Chemical Hazards

toxic warningAll containers of substances within laboratories should be clearly labelled to indicate the nature of the substance (no formulas please). This includes the removal of all old labels, and replacing of damaged ones.

No chemicals may be stored unlabelled at any time (in addition to a potentially higher risk of error, disposal of unknown chemicals is almost impossible).


The statutory guidelines, Chemicals Hazard Information and Packaging for Supply (CHIP) Regulations 2002 oblige suppliers to provide substance information or safety data sheets, which should always be made accessible to all users of that substance in the laboratory. The University of Oxford Physical and Theoretical Chemistry Laboratory provide a very useful site with substances listed alphabetically with safety data information.


  • Before using a chemical for the first time, ensure that a Risk Assessment has been carried out of the activity you are undertaking using the chemical, then take appropriate precautions for both handling and disposal of it.
  • Contact lens wearers are advised that it is preferable to wear spectacles when working with chemicals because volatile solvents could be trapped between the lens and eye. Building policy states that safety glasses must be worn by contact lens wearers at all times where a risk of this nature may arise.
  • Containers or vials of volatile or hazardous substances must be opened only in fume cupboards.
  • Highly toxic substances and carcinogens should not be stored on open shelves. Schedule 1 poisons must be kept in a locked cupboard or drawer.
  • University policy requires laboratory coats to be worn at all times in laboratories, and additional protective clothing should be considered where appropriate as part of a Risk Assessment of an activity. If stated procedures require protective clothing or equipment, it must be used.
  • Store chemicals (and heavy objects of any kind) below shoulder level. Safety bottle carriers (found in each lab) must to be used for transport of liquids to and from the laboratory.

Familiarise yourself thoroughly with the steps required for assessing the risks of laboratory activities. For activities that are already have a completed COSHH form, do not assume that all the risks are covered - review any changes you make in a process and take time to check the nature of the substance with which you are working in relation to what you are doing with it.

Dealing with Spillages

The risk of spillage of any dangerous substance should be assessed using a Risk Assessment form, which should be reference for all users of the substance. All users should be familiar with procedures and supplies for containment, ventilation and first-aid as appropriate.
The following minimum guidelines apply:-

  • Be aware of, and alert, potentially affected individuals round about you. In the event of spillage, always attend to affected people first.
  • Additional protective clothing, eg, suitable gloves and eye-shields, should be worn during the cleaning up procedure. Lab coats should be fully fastened.
  • If the spilled material is flammable, turn off ignition and heat sources.
  • Notify building safety co-ordinator or radiaton advisor if a regulated chemical such as carcinogens or radioactive materials are involved.
  • Review the events that led to the spillage (eg, lack of clear bench space or layout of equipment) and take remedial action as appropriate
  • For all major spillages, complete an incident report form.

Dealing with Sharps

  • Needles and scapel blades, syringes and lances (and nothing else) must always be disposed of in CinBins located in each laboratory. Note that no glass of any kind should be disposed of in CinBins.
  • Broken glass must be cleared away at once and disposed in the container for broken glass provided in each laboratory. Provided there is no additional chemical or biological hazard, a dustpan and brush should be used for this purpose (forceps, or for smaller pieces of glass, a piece of blu-tak or wad of wet tissue roll can be useful for collecting awkward slivers of glass which do not brush up easily). If a chemical is involved, proceed as for chemical spillages, then sweep up the glass.
  • Pasteur pipettes which are not contaminated with hazardous material can be disposed of in the broken glass container.
  • Contaminated glassware should always be autoclaved before disposal.
  • Sharp objects or broken glass which are contaminated with radioactivity should be placed in a plastic CinBin labelled with radioactive warning tape and with the name/number of the lab from which it comes. When full, the Cinbin containing radioactive sharps should be sent to the University Radiation Protection Service for disposal.