Laboratory Safety Guideline

Document Number000753
Date Last Amended19 January 2010

1.    Introduction

This document describes the implementation of a Safety Checklist for laboratory inspections and the development of a Laboratory Safety Manual, together with supporting documentation applicable in whole, or in part, to all laboratories occupied by University personnel, or for which the University has responsibility.  These processes should be seen as an essential step in preventing injury in laboratory work, and in meeting legal obligations under various Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) legislation.

1.1  Risk Management

The primary thrust of OH&S legislation has changed over recent years to that of “risk management”. Under this approach, the first step is a risk analysis of procedures undertaken or materials used or produced in the laboratory. Based on this analysis, the second step is to implement procedures which ensure that all hazards identified are managed in such a way that the risks are eliminated – where practicable – or minimised. In effect, this requires a proactive approach, where all reasonably foreseeable risks are identified and management strategies put into place to eliminate – where practicable – or minimise such risks, should they occur.

The development of a laboratory safety manual represents one method of documenting known hazards, and the methods by which their associated risks are controlled. In addition, periodic inspection of the laboratory facilities and procedures serves to identify hazards in an on-going manner.  These elements will be discussed in subsequent sections of this document. Other aspects pertinent to controlling risks in laboratory work will be briefly discussed below.

1.2  Supervision

Effective supervision is an essential element of the risk management approach. It serves to ensure that hazards and risk control methods are communicated and observed by all persons working in the laboratory. This means that supervisors should ensure that appropriate training is provided, and that work practices are regularly monitored.

With regard to laboratory work associated with research grants, those who are directing research work, ie the Chief Investigator(s), are responsible for the health and safety of all persons working on their project. They therefore need to apply the principles of risk management to their work. The University of Newcastle requires all research grant applications to invoke a process of hazard identification, risk assessment and control (refer to the Directory for Researchers, available from the Research Office).

1.3  Training

Training is also an essential element of the risk management approach, in that it provides the means of communicating hazards and risk control methods.  Training can take several forms:

 Laboratory inductions for new staff and students. This type of training should include aspects of procedures undertaken in the laboratory, from highly specific technical procedures to waste disposal methods.  A recommended format for a Laboratory Induction Checklist is provided in Appendix A of this document. Laboratory staff should feel free to adapt this format to suit their needs. Any particular procedures or precautions specific to that laboratory (eg Radioactive tracer experiments, DNA manipulation) should be included.

On-the-job training provided by supervisors or other laboratory personnel or equipment suppliers. This is particularly important when new procedures or equipment are introduced to the laboratory, or when laboratory personnel take up work that they have not done before. Supervisors of postgraduate students are reminded of their responsibilities to ensure students receive training under the University's Code of Practice for Supervision of Research Higher Degree Candidates (Dec. 1998) (available from the Research Office). 

Training courses provided in response to University requirements. Under the NSW OH&S Act and its associated Regulations (such as Hazardous Substances), there is an obligation on the part of the University to provide training. It is recognised however, that specific needs will also drive the mounting of training courses. It is important to ensure that all members of the University community have the opportunity to access this training.

2.    Responsible Officers

Laboratories contain a range of hazards that depend on the nature of the work being undertaken. They may be home to highly specialised equipment, as well as engineering controls for specific hazards (eg. fume cupboards or biosafety cabinets). Laboratories are used by a range of staff and students, for either brief or extended periods of time. Recognising the need to maintain a consistent approach, the Laboratory Safety Policy requires a particular person be appointed in each laboratory area to oversee the implementation of all safety requirements. In addition, the OH&S Committee, or any other party, can address any queries to this person during laboratory inspections.  For purposes of this document, this person has been defined as the Responsible Officer.

Through these guidelines the Responsible Officer has been assigned specific duties, and the need to perform these needs to be recognised during career planning and resource management discussions.  A summary of these duties is provided in Section 2.1 below. Note that in the light of these, corresponding position descriptions may need to be revised.

It should be pointed out that whilst the Responsible Officer takes on these duties, they are not necessarily the supervisor of the staff and students using the laboratory. As such, supervisors must work with the Responsible Officer to ensure that all people using the laboratory use the required risk control measures.

