Lab Safety Hazards

Chemical Physical Hazards

Explosive: Any chemical compound, mixture, or device, the primary or common purpose of which is to function by explosion, i.e., with substantially instantaneous release of gas and heat, unless such compound, mixture, or device is otherwise specifically classified by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Flammables: Flammable materials can vaporize and form flammable mixtures with air when in open containers, when leaks occur or when heated, or may become flammable with certain catalysts.

Reactives: Reactive properties and physical conditions of a single chemical or mixture that have the potential to generate heat, energy, and gaseous by-products that have the potential to do harm.

Organic Peroxides: An organic peroxide may be considered a derivative of hydrogen peroxide, where one or both of the hydrogen atoms have been replaced by organic radicals. The term also includes organic peroxide formulations (mixtures). Such substances and mixtures may: be liable to explosive decomposition; burn rapidly; be sensitive to impact or friction; react dangerously with other substances. Peroxides can occur in virtually any kind of organic chemical, however, certain chemicals are particularly prone to peroxide formation and pose special hazards. May also be light sensitive.

Emits Flammable Gas: Substances and mixtures which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases includes those that will emit flammable gases due to moisture in the air. 

Corrosives: A corrosive material is a highly reactive substance that causes obvious damage to living tissue or to metal. Corrosives act either directly, by chemically destroying the part (oxidation), or indirectly by causing inflammation.

Oxidizers: An oxidizer in itself may not necessarily be combustible, may, generally by yielding oxygen, cause or contribute to the combustion of other material.

Gasses Under Pressure: Compressed gases can be toxic, flammable, oxidizing, corrosive, inert or a combination of hazards. In addition to the chemical hazards, compressed gases may be under a great deal of pressure.

Chemical Health Hazards

Acute Toxicity: Acute toxicity describes the adverse effects resulting from a single exposure to a substance.

Skin, Respiratory & Eye:

  • Corrosion/Damage: Changes to the skin tissue or damage to the eye that are not reversible
  • Irritation
  • Sensitization: Skin sensitizer means a substance that will induce an allergic response following skin contact. A respiratory sensitizer means a substance that induces hypersensitivity of the airways following inhalation of the substance.
  • Narcotic Effect: Central nervous system depression including narcotic effects in humans such as drowsiness, narcosis, reduced alertness, loss of reflexes, lack of coordination, and vertigo are included.

Chronic Health Hazards:

  • Carcinogens: Carcinogen means a chemical substance or a mixture of chemical substances which induce cancer or increase its incidence.
  • Mutagens: A mutagen is a substance or agent that causes an increase in the rate of change in genes (subsections of the DNA of the body's cells). These mutations can be passed along as the cell reproduces, sometimes leading to defective cells or cancer. Examples of mutagens include certain biological and chemical agents as well exposure to ultraviolet light or ionizing radiation.
  • Reproductive Toxins: Reproductive toxicity includes adverse effects on sexual function and fertility in adult males and females, as well as developmental toxicity in offspring.
  • Sensitizer: A chemical that causes a substantial proportion of exposed people or animals to develop an allergic reaction in normal tissue after repeated exposure to the chemical.
  • Target Organ Toxicity: Certain organs or systems can be affected by either single or multiple exposures to a substance. These include nephrotoxins, neurotoxins, hematoxins, etc.
  • Asphyxiants/Aspiration Toxicity: An asphyxiant is a substance that can cause unconsciousness or death by suffocation (asphyxiation) or aspiration. Aspiration is the entry of a liquid or solid directly through the oral or nasal cavity, or indirectly from vomiting, into the trachea and lower respiratory system. Aspiration toxicity includes severe acute effects such as chemical pneumonia, varying degrees of pulmonary injury or death following aspiration.

Equipment Hazards

Sharp Objects: The most common lab injuries come from contact with sharp equipment, slips, trips, falling objects, broken glass, etc.

Electrical Hazards: Electrical hazards include use of high-voltage equipment, wet environments, harsh environments that may deteriorate insulation, and automatically starting equipment

Mechanical Hazards: Some equipment has moving parts that may present pinching or crushing hazards, may catch loose clothing, or may vibrate or move while running

High/Low Temperature Surfaces: Fires, hot plates, extreme cold, and hot equipment are common in labs and may cause burns without proper precautions

UV Light: UV and laser light may cause burns or eye damage

Flying Particles: Flying particles and chemicals may occur frequently and without warning from various lab equipment and operations

Containers Under High Vacuum/Pressure: Containers placed under high vacuum or pressure can become hazardous in certain circumstances

Electric and Magnetic Fields: Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible lines of force associated with the use of high-voltage electric power. Health effects are uncertain, but individuals with pacemakers or metallic implants should take precautions

Ionizing and Non-Ionizing Radiation: Radioactive sources may be present in certain analytical equipment

Heavy Objects: Certain tasks in the lab may involve heavy lifting or repetitive motions that, over time, may lead to musculoskeletal disorders

Workplace/Environmental Hazards

Ergonomic Hazards: Certain tasks in the lab may involve heavy lifting or repetitive motions that, over time, may lead to musculoskeletal disorders

  • Repetitive Motion
  • Heavy Lifting
  • Awkward Posture

Respiratory Hazards: In situations where engineering controls are not sufficient to provide a safe atmosphere, the use of respirators may be necessary

  • Chemical Vapors/Fumes
  • Gasses
  • Dust & Allergens

Hearing Damage: Exposure to high levels of noise can cause permanent hearing loss. Neither surgery nor a hearing aid can help correct this type of hearing loss. Short term exposure to loud noise can also cause a temporary change in hearing (your ears may feel stuffed up) or a ringing in your ears (tinnitus).

Slip & Fall

Personal Safety/Security

Confined Spaces: While rare in lab settings, confined spaces hazards may occur in certain circumstances. A confined space is a space that 1) is large enough for an employee to enter and perform assigned work, 2) has a limited or restricted means of entry or exit, and 3) is not designed for continuous employee occupancy

Elevated Platforms: Fall protection may be necessary under certain circumstances

Temperature Extremes: Work in refrigerated environments or field work may present certain safety hazards from exposure to temperature extremes

Page last modified March 10, 2015