A Laboratory is a facility that provides controlled conditions in which scientific or technological research, experiments, and measurement may be performed.

A Laboratory worker is anyone who carries out an activity within a laboratory. As well as persons carrying out research etc., this includes maintenance work, cleaning and waste collection.

This guide provides guidance on the general safety requirements for working safely within a laboratory:

1) Provision of Information, instruction and Training

  • Identify appropriate laboratory safety rules, commensurate with work activities

  • Ensure rules are clearly communicated, e.g. in department handbook, posted in lab areas, and during induction

  • Record that rules have been read and understood

2) Identify Personal Hygiene Measures to minimise exposure of workers

As a minimum, the following rules should be applied to all laboratories to prevent cross-contamination of potentially hazardous substances:

  • No eating, drinking or chewing gum in laboratories

  • No pipetting by mouth

  • Do not apply cosmetics, including lip balm

  • Do not handle contact lenses (unless in emergency)

  • Wash hands thoroughly prior to leaving laboratory

  • Long hair should be tied back

  • Loose clothing (e.g. sleeves) and dangling jewellery items should be avoided/covered

  • Do not wear open shoes (Flip flips, sandals, crocs)

  • Cover cuts and sores, e.g. with a plaster

  • Mobile phones should not be used

  • Where possible personal items such as coats/bags should not be taken into the laboratory (exception is when access required to office space)

3) Define Housekeeping Standards

All lab workers are responsible for keeping their work area clean and orderly:

  • Only procure and use equipment/chemicals etc. that are needed for current work activity

  • Store unused equipment/chemicals appropriately and safely

  • Dispose of waste promptly and in correct waste containers – items should not be left littering benches/floor

  • Keep walkways/emergency exits clear – chemicals etc. should not be stored on the floor

  • Clean up spills promptly

  • Clean down work area when finished and leave in a safe state

4) Identify and communicate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements

Managers/Supervisors/Principal Investigators should:

  • Ensure PPE requirements are identified within risk/COSHH Assessments

  • Provide PPE where identified to identified standards (e.g. EN166 for safety glasses)

  • Ensure PPE requirements are communicated to lab workers and are understood

Lab Workers should:

  • Wear correct PPE when required

  • Store PPE appropriately when not in use

  • Do not wear potentially contaminated gloves, discard when removed

  • Replace PPE if damaged/faulty

5) Work Equipment Checks

Supervisors/Lab Custodians should:

  • Ensure work equipment is safe for use and maintained in a good condition

  • Ensure work equipment is in good working order and good repair

  • Ensure work equipment is used according to operating / manufacturer’s instructions

Lab Workers should:

  • Check work equipment is safe for use and in a good condition prior to use, e.g. ensure electrical leads are not damaged

  • Only use electrical work equipment with in date PAT

  • Ensure electrical equipment is kept away from flammable materials and water

  • Know how to safely shutdown equipment in event of an emergency

  • Check glassware for any cracks, scratches and sharp edges prior to use. Discard if not fit for use.

6) Gas Safety Requirements

Supervisors/Lab Custodians need to ensure that:

  • The use of gas cylinders is minimised within laboratories/buildings to control fire/asphyxiant risk – unused cylinders should be returned to external gas stores promptly

  • All gas cylinders are individually secured and not left on trollies

  • Gas cylinder regulators are replaced every 5 years in accordance with BCGA Guidance Note (GN7)

  • Oxygen monitors are placed in labs where the potential for asphyxiation has been identified by risk assessment. They should be sited appropriately.

  • Users of Laboratory gases are provided with suitable information, instruction and training in safe use of gases and movement of cylinders, including what to do in an emergency

Lab Workers should:

  • Use gas cylinders in accordance with their training

  • Be aware of what to do in the event of emergency, e.g. leak of gas, oxygen monitor sounds

  • Test safety devices, such as oxygen monitors, periodically to ensure they are functioning correctly

7) Safe Handling of Cryogenic Materials

Supervisors/Lab Custodians need to ensure that:

  • The use of liquid nitrogen/cardice within buildings is minimised and in well-ventilated areas to prevent risk of asphyxiation (BCGA Code of Practice CP30)

  • Dewar filling from bulk storage containers is carried out by trained users only; wearing appropriate PPE

  • Users of cryogenic materials are provided with suitable information, instruction and training in safe use and movement of Dewar’s, including what to do in an emergency

  • Oxygen monitors are placed in labs where the potential for asphyxiation has been identified by risk assessment. They should be sited appropriately.

  • Storage of cryogenic containers is in well ventilated areas, freezers/cold rooms are not appropriate.

Lab Workers should:

  • Use Cryogenic Materials in accordance with their training:

    • Wear appropriate PPE
    • Use tongs to retrieve objects
    • Dispense slowly – avoid splashing/boiling
    • Use loose fitting lids – never seal
    • Only use containers designed for cryogenic use
  • Be aware of what to do in the event of emergency, e.g. leak of gas, oxygen monitor sounds

  • Test safety devices, such as oxygen monitors, periodically to ensure they are functioning correctly

8) Provision and Observation of Safety Signage

  • Provide appropriate signs and signals where identified by risk assessment

  • Ensure signs and signals are clean and legible and remain so

  • This applies to Operational Instruction forms for overnight and unattended experiments

  • Observe signs and signals and follow the warning/instruction given by the sign