2.1 Responsible Officers - Duties

The following is a summary of the duties expected to fall to Responsible Officers:

  • Work with laboratory users to ensure that, for each assigned laboratory area, a safety manual is developed in line with the Guidelines for Developing Safe Laboratory Practices.
  • Ensure that the laboratory safety manual is maintained and is as up to date and complete as possible.
  • Using the laboratory safety manual as a basis, develop and maintain a (general) laboratory induction package.
  • Maintain a record of induction of new laboratory personnel.
  • Undertake regular safety walk-throughs and inspections of the laboratory.
  • Participate in safety inspections of the laboratory by other groups such as the Technical Sub Committees.
  • Ensure that corrective actions are carried out, and their effectiveness is reviewed.
  • Provide technical guidance and support, and appropriate training to laboratory personnel, including hazard identification and risk control.

3.    Laboratory Safety Manuals

The development of a Laboratory Safety Manual should be seen as an important step in managing risks within the laboratory. Accordingly, the Laboratory Safety Policy indicates the importance of compiling a Laboratory Safety Manual. Each Responsible Officer will be required to oversee the development and maintenance of a Laboratory Safety Manual.

The Manual should form an integral part of the induction program for new staff/students who will be working in the laboratory. A record of this induction should be retained by the Responsible Officer, as well as being kept in the Manual.

3.1 Suggested Sections of the Laboratory Safety Manual

While it is expected that those working in the laboratory are best positioned to identify key sections for the Manual, the following are recommended for inclusion:

  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) undertaken within the laboratory.
  • A recommended format for SOPs is provided in Appendix A of this document. Laboratory staff should feel free to adapt this format to suit their needs. Any particular procedures or precautions specific to that laboratory (eg Radioactive tracer experiments, DNA manipulation) should be included.
  • Relevant University Policies, Procedures and Guidelines
  • Relevant External Standards and Guidelines.
  • Registers of all chemicals and biochemicals used in the laboratory.
  • A register of all radioactive materials used in the laboratory.
  • A register of microbiological materials used, including those acquired following Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) approval.
  • Laboratory Safety Manual should incorporate a list of personnel (indicating title, name, department, and telephone, fax and email contact details) authorised to access the laboratory including date of authorisation, receipt and return of keys/access card on resignation.
  • Records of training undertaken and induction of new persons into the practices of the laboratory.
  • Copies of all Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) for materials used in the laboratory. Manufacturers are required to provide MSDSs to consumers upon request, by law. The MSDS must accompany or be requested for each chemical or substance purchased.
  • Records of “in-house” routine safety audits of the laboratory.
  • Copy of the Risk Analysis undertaken for the laboratory including:
    • Hazard Identification procedure
    • Risk Assessments of hazards (including those involving hazardous substances)
    • Risk Control methods.

3.2 Specific Laboratory Procedures

A number of operations, substances or pieces of equipment may introduce hazards that require specific risk control procedures.  In some cases the University has guidelines pertaining to these control measures. These are included in the References section of this document (Section 5.2). Where appropriate, these guidelines and procedures should be included in laboratory manuals.

4.    Laboratory Inspections

Laboratory inspections are an important part of the risk management process, serving to both identify hazards and review the adequacy of risk control measures. Self-monitoring by local management is an essential component of the risk management approach discussed in Section 1, and is strongly endorsed by the NSW WorkCover Authority. When undertaken by people from outside the work area, inspections present an opportunity to share and build-on common experiences.

In this document the term "inspection" is used to designate one of several types of workplace assessment. These inspection types vary in their purpose and degree of formality, and whilst there is no consistent nomenclature, are often categorised as follows:

Walk-throughs: As the name suggests, these consist of a simple walk around the laboratory to check for things that might be out of the ordinary - either in equipment operation or people's behaviour. Generally these are conducted by Responsible Officers or supervisors, and are done on a frequent (daily) basis.

Safety Inspections: These are intended to identify situations in the laboratory that do not comply with a set of risk control standards. These standards are often used to generate a checklist that acts as a prompt during the inspection. The OH&S Committee has developed a Laboratory Safety Checklist. Members of the OH&S Committee and/or the relevant Technical Sub-committees will use this checklist when making periodic safety inspections of University laboratories. A procedure for the use of this, or other, checklists, is provided in Appendix B.

The checklist addresses the principal aspects of laboratory safety across the breadth of laboratories at the University. Only the sections of the checklist that are relevant should be used for a given laboratory. While it is the result of numerous revisions, the checklist is not necessarily complete, and additional specific safety issues should be appended to it.

Laboratory inspections coordinated by Faculty Safety Committees should also make reference to Appendix B.

