Laboratory safety

General lab rules

  • No food or drink allowed in the lab
  • No tampering with wires or network cables
  • No use of illegal software
  • No compromising building or network security

General practices | Laboratory security | Electrical safety | Rotating components | Chemicals | Unattended procedures | Unauthorized experiments | Online resources

General practices

Safety is a mutual responsibility. Familiarize yourself with the location and use of safety facilities. Know how to operate and understand the hazards before using any equipment. Failure to comply with the following rules may result in dismissal or suspension of laboratory privileges.
  • Be aware of the risks that are present in the particular lab you are working in.
  • Know and follow the safety rules and safe procedures.
  • Fire doors must be kept closed at all times.
  • Know and understand the hazards, safe handling, and standard operating procedures of the materials, equipment, and methods being used.
  • Review SDSs, equipment manuals, and procedure instructions before attempting to operate any machine or instrument.
  • Familiarize yourself with properties, hazards, and safe handling procedures of any chemicals or potentially hazardous materials before use.
  • Read labels carefully.
  • Never hurry. Work deliberately and carefully.
  • Learn the location of emergency exits, fire alarms, fire extinguishers, etc.
  • If you are unsure of any work to be done, ask the laboratory supervisor before proceeding.
  • Running, horseplay, pranks, and practical jokes are prohibited.
  • Report accidents and near misses promptly to the laboratory supervisor immediately.
  • Never operate equipment alone. Make sure that others are present and know how to react in an emergency. Always warn others of possible hazards.

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  • Do not use stairways or hallways for storage
  • Aisles must be kept clear
  • Never block access to exits, emergency equipment, e.g. fire extinguishers, eye wash stations, emergency showers, or electrical panels
  • Maintain a clear 36” diameter area around all fire sprinkler heads
  • Keep work area clear of all materials except those needed for your work
  • Maintain an orderly work area. If you spill something, clean it up immediately
  • Extra books, purses, etc. should be kept away from equipment that requires air flow or ventilation to prevent overheating
  • Equipment and chemicals must be properly stored and labelled
  • Clean up your work area once experiments are completed and before leaving
  • Properly dispose of materials, if any, in proper containers. Waste batteries can be deposited into receptacles for recycling
  • If leaving a lab unattended, turn off all ignition sources and lock the doors
  • Ensure drawers and doors are closed after use so they do not present a bump or trip hazard
  • Store large, heavy, or breakable items on lower and middle shelves
  • Be careful when lifting heavy objects
  • Step stools must be used to access items on high shelves
  • Do not overcrowd storage areas and shelves
  • Remove empty boxes and packing materials from lab

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  • Consumption of food, gum, and/or drink (including water) in research and teaching labs is prohibited
  • Use of lab equipment to store or prepare food is prohibited
  • Eating, drinking, smoking, handling contact lenses, applying cosmetics, and storing food for human consumption is not permitted in laboratory areas. If food is stored, it is done so outside the laboratory area in cabinets or refrigerators designated and used for this purpose
  • Wash hands before leaving lab and before eating

Clothing and personal protective equipment

  • Long hair must be tied back
  • No loose clothing may be worn (ties, jewellery, scarves, drawstrings, etc.)
  • Closed toe shoes must be worn
  • Wear appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment, ensuring that it is in good working condition
    • Long sleeves should be worn to minimize burn hazards e.g. when using the soldering station
    • Short sleeves or long sleeves rolled above elbow should worn around moving parts to minimize entanglement hazards
    • No shorts
  • Appropriate gloves must be worn to protect hands from chemicals or high temperatures
  • Work gloves must be worn to protect hands from abrasions
  • Safety glasses should be worn, especially when there is a risk for flying objects
  • Remove gloves before touching computers or phones, opening doors, etc.

Laboratory security

Keep laboratories locked when unoccupied to avoid unauthorized entry. Leave doors unlocked while working in laboratory in case assistance is needed.
Individual users are responsible for the security of any space to which they have keys or combination codes and shall not admit unauthorized or non-registered persons into that space. Safeguarding University resources from unauthorized access, misuse, or removal is a duty of all faculty and staff. All laboratory users have a responsibility to take reasonable precautions against theft or misuse of materials, particularly those that could threaten the public. Any extraordinary laboratory security measures should be commensurate with the potential risks and imposed in a manner that does not unreasonably hamper research.

