Safety Guidelines

This section of the online hazard manual for the Lower Division Biology Program describes general safety considerations for students and instructors in a teaching laboratory environment. Even though many of these are commonsense guidelines, you should be familiar with them before engaging in, or teaching, a laboratory activity.


Fostering a Safe Lab Climate

Common Lab Emergencies

Chemical Safety 

First Aid Guidelines

Lab Equipment Checklist


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Contact Personnel  

Safety information, commonsense, patience and cleanliness prevent most accidents. Failing to follow guidelines may result in injury and equipment damage. REPORT accidents or other lab emergencies to any of the Lower Division Staff listed on the Lower Division Staff contact page.


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Fostering A Safe Lab Climate:

The instructor is the key to maintaining a positive safety attitude in the laboratory. The trick is to encourage laboratory safety without creating a fearful climate. Successful lab exercises rely on everyone taking responsibility for safety. 


        Know the safety procedures, potential hazards and precautions for each experiment before teaching or conducting a laboratory exercise.

        Know the location and operation of emergency equipment, what emergency procedures are appropriate and how to summon assistance if needed.

        Understand the chemical hazards and precautions specified in the pertinent MSDSs.

        Explain each experiment and alert others to possible hazards before they begin the lab.

        Foster a serious attitude toward lab content and safety. Supervise students closely while encouraging respect for safety.


Safety guidelines are often ignored. Include safety guidelines in instructions to students and make periodic reminders as needed.


Dress Appropriately:

        Wear comfortable, inexpensive clothing or a lab coat.

        Do not wear sandals or open-toe shoes.

        Confine long hair and remove dangling jewelry.



Turn off equipment when finished:


                                     Turn off hot plates and gas lines when not in use.





Cleanup when you are finished:


                                      Clean work surfaces after each lab.

                                      Clean glassware before you leave.

                                      Wash your hands before leaving.





Handle chemicals carefully:


                                      Do not sniff chemicals!

                                      Wear goggles.

                                       Do not mouth pipet liquids!




Watch what you do in the lab.


                                     Do not eat, drink or use a tobacco product in a lab.

                                     Never eat or drink from laboratory glassware.



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Common Lab Emergencies:

A lab emergency requires the instructor to: Evaluate the situation, notify appropriate personnel, evacuate the lab if necessary and control the problem if possible.



Do not ignore an alarm! Assume it is an emergency and evacuate.


        Use the posted exit. DO NOT USE THE ELEVATOR!

        Direct students to gather on the lawn immediately west of the Peterson building.

        Turn off gas jets, close windows, unlock and close lab doors.

        Join students in the assembly area and take roll. Report missing students to response personnel.

        Wait for clearance before returning to the lab.


Wheelchair bound students need special assistance.

        Move the wheelchair bound person to a fire secure area. In Heldenfels hall, secure areas are the stairwell landings if they are smoke free and the fire doors are closed.

        Place the person out of the way of foot traffic. Use a cell phone or walkie talkie to send someone to request professional assistance.

        When speaking to an emergency responder, identify the person’s condition and location (i.e. “there is a wheelchair bound person in need of assistance on the 3rd floor landing of the north stairwell”). Let rescue personnel handle the evacuation.




Know the location and operating instruction of the lab fire extinguisher. It is rated A-B-C for electrical fires, combustibles and flammable liquids. If a fire occurs DO NOT PANIC!

        Send a student to notify the staff who will issue an alert and summon assistance.

        Evacuate the lab and close doors, windows and hood sashes. Turn off gas lines.

        Confirm the staff has been notified before you leave for the assembly area.



Do not try to extinguish a large fire. If a fire is small, you may choose to try to control it. Stay at least eight feet away from burning liquids and four feet away from other types of fires.

        Lift the extinguisher off its bracket, hold it upright and remove the pin from the handle.

        Point it at the base of the fire, and squeeze the trigger until the retardant is ejected. Some extinguishers have an O2 "cap" which may cause an initial flare-up. If this happens, DO NOT PANIC. Trigger the extinguisher until the retardant is released.

        Invert the extinguisher to obtain additional pressure if needed.




Biological hazards are materials that might be infectious.

        Look for warnings on materials used to transport, handle, or store potentially infectious agents.

        Use leakproof color-coded bags and autoclave prior to disposal.

        Sterilize equipment and surfaces after contact with possibly infectious agents. If autoclaving is not possible, rinse materials with a germicidal detergent or 10% bleach solution.

        Use appropriate protective gear (gloves, lab coat, goggles etc).




Check the first aid section for tips on handling accidents. Improperly discarded sharp waste may injure members of the custodial staff. USE THE GLASS DISCARD CONTAINER for glass sharps waste. Use the METAL WASTE DISCARD for all other sharps waste. Report any injury accidents.