Safety Audits: These tend to be the most formal, and typically focus on risk management systems - their existence, performance, adequacy, and their application. Verification of compliance, through inspection of documentation and records, is often a key outcome of an audit. Audits may look at specific activities or compliance with certain legislation across the University, or they may cover the spectrum of risk management programs in a particular work area.

Laboratories will therefore be subject to number of "inspections" during a year. An important outcome of each type of inspection is the documentation of the identified hazards, and the actions required to control their risks. In the case of the Laboratory Safety Checklist, these form part of the record of inspection.

5.    References

5.1 Legislation

Available on the Web at, or from NSW Government Information Service, (Phone: 1800 463 955), or from the Health and Safety Team, Human Resource Services

The Occupational Health and Safety Act 2000 and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 2001

NSW Radiation Control Act 1990 and NSW Radiation Control Regulation 2003

Gene Technology Act 2000 and the Gene Technology Regulation 2001

5.2 The University of Newcastle Documents

Available from the University's Policy Library and/or the Health and Safety web site.

  • Ethical and Safety Aspects of Student Class Experiments and Practical Exercises Utilised Within the Teaching Program of The University of Newcastle
  • The University of Newcastle Safety Clothing & Footwear in University Laboratories Policy
  • Management Program for the Use and Disposal of Imported Biological Material
  • Guidelines for the Safe Use and Disposal of Biological Material and Materials of Biological Origin
  • Infection Control Policy with Reference to HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B/C and other Blood/Body Fluid Transmitted Pathogens
  • Radiation Safety Manual
  • Procedure for the Use of Hydrofluoric Acid
  • Policy on Laser Safety Eye Examinations for Laser Workers

5.3  Other Bodies

NHMRC, National Guidelines for Waste Management in the Health Care Industry -

NSW EPA, Environmental Guidelines: Assessment, Classification & Management of Liquid & Non-Liquid Wastes  -  or from the Environment Protection Authority, PO Box 1135, Chatswood 2057, Tel: 02 9795 5000)

WorkCover Authority of New South Wales -

National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) -

5.4 Australian Standards


  • online from the University library - contact the Information Desk, phone 4921 5851, or
  • from Standards Australia, 51 King Street, Newcastle, Phone: 4929 2477; Fax: 4929 3540 (Please note that these Standards are under regular review).

AS/NZS 2243.1  Safety in laboratories - General
AS/NZS 2243.2  Safety in laboratories - Chemical aspects
AS/NZS 2243.3  Safety in laboratories - Microbiology
AS 2243.4  Safety in laboratories -Ionizing radiation
AS 2243.5  Safety in laboratories - Non-Ionizing radiation
AS 2243.6  Safety in laboratories - Mechanical aspects
AS 2243.7  Safety in laboratories - Electrical aspects
AS 2243.8  Safety in laboratories - Fume cupboards
AS 2243.9  Safety in laboratories - Recirculating fume cabinets
AS 2243.10  Safety in laboratories - Storage of chemicals
AS 1319  Safety signs for the occupational environment
AS/NZS 2647  Biological safety cabinets - Installation and use
AS/NZS 2211.1  Laser Safety, Part 1: Equipment classifications, requirements and user's guide
AS/NZS 3838  The storage and handling of mixed classes of dangerous goods in packages and intermediate bulk containers
AS 3780  The storage and handling of corrosive substances
AS 1940  The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids
AS 4326  The storage and handling of oxidizing agents
AS 2714  The storage and handling of hazardous chemical materials - Class 5.2 substances (organic peroxides)
AS 4332 The storage and handling of gases in cylinders
AS 4267 Pressure regulators for use with industrial gas cylinders
AS 4452  The storage and handling of toxic substances

6.    Appendices

Appendix A – Format for Standard Operating Procedures
Appendix B - Procedure for the Use of the Laboratory Safety Checklist
Clothing and Protective Equipment Procedure 000933

7.        Essential Supporting Documents

Decommisioning Laboratory and Associated Facilities Procedure [000970]

Approval AuthorityDirector, Human Resource Services
Date Last Amended19 January 2010
Date for Review27 April 2012
Policy SponsorDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Services)
Policy OwnerAssociate Director, Health & Safety
Policy ContactAssociate Director, Health & Safety
Amendment History

Decommisioning Laboratory and Associated Facilities Procedure [000970] added as an Essential Supporting Document, approved Director HRS 15 February 2012.