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Lab Safety Programs, Procedures, & Guides                 

Lab Safety Guide - Chapter 1: Introduction (pdf link)

The following provides an overview of laboratory safety, regulations, and related topics for the chemical laboratory. Modified from the NMSU Lab Safety Guide (modified - dls)

Contents: Topics
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    SAFETY PRINCIPLES AND REGULATIONS     gototop.jpg (908 bytes)  

    Safety is a way of thinking and a personal commitment. Rules and guidelines have been devised by government agencies and by organizations needing them. However, rules cannot substitute for good judgment and attitude. The primary basis of a safe environment lies with each individual's commitment to do his job in a way that is safe for himself and his coworkers such that the results of his work will be safe products and services for the customer. The use of common sense, good judgment, and a mature, responsible attitude goes a long way towards solving most safety problems. All accidents can be prevented.

    Know the safety procedures that apply to the work being done. Determine the potential hazards (e.g., physical, chemical, biological) and appropriate safety precautions before beginning any new operations. When starting to work on a new project, it is a good idea to spend some time reviewing the literature, especially in regard to safe practices for that type of work. Every laboratory worker should observe the following rules.

    Food & Drink  gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    Contamination of food, drink, smoking materials and cosmetics is a potential route for exposure to toxic substances. Consumption of food or beverages, application of cosmetics or smoking must not be permitted in areas where laboratory operations are being carried out.

    In accordance with OSHA, Prudent Practices, and NMSU Safety Policy (on food & chemicals), well-defined areas must be established for storage and consumption of food and beverages. Food must not be stored or consumed outside this area. Areas where food is permitted should be conspicuously marked and a warning signs (see example signage EATING AREA-NO CHEMICALS, FOOD STORAGE NO CHEMICALS) posted. Chemicals or chemical equipment must not be allowed in such areas, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.141 (g)(2), Prudent Practices for Handling Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories, Section I.A.3.

    Eye wear

    Safety glasses with side shields must be worn at all times in designated areas. Contact lenses should never be worn in areas where chemicals or solvents are used. Refer to Appendix VIII for more details.

    Protective Equipment gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    The NMSU laboratory process requires students and researchers to dispense and/or manipulate a multiplicity of concentrated hazardous chemicals. Several of these chemicals (e.g. phenol, ammonium hydroxide, sulfuric, hydrochloric and nitric acid) display highly corrosive characteristics with the potential to destroy skin tissues.

    Clothing worn by laboratory personnel can be critical to their safety. All teaching and research laboratories must enforce the successive Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Standard as a required prudent practice for handling hazardous chemicals. Protective equipment, including personal protective equipment for eyes, face, head, and extremities, protective clothing, respiratory devices, and protective shields and barriers, shall be provided, used, and maintained in a sanitary and reliable condition wherever it is necessary by reason of hazards of processes or environment, chemical hazards, radiological hazards, or mechanical irritants encountered in a manner capable of causing injury or impairment in the function of any part of the body through absorption, inhalation or physical contact, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.132(a). See Appendix VII, Hazard Assessment/Personal Protective Equipment, as a reference for evaluation of workplace hazards.

    Therefore, all laboratory personnel involved with hazardous chemicals in a teaching or research laboratory must do at least the minimum of:

    • - Wear closed-toe shoes at all times in areas where hazardous chemicals are stored or used. Tyvek type shoe covers (washable or disposable by nature) may be used to avoid possible exposure of the feet to corrosive chemicals or quantities of solvents and water that might penetrate normal foot wear. Perforated shoes, sandals or flip-flops must not be worn.
    • - Wear splash goggles (acid goggles) or face shields that have splash proof sides when protection from harmful chemical splash is required.
    • - Wear appropriate protective gloves whenever the potential for contact with corrosive or toxic materials or materials of unknown toxicity exists.
    • - Wear pants, full coverage lab coats, aprons or tyvek-type coveralls. Scanty (e.g. shorts, mini skirts, tank tops and/or halter tops) or torn clothing and unrestrained long hair must not be allowed.

    It is imperative that NMSU demonstrate a progressive commitment to laboratory health and safety. Eliminate exposure to chemical hazards by using a common-sense approach to safe laboratory practices.

