The Laboratory Safety Program at the University of Waterloo

All laboratory work carries with it the potential to cause significant harm to you and to those around you.  To minimize this harm, the University of Waterloo is taking a risk-based approach to laboratory safety.  The process involves three steps:

  1. Identifying all hazards associated with the processes or methods, materials, and equipment used to perform work.
  2. Rating these hazards into categories of risk.
  3. Implementing controls sufficient to eliminate or reduce risk to an acceptable level.

Hazards deemed high risk must be controlled immediately.  Hazards identified to be of moderate risk should also be controlled immediately, but temporary controls (such as the use of PPE) can be used until a permanent solution is found.  Finally, hazards identified to be of low risk should be monitored to ensure their risk does not increase.

Objectives of the Laboratory Safety Program

The objective of this laboratory safety program is to eliminate or reduce the risk that laboratory work poses to researchers, workers, students, and any other person exposed to the hazards laboratory work creates.


The information provided on this pages applies to all laboratory activities that pose a potential for harm or injury to persons or infrastructures.  Other health and safety programs at the University of Waterloo provide more detailed operating procedures and guidance for various activities.  Examples of these include the Biosafety Program, the Laser Safety Program, the Nanosafety Program, etc...

Links to these programs can be found in the menu on the left of the screen or below in Table 1.


Principle Investigators 

The primary responsibility for the safety of workers, students, and the public lies with the Principal Investigator.  The principal investigator is considered a supervisor under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in Ontario.  In this role they must ensure the following duties are met:

  • Hazards associated with the work being performed and the work environment have been identified
  • The risk associated with all identified hazards are eliminated or minimized
  • Work is performed and the work environment is kept within the scope of the governing legislation and applicable standards
  • Hazards associated with the work performed and the work environment are communicated to those performing it.
  • Workers and students are competent to perform the work they have been assigned
  • Report and investigate laboratory incidents

Workers and Students

Workers and students are expected to:

  • Report any hazards, incidents, or injuries to their direct supervisor
  • Follow all procedures as written or required for the work they are performing
  • Follow all legislative requirements as  prescribed in Ontario, the Region of Waterloo and City of Waterloo
  • Attend any training sessions deemed necessary to complete their work in a competent manner
  • Wear any personnel protective equipment as required

The Safety Office

The Safety Office acts on behalf of the University of Waterloo to support legislative requirements, and the overall reduction of risk to workers, students, faculty and visitors.  It is a resource that interprets legislation and standards, develops tools to assist PI’s, workers, and other individuals performing work on campus.  Some of the resources the Safety Office provides includes:

  • Web-based and classroom training courses
  • Consultations on legislative requirements
  • Exposure assessments
  • Designated substance assessments
  • Assistance with accident and incident investigations
  • Much more…

In other words, the Safety Office is a resource for the University of Waterloo that recommends best practices and standards to minimize risk.  We do not make things safe, we help you to assess the work you perform in order to control the risks you may face while working.

Laboratory safety committee

The laboratory safety committee (LSC) is a volunteer group of individuals from various faculties at the University of Waterloo.  It's main function is to monitor laboratory risk and act in a advisory role to the Vice-President, University Research, and the Safety Office.  For more information on the committee please click here:

Laboratory Safety Committee

Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment

When a research project is proposed it is expected that the Principle Investigator will analyze the methods, equipment, and materials being used in order to identify:

  • Potential or existing hazards,
  • The level of risk for each hazard; and,
  • The controls that will be implemented to either eliminate or minimize the risk of each hazard.

This process is called “Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment”.  The purpose is to proactively identify and eliminate or reduce the risk of any hazard that may pose a significant potential for harm to individuals or the work environment.  Completing this process before work is conducted allows one to implement and plan controls more efficiently and cost effectively.  That does not mean the process should not be performed if work has already begun.  A hazard and risk assessment can be performed at any time.

Risk Assessment Tools

Each research project is unique, or will have some unique element to it.  That is why risk must be analyzed using tools appropriate to the work being conducted, and/or the materials/equipment being used.  The table below houses links to various hazard assessment tools for laboratory work taking place on campus.  Table 1 below also provides links to the other specific laboratory safety programs.

Table 1: Laboratory Safety programs and their associated risk assessment tools.

Full Program - these links go to other pages on our website.

Hazard Assessment Tool - these links go to external documents, or an online tool.

Biosafety Program

1.      Pathogen Risk Assessment

2.      Local Risk Assessment - Note, can only be used if you already have a valid permit.

Laser Safety Program

Laser Risk Assessment

Nanomaterials Safety Program

UW Nanomaterials Risk Assessment

Radiation Safety Program

Radiation Risk Assessment

X-ray Safety Program

X-ray Risk Assessment

Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment General Lab Risk Assessment Form

* Note: To view the full safety program for each respective topic, click on the links in the left column.  To view only the risk assessment tools associated with each safety program, click on the links in the right column.

Laboratory Hazard Fact Sheets and Standards

Below is a list of laboratory hazard related fact sheets and standards.  These fact sheets have been grouped into the following three categories: Chemicals, Processes, and Equipment.  The fact sheets are displayed in the three columns below.  Simply click on the one that you wish to view for an in-depth review of the hazard.  If there is a specific fact sheet you would be interested in being displayed here, please contact the Safety Office and should the need arise, we will develop it.


Chemical Storage in Laboratories

Gases - Compressed Gas Standard

Gases - Ethylene Oxide

Gases – Hydrogen

Gases – Oxygen

Gases – Toxic

Liquids - Flammable Solvents

Liquids - Hydrogen Fluoride Standard

Liquids - Inorganic Acids

Liquids - Organic Acids

Peroxide Forming Compounds (Chemistry SOP)



Emergency Response – Cleaning up biologically related material spills

Emergency Response - Cleaning up chemical spills

Emergency Response – Cleaning up Nanomaterials

Emergency Response – Cleaning up Radioactive material spills

Emergency Response – Fires

Purifying Solvents

Laboratory Waste Disposal Guidelines

Requirements when transporting chemicals

Equipment Disposal From Labs


Case Studies

Below are two video links released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), illustrating how a lack of understanding hazards, and a lack of controlling hazards can lead to injury and harm.  These are real events.

Fire claims life of 23 year old UCLA research assistant

Update on UCLA Lab Death

An agreement has been reached between UCLA's Chemistry Professor Patrick Harran and the LA Superior Court on his felony charges due to the fire related death of a research assistant in 2009.

Follow this link to read the update:

Texas tech graduate student injured in lab explosion