Safety in the laboratory

Unless the context dictates otherwise, it is assumed that:

1) Practical work is carried out in a properly equipped and maintained science laboratory
2) Any mains-operated equipment is properly maintained
3) Care is taken with normal laboratory operations such as heating substances
4) Good laboratory practice is observed when chemicals or living organisms are used
5) Eye protection is worn whenever there is any recognised risk to the eyes
6) Pupils and / or students are taught safe techniques for activities such as handling chemicals and microorganisms

Responsibility for safety matters rests with Centres, including tutors as well as students themselves.

General Guidelines include:

1) Do Not Pipette By Mouth – Ever
You say, “But it’s only water.” Even if it is, how clean do you think that glassware really is? Using disposable pipettes? I know lots of people who rinse them and put them back! Learn to use the pipette bulb or automated pipetter. Don’t pipette by mouth at home either. Gasoline and kerosene should be obvious, but people get hospitalized or die every year, right? I know someone who used his mouth to start the suction on a waterbed to drain it. Do you know what they put in some waterbed additives? Carbon-14. Mmmm…radiation. He couldn’t retch fast enough! The lesson is that even seemingly harmless substances may be dangerous!

2) Read the Chemical Safety Information
A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) should be available for every chemical you use in lab. Read these and follow the recommendations for safe use and disposal of the material.

3) Dress Appropriately (for chemistry lab, not fashion or the weather)
No sandals, no clothes you love more than life, no contact lenses, and long pants are preferable to shorts or short skirts. Tie long hair back. Wear safety goggles and a lab coat. Even if you aren’t clumsy, someone else in the lab probably is. If you take even a few chemistry courses you will probably see people set themselves on fire, spill acid on themselves, others, or notes, splash themselves in the eye, etc. Don’t be the bad example to others, remembered for all time for something stupid!

4) Identify the Safety Equipment
And know how to use it! Given that some people (possibly you) will need them, know the locations of the fire blanket, extinguishers, eyewash, and shower. Ask for demonstrations! If the eyewash hasn’t been used in a while the discoloration of the water is usually sufficient to inspire use of safety glasses.

5) Don’t Taste or Sniff Chemicals
For many chemicals, if you can smell them then you are exposing yourself to a dose that can harm you! If the safety information says that a chemical should only be used inside a fume hood, then don’t use it anywhere else. This isn’t cooking class – don’t taste your experiments!

6) Don’t Casually Dispose of Chemicals Down the Drain
Some chemicals can be washed down the drain, while others require a different method of disposal. If a chemical can go in the sink, be sure to wash it away rather than risk an unexpected reaction between chemical ‘leftovers’ later.

7) Don’t Eat or Drink in Lab
It’s tempting, but oh so dangerous… just don’t do it!

8) Don’t Play Mad Scientist
Don’t haphazardly mix chemicals! Pay attention to the order in which chemicals are to be added to each other and do not deviate from the instructions. Even chemicals that mix to produce seemingly safe products should be handled carefully. For example, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide will give you salt water, but the reaction could break your glassware or splash the reactants onto you if you aren’t careful!

9) Take Data During Lab
Not after lab, on the assumption that it will be neater. Put data directly in your lab book rather than transcribing from another source (e.g., notebook or lab partner). There are lots of reasons for this, but the practical one is that it is much harder for the data to get lost in your lab book. For some experiments, it may be helpful to take data beforelab. No, I’m not telling you to dry-lab or cheat, but being able to project likely data will help you catch bad lab procedure before you are three hours or so into a project. Know what to expect. You should always read the experiment in advance.

10) Observe an appropriate disposal procedure for broken glass if present. It should be swept carefully into a suitable container, autoclaved and disposed of in a puncture proof container. Please fill in your information in the Breakage Book for our use to replace the glassware as required. Prevention is better than cure please students!

For more information, please read the following:
Hazardous Chemicals, an interactive manual for science education, SSERC, 2002 (CD)
UK Regulations
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) 2002,
A brief guide may be found at:

Maxim Yap
HoD Chemistry 2012

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