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Athabasca University

Supervised Lab Safety Guidelines

NOTE: More detailed information regarding Supervised Lab Safety specific to the course you are taking is found in your print-based or online lab manual.

Below are general guidelines regarding laboratory work including personal safety, lab equipment, chemicals, biohazard waste, and spills & clean-up.

Personal Safety:

  • Safety glasses and a lab coat must be worn at all times.
  • Protect your feet by wearing sensible shoes, i.e. closed shoes – no sandals or slippers.
  • Wear hand protection when handling hot glassware/equipment. Change gloves frequently through the day, especially after handling a strong acid, base or poison.
  • Tie back long hair.
  • Never run in the laboratory. No horseplay allowed.
  • Do not attempt unauthorized experiments.
  • Never work unsupervised.
  • Avoid hand to mouth contact. Wash your hands frequently while in the lab.
  • No eating, drinking, or smoking in the laboratory.
  • Know the fire exit route.
  • Report all accidents.
  • Always dispose of bioharzardous and chemical wastes in the correct manner.
  • Take a few breaks during the day. Stay fresh and alert.

Lab Equipment:

  • Take care of your microscope. It is a sensitive and expensive instrument.
  • Ask for assistance when using a Bunsen burner for the first time.
  • Never sample straight from a stock bottle. Never return chemicals to the original bottle. Always dispense the required amount first into a small vessel (e.g. beaker), and then pipette the reagent from the small vessel. Dispose of excess reagent into the appropriate container. Ask your instructor for assistance if you are unsure which container to use.
  • People with clean and tidy benches are less likely to be involved in accidents. Communal areas, such as balance benches/rooms and fume hoods, should also be kept tidy. Clean up all spills. Any glassware containing culture/chemicals that is left in a communal area should be clearly labelled with the owner's name and details of the contents (e.g., L. Worker, E. coli, Nutrient Broth 24 h culture + indole).
  • Do not rummage through a cupboard or communal glassware/supply drawer or box without care and attention. Sharp objects may be present. Discard sharp objects (needles, razor blades, broken glass in the appropriate sharps discard receptacle.
  • When assembling an apparatus, always check with the instructor before proceeding with the experiment.


  • Have a cover handy to place over a beaker of ethanol should it catch fire.
  • Do not store/use flammable solvents near open flames.
  • When diluting a concentrated acid, always add the acid to the water. Do this slowly, with stirring.
  • If you get acid on your clothing, neutralize it with dilute ammonia solution (1 M) and wash well with water.
  • If you get alkali on your clothing, wash it off with large quantities of water.
  • If you get any corrosive chemical on your skin, wash it off immediately with water and consult your instructor. Pay special attention to the safety notes given in bold type in the "Procedure" sections of the lab manual. These notes will inform you of any special precautions that you might need to take, and will also inform you if the "wash well with water" maxim does not apply.
  • If you spill a large quantity of acid on the bench or floor, use crude sodium bicarbonate (available from the instructor) to neutralize the acid and then wash well with water.
  • Mercury from broken thermometers presents a special kind of hazard. The vapour from the spilled mercury represents a long-term hazard and so the liquid mercury should be cleaned up very carefully. If you break the thermometer, ask your instructor for assistance in cleaning up the mercury. Do not touch the mercury droplets with your hands.
  • READ LABELS WITH CARE. Familiarize yourself with Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) labels. Always check for any possible hazards associated with using a given chemical. The quickest way of doing this is to read the label on the container from which the chemical is removed. Some chemical manufacturers use symbols or codes on the labels of their chemical containers to indicate possible hazards. When in doubt, consult your instructor or read the chemical's Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).

Biohazard Materials:

  • Handle all live organisms with care and respect.
  • Biohazardous Wastes are to be properly disposed of, in order to protect students, workers and the environment. All biohazard waste will be autoclaved by the lab instructors.
  • Solid Biohazardous Waste is to be placed in the designated area for autoclaving. e.g., dispose of pipettes, tips, and used glass microscope slides in a bleach bucket.
  • Liquid Biohazardous Waste is to be placed in the designated area for autoclaving. Test tube broth cultures are to be placed in the test tube rack on the tray marked "Waste: To Be Autoclaved"
  • Old Cultures (Petri dishes) are to be placed in the orange autoclave bags indicated by the lab instructor.

Spills and Clean-up:

  • Ask instructor for assistance in decontaminations and clean-ups when dealing with a spill for the first time.
  • Do not place any hazardous or infectious materials in the sink. Do not dispose of any solid material in the sink.
  • To clean up spills of microbial cultures, contain the spill by placing a paper towel soaked in 70% ethanol over the spill area. Keep the towel on the spill for 20 minutes. Inform your instructor of the spill. Place the towel in an autoclave (biohazard) waste bag provided. Ensure you wash your hands immediately after dealing with the spill.
  • Place pipettes that are used during class immediately into the appropriate waste container.
  • Place used glass slides and coverslips in glass dishes of disinfectant. Do not discard any demonstration slides.
  • Place all used bottles, tubes and cultures in the containers provided on each bench for staff to remove and autoclave.
  • Place contaminated waste in the autoclave bag-lined containers. All other (non-biohazard waste) can be disposed of in appropriately labelled containers.
  • All materials requiring incubation or refrigeration must be appropriately labelled and placed on the trays provided.
  • At the conclusion of each class clean the microscope provided for you. Use lens tissue to clean the oil immersion lenses and leave the microscope standing with the low power lens in place. Avoid jolting the microscope.
  • Decontaminate your work bench at the end of each exercise by applying an antiseptic wash.
  • Before leaving the laboratory wash your hands thoroughly with antiseptic soap and water.


In the event of a lab accident:

  • Students are to notify one of the instructors immediately. Students must not leave the lab and try to treat themselves!
  • The instructor will evacuate the lab if necessary and attend the injured student as required.
  • Fill out an AU Accident Report Form and Contact AU’s, Health and Safety Representative at 780-675-6487. This form can be found at AU students are deemed to be working for the Provincial Government while attending a lab component of a course and therefore have coverage under WCB. The Coordinator, Employee Health will work with the Lab Instructor and injured party to determine any WCB reporting requirements. WCB reporting requirements can be found at

Updated August 08 2018 by Student & Academic Services

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