Working Safely in the Laboratory

Research and scientific laboratories often present a wide range of hazards to researchers and students. Having in place specific procedures for laboratories is crucial in ensuring the safety of staff and students who work in these areas. This guideline outlines the requirements for working in a laboratory for University staff and postgraduate students.

Definition of a Laboratory

A laboratory can be a place of specialised research, clinical or diagnostic evaluation, teaching and/or learning. Laboratories are commonly used in many scientific disciplines across the University ranging from health sciences to biological and physical sciences.

Responsibilities for Occupational Health and Safety

The following persons have responsibilities for OH&S at the University:

Occupational Health and Safety Committee is responsible for implementing and maintaining occupational health and safety standards and practices in laboratories and teaching facilities under their control. To achieve compliance, this committee should ensure that:
  • Laboratories and equipment provided for research are safe and suitable for the types of work carried out;
  • Financial provisions are made for health and safety equipment and materials, as well as the maintenance of occupational health and safety standards;
  • Staff and students receive the appropriate information, instruction and training necessary for them to perform their work safely.
  • Rules and procedures are prepared and enforced for staff and students working in laboratories;
  • Emergency equipment is provided for research projects and that staff and students are aware of emergency and evacuation procedures. 

Lab Safety Committee of Chemistry Department is responsible for providing a healthy and safe environment for students and postgraduate students in the department. The following should be ensured:
  • Risk management principles are applied to the research that staff and postgraduate students are engaging in. The risk assessment process, including controls to be adopted should be documented by this committee;
  • Safe work practices are developed and maintained at all times;
  • Postgraduate students receive the appropriate information and supervision necessary for them to carry out their studies safely;
  • Students are warned about particular hazards, and how to avoid, eliminate or minimise their exposure to them;
  • Proper attitudes towards health and safety are practiced and transferred to the students;
  • Students under their control are using safety equipment provided in the correct manner,
  • All students understand the disciplinary procedures that will be invoked for non-compliance with occupational health and safety instructions and University policies and procedures;
  • Accidents and Incidents are recorded on the Injury, Illness and Incident Report Form 

Laboratory Safety Rules
  • Food and drink (including drinking from water bottles) must not be consumed in laboratories
  • Unauthorised entry or experimentation in the laboratories is strictly forbidden;
  • Staff and Postgraduates wishing to use the laboratory out of normal work hours must obtain their supervisor and the laboratory managers permission;
  • All researchers must be aware of the conditions required for the safe handling of substances and specimens being handled;
  • Be aware of the safety facilities of the laboratory, i.e. location of safety showers, eyewash stations, fire extinguishers and emergency exits;
  • Working spaces are to be kept clean. Broken glass sharps, and laboratory waste must be placed in the marked bins in the laboratory.
  • No waste is to be left or placed in the sinks, and under no circumstance must waste be placed down the sink, unless authorised to do so.
  • All spillages must be cleaned up immediately after they occur;
  • Be aware of burning Bunsen burner by noting a hollow burning sound and/or the absence of a blue cone of unburnt gas;
  • No samples are to be taken from, or brought into, the laboratory without the permission of your Supervisor or the Laboratory Manager
  • Pipetting by mouth is strictly prohibited;
  • Defective equipment or broken glassware must be reported to the laboratory manager;
  • Radioactive sources (e.g. laser, UV radioactive substance or arc lamp) must only be used following the direction and supervision of the supervisor or laboratory manager or radiation safety officer.
  • Sitting on laboratory benches is prohibited. Never run in the laboratory or along corridors.
  • Cover any open wounds e.g. cuts, dermatitis on hands;
  • Always wash hands thoroughly before leaving the laboratory. 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
PPE is widely recognised as a means of protection for individuals working in an environment where all other methods of hazard control are in place and there is still a risk of injury. You must remember that PPE is the last barrier or line of defence between you and the hazardous material you are working with. The minimum PPE you are required to wear when working in University Laboratories are:


Enclosed Shoes (no bare feet, or sandals)
Lab Coat (must be individually issued, worn at all times when working in the lab, removed before leaving the lab and laundered regularly and when contamination is suspected). The following additional PPE is provided and should be used where required / instructed / determined by a risk assessment:
  • Safety Glasses / Goggles must be worn when working with hazardous chemical solutions where there is a risk of splash to your eyes or when instructed to do so by your Supervisor or the Lab Manager.
  • Gloves
  • Dust Mask / Respirator
  • Face Shield must be worn when working with volatile hazardous chemical solutions (eg. concentrated acids), dangerous substances that could strike/splash the face/eyes or there is a risk of solution explosion or instability causing a splash to the face/eyes and when there is a risk of dangerous objects striking the face/eyes, such as particles, glass or metal shards. 

First Aid
  • All accidents must be reported immediately to the supervisor/laboratory manager and recorded on the Injury, Illness and Incident Database.
  • Eye injuries, whether caused by chemicals or mechanical injury or splash with a material, eye injuries are always serious. The treatment requires immediate and prolonged flushing with water (20 minutes minimum) at the eyewash station. Medical advice should be obtained for an eye injury.
  • In the event of chemical or biological spills on the skin, the affected area must be washed with copious quantities of water.
  • Sharps injuries – Notify supervisor/lab manager immediately. Wash the wound and encourage bleeding. Seek medical treatment.
  • If you are feeling unwell or dizzy when participating in an experiment, stop immediately, sit down and notify supervisor/lab manager.