Safe Lab Practices

Good lab practices are an integral part of conducting research safely.  Engineering controls can limit exposure to hazards and PPE can protect a researcher's body, but making sure your behavior doesn't expose you or your colleagues to risks is important.  These safe lab practices cover many of the common routes of exposure but are by no means a comprehensive list.

No Food or Drink

Consuming food in the lab can pose many hazards.

  • Eating or drinking in the lab can, first and foremost, increase your risk of exposure to hazardous materials.  
  • Food or drink can leave a mess increasing the risks for contamination of your experiments and potentially attracting pests.
  • Eating or drinking in the lab can also be a distraction that can lead to a spill or more serious incident.

Wear Your PPE and Proper Lab Attire

Lab coat, gloves, eye protection, and appropriate attire should be worn at all times in the lab. 

  • Long pants and shoes completely covering the top of the foot should be worn at all times when working in the lab.  
  • Lab coats will protect your clothes and your skin from splashes, spills, or other exposures to chemical or biological agents, and flames in some cases.
  • Safety glasses or goggles will protect your eyes from physical of chemical harm.  Skin will heal after minor burns or lacerations but your eyes will not.  Eyes are fragile and safety glasses take about three seconds to put on, an eye injury can be permanent.
  • Gloves protect your skin from hazardous materials your hands may come into contact with.  However exposure can occur when removing gloves and disposing of them.  Follow the steps in the video below to properly remove any gloves used in the lab. 

Good Hygiene

  • Wash hands after handling any hazardous materials, before and after eating, and before leaving the lab. 
  • Keeping personal items separate from lab work.  This will prevent spread of hazardous reagents and cut off a potential exposure route.
  • Do not apply cosmetics while in the lab.  Applying anything to your face, especially around your mouth or eyes, pose a significant risk of exposure.
  • Dry and cracked skin can provide a route to exposure.  Using lotion to keep the skin on your hands healthy can help prevent exposure.

Use Proper Storage Containers

This applies to individual containers, storage cabinets, and waste. 
  • Storing organic solvents in plastic bottles can compromise the container, just like acids in metal containers or HF in glass.  Chemicals should be stored in containers made of materials that will not react.
  • Large volumes of flammable chemicals must be stored in fire rated cabinets.  Acids and caustics should ideally be stored in separate cabinets lined with plastic to prevent any vapors from reacting with the metal housing.  Chemicals known to react violently when mixed should be stored separately.  
  • As with chemical storage, waste should be stored in non-reactive containers, or containers with non-reactive liners.  

 Label Your Work Space

  • All containers should be labeled with their contents.  This is crucial so those working near you and anyone visiting the lab will know what hazards may be present.  Ideally the hazards present should be included on any label.
  • Any research process with a particular hazard should also be labeled with that hazard.

Don't Work Alone

During normal operations one should never work alone in a laboratory setting. 

  • Additional eyes in a situation may notice hazards you can not initially see. 
  • Having other researchers around will also provide faster support in the event of an emergency.

Adapting to situations where it is necessary to reduce the number researchers in a space requires modifications to this policy.

  • Notify your PI or supervisor before entering the lab and upon departure. 
  • Communicate with neighboring labs so everyone knows when someone will be in the general area.

Lone Worker Devices

Lone worker (aka man down) devices may be appropraite for use in higher hazard laboratories. Contact EH&S for additional details.


Stay Focused and Aware of Your Surroundings

  • A lab can be a very busy environment.  Researchers are working side by side on differing projects that can have different hazards.  It is important to be aware of your surroundings and the work that is going on around you.  
  • Work with purpose.  Labs can also be an environment filled with distractions.  When working with hazardous material it is critical that you focus on what you are doing and try to eliminate distractions.
  • Avoid using headphones.  Listening to music while doing repetitive work can be relaxing but it eliminates one of your five senses used in situational awareness.  If you can not hear what is going on around you it is possible to miss the sound of a glass container breaking or a warning from a colleague.  To better hear what is around you try listening to music at lower volume, or with only one ear covered.

Participate in Safety Exercises

  • Ensure all lab members are familiar with the lab's safety equipment.
  • Make sure everyone knows where the nearest fire pull station, extinguisher, spill kit, first aid kit, and AED are.
  • Know how to get out of your building and where to go after and evacuation.
  • Organize or attend an annual evacuation drill.

Store and Use Batteries Properly

Batteries provide reliable power for devices used both in the lab and in the field.  While they are very useful for research they do pose potential hazards.  If stored improperly both lead-acid and lithium ion batteries are potential ignition sources for fire and can cause chemical burns.  Lithium ion batteries can pose a more serious fire risk if they are charged or used improperly.  Batteries should never be disposed of in the trash, instead they can be recycled at various locations across campus.  For more information on the proper use and storage of batteries click on the links below.

Lead Acid Battery Safety

Lithium Ion Battery Safety

UCSC Battery Recycling