?  Discuss the steps to be taken in response to these emergencies.
  • What are the primary reasons for clearly labeling all chemicals in the workplace?
  • What types of information should be present on a warning label? What are some of the symbols and codes you are likely to find on a container of potentially hazardous material?

Flammables and Explosives

A flammable can be described as a substance that can readily catch fire and burn under certain conditions.  Conditions that will affect a substance’s likelihood of ignition include the temperature, the concentration of the substance in the atmosphere, and the proximity of other types of chemicals, among others.

We use a number of flammable substances in our laboratories, and even some materials that are potentially explosive.  The damage caused by either one of these types of materials can be severe.  We need to be able to use methods that allow us to work safely with flammable and explosive substances.

Being aware of flashpoints, limits of flammability, ignition temperatures and other information governing the way flammables and explosives act is therefore very important to us.  Likewise, knowing how to protect ourselves when working with these materials and what to do if an emergency should occur is also important.

Topics for consideration:

  • What do the terms “flashpoint,”  “limits of flammability,” and “ignition temperature” mean?
  • What are some examples of common laboratory activities or situations that could ignite flammable or explosive materials?
  • What is the “Fire Triangle?”

Preventing Contamination

Handling hazardous chemicals and specimens requires a great deal of caution.  If we don’t contain them, these materials can spread and contaminate the things around them… including you.

Every day our work calls on us to safely handle substances like Toxins, Corrosives and Carcinogens.  We thing we spend a lot of time protecting ourselves, but are we really doing all we can?


Topics for consideration:

  • What are the sources of information we can use to find out about potential hazards?
  • What are some of the potential contamination hazards faced at your facility?
  • Discuss some of the methods we can use to protect against contamination.

Laboratory Hoods

Many of the materials we work with give off fumes, mists, vapors, particulates and aerosols that are hazardous.  To minimize exposure to these materials we need to take special precautions.  In many cases, this means working within a “hood.”

Hoods can protect us in several ways.  Their sashes provide protection from hazards like chemical splashes and sprays, as well as fires and minor explosions.

A hood also creates a protective barrier by pulling air into and through the workspace.  This inward airflow helps keep hazardous fumes and vapors from escaping and reaching us.

Hoods should be used in much of the work that we do.  To use them most effectively we need to be familiar with how they operate and the proper procedures for using them.

Topics for consideration:

  • From what potential hazards can hoods protect us?
  • What is Face Velocity?
  • How can you test a hood for proper functionality?

Handling Compressed Gas Cylinders

Compressed gas cylinders exist for one reason, to hold large amounts of gas in comparatively small spaces.  By this process of compression, the gas is placed under extreme pressure, and the resulting potential for sudden release or explosion is increased.

Usually, compressed gas cylinders are very safe.  However, there are a number of situations that can cause problems to occur.  Even a small leak can quickly disperse a cylinder’s contents over a large area.

In the laboratory, we use compressed gas in a number of situations and, as a result, we need to understand how the cylinders work and how to handle them safely.

Topics for discussion:

  • What are some potential hazards of improperly handling or storing compressed gas cylinders?
  • What are some of the methods of safely storing pressurized gases?
  • What are some safety considerations that should be observed when moving or transporting compressed gas cylinders within a facility?

Safe Handling of Laboratory Glassware

Laboratory glassware is a well-crafted, highly versatile tool for use in the work environment.  As with any glass however, there is the risk of damage or injury from dropping, bumping, excessive pressure, or drastic temperature changes.  If a piece of glassware should break, there is the possibility of injury from sharp edges or from the release of its chemical contents.

In order to safely handle this type of equipment, it is necessary to understand its risks and limitations, as well as proper inspection methods, handling techniques, and disposal procedures.

Topics for consideration:

  • What are some of the proper techniques required for safely carrying or transporting glassware?
  • What different types of PPE should be used when handling glassware in different situations?


  1. Material Safety Data Sheets in the Laboratory
  2. Electrical Safety in the Laboratory
  3. Laboratory Safety Series: 12 Program Package
  4. Orientation to Laboratory Safety
  5. Laboratory Ergonomics
  6. Laboratory Hoods
  7. OSHA Laboratory Standard Refresher Training
  8. OSHA Laboratory Standard
  9. Planning for Laboratory Emergencies
  10. Safe Handling of Laboratory Glassware
  11. Compressed Gas Cylinders in the Laboratory - OSHA Safety Training
  12. Flammables and Explosives in the Laboratory
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