    Housekeeping gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    Work areas, aisles and passage ways must be kept clean and free from obstructions that could create a hazard. Laboratory floors must be maintained, so far as practicable in a dry condition. Where emergency wet processes may be required (e.g. emergency showers), drainage must be provided and maintained and false floors, platforms, mats and other dry standing places must be provided. Where practicable or appropriate, water proof footgear must be provided. All solid or liquid wastes, glass or metal chemical containers, and excessive combustible materials must be removed in such a manner as to avoid creating a menace to safety and health and as often as necessary or appropriate to maintain the place of employment in a sanitary condition, OSHA 29 CFR 1910.141 (3)(i) and (4) (ii).


    Be certain all chemicals are correctly and clearly labeled. Post warning signs when unusual hazards, such as radiation, laser operations, flammable materials, biological hazards, or other special problems exist. (also see labels per (HazCom Requirements) & (Policy for peroxides))


    Spilled materials must be cleaned promptly and completely with paper towels, rags, or absorbent. Promptly dispose of oily or solvent-saturated clean-up materials in a safety container. If a chemical, radiological or biohazard spill threatens the safety and/or health of faculty, staff or student, call 911 to report an emergency involving hazardous materials.

    Some considerations that should be made before attempting to clean up a spill are as follows:

      1. Training: Attempt cleanup only if in house training has been provided.

      2. Material: Be aware of the properties of the material, such as PEL's.

      3. PPE: Ensure that personal protective equipment is utilized.

      4. Appropriate absorbents.

    A lot of this information may be obtained from the MSDS's. Environmental Health and Safety recommends setting up spill stations, ensuring the availability of equipment when necessary.

    In case of spills of flammable material, all nearby flames and sources of ignition must be extinguished. Electrical plugs should not be pulled or switches thrown in the vapor contaminated room. Electricity may be shut off at a main switch at a point free from vapors.

    Wash hands thoroughly before leaving the laboratory area. However, avoid the use of solvents for washing the skin. They remove the natural protective oils from the skin and can cause irritation and inflammation. In some cases, washing with a solvent may be toxic or facilitate absorption of a toxic chemical.

    Mercury Spills gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    All instruments containing mercury are potential sources of poisonous mercury vapor. These devices must have a catch tray of adequate volume to contain releases. Mercury thermometers must not be used in ovens, where they will break and cause a chronic mercury vapor hazard.

    All spills must be reported to the laboratory instructor or supervisor for immediate clean-up. Mercury spills which cannot be amalgamated or otherwise contained for disposal must be reported to EH&S immediately for assistance in clean-up.

    Mercury spill kits should be available for laboratory use. Mercury vacuum apparatus must be constructed so that it does not contaminate either the vacuum source or the surrounding air when the vacuuming is being performed.


    Laboratory personnel must become familiar with procedures and learn how to obtain additional help in an emergency. Detailed emergency procedures are provided in Chapter 9, Emergency Procedures. Emergency numbers are to be placed by all phones. Everyone must be familiar with the location and use of safety showers, eye wash equipment and personal protective equipment.

    Accident Reporting gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    Emergency telephone numbers to be called in the event of fire, accident, flood, or hazardous material spill must be posted prominently in each laboratory. In addition, the numbers of the laboratory workers and their supervisors must be posted. These persons must be notified immediately in the event of an accident or emergency. For detailed accident reporting requirements see Chapter 10.

    Disposal of Chemical Waste

    Dispose of chemical wastes promptly. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and conservation (RCRA) mandates that generators completely identify laboratory wastes contained in the disposal container with the disposal label provided by EH&S (see Appendix II, NMSU Procedures for Chemical Waste). EH&S will provide instruction upon request. More information is provided in Chapter 2, Chemicals and Chemical Waste Management.

    Disposal of Used Containers

    To reduce fire hazards, empty cardboard boxes, crates and solvent bottles must be discarded, reused or recycled. Solid waste minimization practices include reusing solvent bottles and transport boxes for hazardous waste accumulation and transport. Recycling of cardboard boxes is managed by (Solid Waste/Recycling Manager, 646-5957) Physical Plant Dept. All NMSU users of radioactive and chemical materials must not dispose of any container that has held hazardous chemicals, including waste pesticides, or radioactive materials until compliance with the successive Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and New Mexico Environment Department Radiation Protection Regulations (NMED RPR) regulations have been satisfied as outlined in Appendix VI, Container Disposal as Ordinary Trash.