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Know the hazards associated with a chemical before using it. Read the labels, MSDSs and chemical hazard summaries. While most chemicals used in the Lower Division labs are not hazardous, some flammable solvents, poisons, corrosive acids, caustic bases and biohazards are used. Be prepared for an emergency. Locate and know how to use the spill control materials before an accident occurs.





In a serious spill, evacuate the lab before starting the cleanup. Wear the personal protective devices(respirator, goggles, gloves, lab coat) specified by the MSDS. Refer to the MSDS for cleanup procedures. Absorbents used for hazardous chemical cleanup are must also be treated as hazardous materials. Since chemicals often generate fumes, open windows during cleanup. Check the spill control center in the lab for materials to cleanup spills. See the technical staff for assistance during a major cleanup.





It is safest to assume chemicals are toxic unless you know otherwise. In a toxic spill, ventilate and evacuate the lab. Wear protective gear and follow the cleanup procedures given in the MSDS. Avoid contact since many toxicants are rapidly absorbed. Small amounts may cause tissue damage or organic dysfunction if absorbed, ingested, inhaled or injected. Local toxicity occurs at the exposure site while systemic toxicity occurs after absorption by the bloodstream. Acute toxicity results from a single exposure while chronic toxicity is the cumulative effect over time. Symptoms may not develop until after permanent damage occurs.





Fires need fuel, an ignition source and oxygen to burn. Fire control eliminates one or more of these elements. The MSDS describes protective gear and cleanup procedures. Place cleanup materials in an airtight bag to limit exposure to fumes and handle as hazardous materials. Flammable organic solvents have vapors which may form ignitable mixtures in air. This mixture can travel to distant ignition sources so it is essential that ignition sources be controlled. Powders may be an explosive hazard if mixed with air in a confined space.





Open windows to increase ventilation and use appropriate materials to neutralize acid or base spills. Slowly add neutralizer to the spill, working from the perimeter inward until the spill is neutralized. Neutralized slurry measures pH 7 when checked with pH paper. Scoop neutralized material into a disposal bag. Wipe surfaces with a sponge and put the sponge, scoop and gloves in the bag to be disposed of in accordance with local regulations. Always wear the protective gear specified by the MSDS when handling acids or bases.


Contact injuries from acids range from mild irritation to disruption of body tissues. Damage may be caused by chemical reactions, dissolution of essential components, protein destruction or disruption of cellular membranes.


Concentrated alkaline, or base, solutions may be more damaging than acids. Initial contact may not be painful but alkalis gelatinize tissue forming soluble compounds that cause deep, painful, penetrating burns. Relatively dilute solutions dissolve skin fats, soften the epidermis and sensitize the skin. Splash or vapor exposure to the eyes is highly destructive and more difficult to remove than acids.



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First Aid Guidelines:


Lab emergencies may include: thermal and corrosive burns, vapor inhalation, cuts, fainting, poisoning and electrical shock. A prepared instructor will know the first aid guidelines and the location of emergency response materials. Do not move an accident victim unless there is danger of further injury. If a victim must be moved, immobilize the injured area, protect the head from injury, and hold the feet to drag the victim away from danger. Prepare to treat for shock. Shock symptoms include: pallor, a cool "clammy" forehead and dizziness. To treat for shock:


        Place the victim on the floor and cover with a coat or blanket.

        Elevate the victim's legs.

        If a limb is bleeding, bandage it securely and elevate it above the level of the heart until medical assistance arrives.

        Reassure the victim and remain calm.





If someone's clothing ignites, make the victim STOP, DROP AND ROLL! Cover the flames with a jacket or fire blanket and "pat" or "roll" the person to smother the fire. Do not let an ignited person stand in a fire blanket because it may funnel hot gases to the eyes and respiratory tract. Remove loose, smoldering, clothing. Do not remove clothing that is adhered to the skin. Cover severe burns with a sterile dressing and wait for medical aid. Minor burns may be treated in the lab. Immerse the burned area in cool water until the pain is relieved. Do not apply ointment. Minor burns may be left uncovered. Refer the student to the Health Center for additional care.




Read the MSDS sheets and product labels to learn the first aid procedures, health hazards and physical hazards for the chemicals used in each exercise. It is more important to treat a chemical burn immediately than it is to move the victim to a medical facility. Prepare for a chemical contact emergency by locating and knowing how to operate emergency eyewash units and showers. In most cases an eyewash unit or sink will provide adequate flushing of affected areas.



Chemical splashes and vapors may cause permanent eye damage. Damage may be minimized by immediately rinsing the eyes for at least 15 minutes with cold water. Hold the victim's eyelids open to completely flush the eyes.



