Lab Safety Basics

Summary: Below are general safe laboratory practices for personnel working in laboratories where hazardous chemicals are used and/or stored.
  1. Understanding Hazards:
    1. KNOW THE HAZARDS OF THE CHEMICALS YOU ARE WORKING WITH! Consult the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) or other appropriate references prior to using a chemical with which you are unfamiliar.
    2. Assume that unknown materials are toxic, and that a mixture is more toxic than its most toxic compound.
    3. Minimize exposure to all chemicals regardless of toxicity or their familiarity. Most laboratory chemicals have not been fully characterized with respect to their toxicity; as such, it is prudent to implement procedures that will minimize the likelihood of exposure. Skin contact should always be avoided. Avoid inhalation of chemicals; never “sniff” to test chemicals.
  1. Emergencies: Know the location and proper use of emergency equipment, such as safety showers, fire extinguishers, and fire alarms.
  1. Engineering Controls: Minimize chemical exposure through consistent and proper use of laboratory fume hoods, glove boxes or other ventilated enclosures.
  1. Personal Protective Equipment: When working with hazardous materials or physical hazards, wear:
    1. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), which includes a lab coat, safety glasses, and disposable nitrile gloves at minimum. Some hazards require additional PPE, refer to Selecting Personal Protective Equipment for guidance
    2. Appropriate street clothing, which includes long pants (or equivalent) that cover legs and ankles and non-perforated, closed-toe shoes that completely cover the feet.
  1. Working Alone and Unattended Operations:
    1. Consult with your Principal Investigator if planning to work alone or running an unattended operation.
    2. Communicate with others in the building when working alone in the laboratory; let them know when you arrive and leave. Avoid working alone in the laboratory when performing high-risk operations.
    3. Use cautious judgment when leaving unattended operations: i) Post signs to communicate appropriate warnings and precautions, ii) Anticipate potential equipment and facility failures, and iii) Provide containment for release of hazardous chemicals.
  1. Avoid Ingesting Chemicals:
    1. Wash your hands frequently to minimize chemical exposure through ingestion and direct contact with the skin.
    2. Always wash hands before eating, drinking, smoking, or applying cosmetics.
    1. Use mouth suction for pipetting or siphoning.
    2. Consume or store food/beverages or apply cosmetics in laboratories (including refrigerators and cold rooms) or chemical storage areas.
  1. Labeling: Label all chemical containers with the identity of the contents (no abbreviations/acronyms); hazard warning and chemical concentration information should also be included.
  1. Transporting: Use appropriate safety carriers (secondary containment) when transporting chemicals either inside or outside of the building.
  1. Lab Cleanliness: Keep work area clean and uncluttered; clean up work area on completion of an operation or at the end of the day.
  1. Cold/Warm Rooms: As most controlled temperature rooms (i.e., cold/ warm rooms) lack mechanical exhaust (100% recirculated air), storage and use of toxic substances, flammable solvents, corrosive acids, asphyxiants (such as nitrogen and carbon dioxide), and open flames (e.g. Bunsen burners) are strictly prohibited.