    Sharp Objects gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    Safe lab practice requires that sharp objects be protected to avoid accidental injection into the skin. A gas chromatography septum or plastic cap will protect most points. All sharp objects are collected in a labeled, rigid puncture proof container and disposed according to type and use. Chemical contaminated glassware must be triple rinsed and the label defaced prior to placement in the broken glass receptacle. Biohazard glassware must be rendered non-infectious prior to disposal. The "Broken Glass" receptacle must be secured and labeled as such before releasing to custodial staff for regular trash disposal. Special sharps (needles, knives and blades) and human blood are disposed by incineration following steam sterilization as outlined in the Sharps Section of Procedures for Laboratory Microbiological Wastes, Appendix

    Equipment Use

    Use equipment only for its designed purpose. The use of makeshift tools and shortcut methods leads to equipment damage and injuries. If you are in doubt, seek the help of the Department Technician or your supervisor. Report broken or unused equipment to your Department.

    Laboratory personnel are prohibited from running equipment such as power stirrers, hot plates, heating mantles, and water-cooled condensers unattended overnight unless proper safety precautions have been taken (see Chapter 2 for details).

    Equipment Disposal

    All used laboratory equipment must be cleaned and surveyed for contamination prior to any type of disposal. Refrigerators, microwaves or other equipment with potential use for food must be rendered unusable prior to disposal if potential contamination exists. All equipment, laboratory furnishings and coverings with the potential for radioactive contamination must be surveyed prior to release to the property Office, other users or for disposal. EH&S will assist with formal decommissioning upon request.

    Fire Extinguishers

    Fire extinguisher training for all NMSU employees is mandated under 29 CFR Part 1910.157 and 1994 National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101. Extinguisher training is provided weekly by NMSU Fire  Section. Call 646-2519 for a reservation.

    Discharged fire extinguishers must be reported immediately to the PPD Work Order Desk (646-7114). The Fire Section is responsible for recharging, hydrostatic testing, selection, distribution and placement of all fire extinguishers.

    Portable fire extinguisher mounting standards require that extinguishers are available when needed and that employees are not subjected to injury hazards when they try to obtain an extinguisher. Training provided by the Fire Protection Section makes sure that the employee knows everything necessary to assure employee's safety in the event of a workplace fire.

    Asbestos gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    The external surfaces of all laboratory work surfaces suspected of containing friable asbestos must be sampled for the presence of asbestos. For the purpose of sampling, "Asbestos" will include chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. All external surfaces containing asbestos must be removed to ensure a place of employment free of asbestos fibers if their dispersion would constitute an excessive concentration, OSHA 29 CFR 1010.1101 (a)(1)(h)(1). To obtain a written estimate for asbestos abatement and/or removal, send a request to Physical Plant Department work order desk (Dept. 3545 or Fax 646-1451). Disposal if small items and a current list of certified testing laboratories is available through EH&S, 646-3327.



    Bicycles are prohibited from all area in offices, hallways, stairwells, classrooms, and laboratories where they would restrict egress. (2008 rev of University Traffic Regulations).

    Prudent Laboratory Practices   

    It is prudent to avoid working in a laboratory alone. Under normal working conditions, arrangements must be made between individuals working in separate laboratories outside of working hours to cross check periodically. Alternatively, an NMSU Police Officer or custodian may be asked to check on the laboratory worker. Experiments known to be hazardous must not be undertaken by a worker who is alone in a laboratory.

    Under unusual conditions, special rules may be necessary. The supervisor of the laboratory has the responsibility for determining whether work requires special safety precautions, such as having two persons in the same room during a particular operation.

    Windows of laboratory doors are not to be covered. Passers-by should be able to notice if someone is in distress and needs help.

    Doors of laboratories must NEVER be blocked. These will provide escape routes in case of an emergency.

    Pets of any kind or children under the age of 16 years are not allowed in the laboratory. They are likely to upset equipment or be poisoned by ingesting or contacting toxic chemicals or pathogenic agents which may cause infections or disease.

    The safe use of basic laboratory equipment as described in Appendix XI, Basic Wet Chemistry Practices, is essential to day-to-day safety in the laboratory.

    General Lab Safety   

    Be alert to unsafe conditions and actions and correct them immediately. If major maintenance or repairs are needed, call attention to them so corrections can be made as soon as possible. Someone else's accident can be as dangerous to you as though you had the accident.

    Avoid distracting or startling any other worker. Practical jokes or horseplay cannot be tolerated.

    Think, act and encourage safety until it becomes a habit. An Experiment Hazards Form is provided in Chapter 7, Figure 7-I. An Experiment Safety Plan and Emergency Shutdown Procedure form are provided in Appendix XIV. A Hazard Review Checklist, an Experimental System Safety Review Questionnaire, and a Failure Mode and Effect Tabulation Sheet are provided in Appendix X.