Electrical safety

There is always a potential danger of electric shock or fire whenever there are outlets, plugs, wiring, or connections.
  • Familiarize yourself with the location of circuit breaker panels in labs.
  • Maintain an unobstructed access to all electrical panels.
  • Electrical cords must be secured.
  • Connect to the power source LAST.
  • Turn off and unplug equipment (instead of relying on interlocks that can fail) before removing the protective over to replace a part, adjust, or troubleshoot.
  • Do not use an electrical outlet switch if the protective cover is ajar, cracked, or missing.
  • All electrical apparatus must be properly grounded.
  • Never remove the ground pin of a 3-pronged plug.
  • Do not run wires over moving or rotating equipment, on the floor, or string them across walkways from bench to bench, as this creates a tripping hazard.
  • DO NOT use electric wires as supports and never pull on live wires.
  • Ensure that all wires are dry before plugging into circuits.
  • Remove electrical cords from the receptacle by grasping and pulling the plug, not the cord.
  • Always pick up and carry portable equipment by the handle or base.
  • Only use DRY hands and stand on a dry surface when using electrical equipment, plugging in an electric cord, etc.
  • If electrical equipment emits smoke or a burning smell, shut off power immediately and take it out of service for repair.

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Extension cords

Avoid using extension cords whenever possible.
  • Extension cords must only be used as a temporary solution and should be appropriately rated for the job.
  • Do not run extension cords under doors, across aisles, or hang from ceiling.
  • Do not overload circuits by using power strips or multiple outlets on regular sockets.
  • “Piggy-backing” or “daisy-chaining” of extension cords is prohibited.

Report abnormal wear, damage or equipment Failure

  • Inspect electrical cords regularly – replace frayed or damaged cords and repair broken plugs.
  • Inspect electrical equipment with power off and unplug frayed and damaged connections.
  • If a piece of equipment fails while being used, report it immediately.
  • Report defects/faults to your supervisor.
  • If you receive a mild shock from a piece of equipment, turn it in for repair.
  • Tag/label equipment UNSAFE – DO NOT USE and describe the problem.
  • Do not attempt to repair electrical equipment yourself. Only qualified and trained people should repair or modify electrical or electronic equipment.
All electrical equipment purchased, regardless of voltage, must be certified by an approved authority. Equipment will have a field approval mark from the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), Electrical Safety Authority (ESA), or an equivalent field approval mark acceptable under the Electrical Safety Code, i.e. Ontario Hydro (OH), International Approval Services (IAS), ULC. Do not bring into the lab or use in the lab equipment that does not conform to ESC rules without specific permission from your instructor, TA, or lab technical personnel.

Rotating components

  • Do not work alone and ensure that the other person is familiar with the location of the emergency switch.
  • Ensure that the emergency switch is easily accessible.
  • Wherever possible, cover all moving components.
  • Do not touch moving parts. There are numerous pinch points on the conveyor rollers and belt.
  • Do not enter the middle area of the conveyor system.
  • Do not attempt to adjust settings without assistance from the laboratory personnel.


  • Treat every chemical as if it were hazardous.
  • Read SDS before using a chemical.
  • Wear safety goggles.
  • Make sure all chemicals are clearly and currently labelled with the substance name, concentration, date, and name of the individual responsible.
  • Never return chemicals to reagent bottles. Try for the correct amount and share any excess.
  • Comply with fire regulations concerning storage quantities, types of approved containers and cabinets, proper labelling, etc. If uncertain about regulations, contact the lab manager/instructor/teaching assistant.
  • Never allow a solvent to come into contact with your skin. Always use gloves.
  • Never “smell” a solvent. Read the label on the solvent bottle to identify its contents.
  • Dispose of waste and broken glassware in proper containers.
  • Clean up spills immediately.
  • Do not store food in laboratories.
  • Do not overfill or under-fill equipment

Unattended procedures

Do not leave an on-going experiment unattended.
  • Unattended lab procedures should be reviewed by the lab supervisor to ensure all hazards are controlled before leaving the experiment unattended.
  • Unattended procedures should be visited periodically.
  • Post contact information for the person conducting the experiment in case of emergency.
  • Unattended heating may be done only with heating equipment that reliably maintains stable temperatures.
  • Remove any flammable or combustible materials from the area.

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Unauthorized experiments

Never do unauthorized experiments. Research or other activities involving the use of lab space, materials, or equipment without the knowledge and approval of the responsible principal investigator is strictly prohibited. 

Online resources

The Safety Office serves as a health, safety, and environment (HSE) resource for health and safety. The Safety Office oversees many programs on campus and has specific procedures that must be followed to ensure compliance with UW policy and governmental regulations.
Most governments have posted regulations pursuant to health and safety on the web and many institutions have placed their health and safety policies, procedures, and programs on the web as well.