Laboratory Safety Made Simple
Last Update: December 29, 2010
The following is by Lori Keen, who is the Calvin College Biology Department’s Laboratory Manager, and it has been modified slightly from her original text. It is an alternative to the usual “Do-Not Lists”, although if you want these they can be found elsewhere on this web page.
The secret to laboratory safety is simple; first know the hazards and then eliminate or minimize the risk to yourself and your coworkers.
When starting any lab procedure first determine the hazards. Ask “How can this process/reagent/organism hurt me or those around me?” Some ways materials can hurt you include:
- Flammable or combustible (catch fire easily)
- Corrosive (chemicals that cause burns to skin and mucous membranes)
- Toxic (materials with cumulative or chronic, but not acute effects)
- Infectious (blood and body fluids, bacterial cultures)
- Sharp (broken glass, needles, pipets, razor blades)
- Electrical (electrophoresis equipment, stirring hotplates)
- Heat (boiling liquids, hotplates)
- Chemically reactive (acids mixed with bases)
Then ask “What can I do to prevent getting hurt?” Your answer will always involve one or more of the following (note that “do nothing” isn’t an option):
- Change the Procedure or Process. In most laboratory exercises that you will encounter as an undergraduate the faculty have already done this. However, research activities, either in an upper-level class or as independent project, usually will not have been modified. It is your responsibility, working in conjunction with the faculty, to make sure that your risk in the laboratory is minimized.
- Work Practices. These include many of the items listed on the Lab Attire and Hygiene and Behavior pages such as keeping a clean lab, prohibiting food and drink in the lab and hand washing. Work practices must also include the use of personal protective equipment, such as safety glasses, gloves, lab coats, and proper footwear.
- Engineering Controls. This includes the use of chemical fume hoods, sharps boxes and other devices that eliminate the risk of exposure to hazardous objects and substances.
The following links are to Truman web pages where universally accepted work practices are given.