    The Chemical Hygiene Plan & Laboratory Standard    gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    The "Occupational Exposures to Hazardous Chemicals in Laboratories" standard was promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on May 1,1990. The final compliance date was January 31, 1991. This standard (OSHA 29 CFR 1910.1450) requires the development and implementation of a written Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP).  The NMSU model CHP  is provided in the NMSU Laboratory Safety Guide (appendix).
    A "
    laboratory" subject to this standard is one in which: a) relatively small quantities of chemicals are used on a routine, nonproductive basis, and b) reaction containers, processes, transfers, etc., are designed to be handled or performed safely and easily by one person. This potentially definition subjects all NMSU research laboratories to the standard.
    The typical university laboratory uses dozens or even hundreds of potentially hazardous chemicals, but usually in very small quantities under controlled conditions. The Hazard Communication Program developed for this university has revealed in excess of 3,000 unique chemicals on this campus, the majority of which were laboratory chemicals. Because of this variability, the standard prescribes a custom approach to assure the safety and health of laboratory personnel.
    The standard states that each department must establish a written Chemical Hygiene Plan   as the basis of safety in the laboratory. The CHP lists the procedures, equipment, personal protective equipment, and practices that comprise the safety program. Each department must designate a
    Chemical Hygiene Officer as the individual responsible for setting up and running the plan. For large laboratories, the job may require a Chemical Hygiene Committee.
    Specifically, 29 CFR 1910.1450 requires each department to:

    1. - Identify the hazards presented by the materials and operations in the laboratory,
    2. - Train personnel on the hazards of the materials used,
    3. - Measure any significant exposure to personnel,
    4. - Control excessive exposure,
    5. - Re-monitor until exposures are acceptable,
    6. - Keep records of all exposure measurements,
    7. - Provide medical examinations for personnel exposed to levels above limits,
    8. - Set up a respiratory program that follows OSHA 1910.134 - Respiratory Protection, and
    9. - Maintain a written Chemical Hygiene Plan that itemizes how these requirements will be met.

    NMSU laboratories vary widely in mission and structure. It is impossible to design a set of rules that will cover all possible hazards and occurrences. Many guidelines offered in this manual have demonstrated effectiveness for avoiding accidents or minimizing injuries in the laboratory. However, in order to make the Chemical Hygiene Plan more effective, specific information, training and procedures must be added to it that will apply specifically to the laboratory where the plan is being applied.

    The NMSU Laboratory Safety Guide is designed to be a tool for the department safety officer and laboratory personnel to use in the execution and application of laboratory work practice.


    WHERE TO OBTAIN ADVICE ON SAFETY ISSUES    gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    When one becomes aware of a safety problem, the laboratory instructor/ supervisor, designated departmental safety officer or University Safety Officer are the best sources of information. In safety equipment design, the Hazard Review Checklist, Appendix X, provides a practical guide to safety considerations in developing new experimental setups. The checklist and this Safety Manual are good baseline reference sources for finding solutions to many safety hazards. The University Safety Office maintains reference guides to hazardous materials/waste disposal methods, safety periodicals, Material Safety Data Sheets, and government safety regulations. All research involving the procurement and/or use of radioactive materials requires authorization. The principal investigator must submit an application for review by the Radiation Safety Committee and authorization by the Radiation Safety Officer. All forms can be obtained through EH&S.
    The University's Safety Office administers and oversee compliance with programs for chemical safety, radiation safety, life safety, biohazard safety, hazardous waste and other major hazard control areas.


    SAFETY INSPECTIONS AND ENFORCEMENT    gototop.jpg (908 bytes)

    Periodic internal safety inspections should be conducted by each department in every laboratory to ensure compliance with State and Federal safety regulations. The inspection team should be composed of departmental safety personnel and volunteers. Results of the inspection should be summarized in a report and directed to the Department Chair/Head, with copies to each faculty and staff member and all graduate students. Inspection checklists are available under the programs and resources sections on the NMSU Safety website at
    These periodic inspection reports will help identify safety hazards within each lab and will remind laboratory personnel of routine safety requirements. Safety is every individual's responsibility. Equipment and procedures may be shut down if they do not conform with established laboratory safety practices.
    Safety information and training acquired in the work place at NMSU will prepare laboratory personnel for work in industry or in other modern organizations. Safety training at this University will enhance your value to an employer. A poor safety record can be a serious impediment to employment.      

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    Lab Safety Guide


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