Chemicals may cause severe burns. Immediately flush skin with cold water. Remove contaminated clothing (including socks and shoes) and rinse at least 10x as long as the chemical was in contact with the skin. Since water-reactive chemicals may react with skin moisture, brush off solid pieces before rinsing with water.






Assume blood or body fluids are infected with bloodborne pathogens. Students with open wounds should not participate in class unless bandages are applied. Wear disposable gloves if contact with body fluids is anticipated. For minor cuts, provide materials and let the person provide self-care. Otherwise:

        Remove glass or debris. Wash the cut with soap and water. Apply antiseptic, cover with a sterile bandage and refer the student to the Health Center.

        For severe bleeding: Use sterile bandage, direct pressure, elevate injury and apply ice. Use a tourniquet only if bleeding cannot be halted by other methods and medical aid is available. Stay calm, be reassuring and prepare to treat for shock.

        Wash all skin surfaces that contact blood or body fluids with soap and water.

        Place disposable items that have contacted blood or body fluids in a biohazard bag and label it infectious waste for proper disposal. Wash surfaces and materials that contact blood with a 10% bleach solution.




Review the MSDS before using a chemical. Poisoning may occur by ingestion, inhalation, skin absorption or injection. Limit chemical exposure by promptly irrigating contact areas with large amounts of water. Wear protective clothing when handling chemicals.




POISONING BY SKIN CONTACT - Chemicals may irritate skin and mucous membranes. Many easily absorbed chemicals have systemic effects. Toxicants are rapidly spread by the circulatory and lymphatic systems once they enter via hair follicles, sweat glands or open wounds. Clothing contamination increases chemical exposure by concentrating the chemical in localized areas. Most chemicals cause irritation, pain or vision loss if they contact the eyes. Always flush exposed areas with cold water for at least 15 minutes.



POISONING BY INGESTION - Since only trace amounts can be ingested by swallowing contaminated air, the primary route of entry is purposeful or accidental ingestion. This is often treated with liquids (never give liquids to an unconscious person). Get medical aid if toxic or corrosive chemicals are ingested.

        Dilute acids with large amounts of water. With medical approval, a sodium bicarbonate solution may be used to neutralize the acid. Do not induce vomiting!

        Dilute alkalies with large amounts of water. With medical approval, a vinegar solution may be used to neutralize the base. Do not induce vomiting!



POISONING BY INHALING VAPORS - The lung's surface area is greater than 100 square meters and inhaled toxicants are rapidly absorbed by the bloodstream. The chemical absorption rate increases with the respiration rate. Some toxicants give sensory warnings (pain or odor) that allow immediate action to be taken. However, significant damage may occur before the danger is detected and since olfactory fatigue may prevent detection, sensory warning should not be used as the primary defense for inhalation hazards.

        Move the victim to fresh air and provide respiratory aid if needed. Get medical help.

        Open windows to ventilate the room.



POISONING BY INJECTION - It is possible to inject toxins without a hyperdermic syringe. The equivalent of a deliberate injection may occur from a cut caused by chemically contaminated glass or metal.





Electrical shock may occur if students misuse equipment, put implements into electric outlets, damage power cords, etc. Be prepared for an electrical shock accident. Do not touch anyone in contact with "live" wires!

        Turn off the power at the lab circuit breaker box.

        Remove the source of the shock.

        Provide artificial respiration if needed.

        Summon medical assistance.




Fainting episodes occur during "flu" outbreaks and exams. Some students may faint after "sniffing" a chemical and others may have a medical condition that


causes fainting or seizures. Summon medical assistance whenever anyone is rendered unconscious.


Do not restrain a seizure victim. Pad nearby furniture to reduce the chances of the person being injured during the event. Do not place anything in a the victim's mouth. Check respiration after the episode. The victim may be disoriented or embarrassed afterwards so remain calm and reassuring. Most individuals who faint do not experience seizures. Remain calm and evaluate the situation. Summon medical assistance.


        Limit head, neck or spinal cord injury by keeping the victim still. Do not unnecessarily move the individual.

        If needed, clear the airway and assist respiration.

        Treat for shock if needed.

        Inform medics of any unusual symptoms or possible injuries.



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Lab Safety Equipment Checklist:


An adequately equipped laboratory will have these emergency response materials readily available:


Chemical Spill Response Center which includes:

        Inert solvent absorbent (vermiculite)

        Acid neutralizer

        Alkali neutralizer


        Rubber apron

        Rubber gloves

        Chemical cartridge respirator and dust masks

        Rubber shoe covers

        Plastic scoop

        Waste disposal bag and labels


An adequately equipped lab will also have:


        Material Safety Data Sheet File

        Well stocked first aid kit

        Eyewash unit

        Emergency shower available

        Fire extinguisher


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See Table of Contents page for copyright notice. Email author with any suggestions for improvements or if you have problems making links. Last Updated March 31, 2015