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Rules for Safe Working in the Geography Science Laboratories

Rules for Safe Working in the Geography Science Laboratories

This information has been extracted from the Department's Safety and Security Handbook.

Rules for Safe Working

All users of the laboratories must read a copy of these rules and, if applicable, the University Health & Safety booklet, and if requested to do so must sign and return a declaration to the Laboratory Manager which states that they have read, understood and will abide by these provisions. Laboratory users must:

  • comply with the legal requirement that all laboratory work which involves use of certain hazardous substances must be covered by a current and approved Chemical Hazard Risk Assessment. Any modification to the approved procedure must also be assessed and approved. Users must examine carefully the risk assessment for each procedure that they intend to carry out, and note any associated hazards;
  • Read and observe any special safety instructions displayed in the laboratories;
  • Never eat, chew gum, drink, smoke or apply make-up in the laboratory;
  • Always wear a laboratory coat which has been fastened correctly, wear appropriate protective clothing such as gloves, safety spectacles and face masks, and ensure that long hair is tied back;
  • Keep their working area free from obstructions, and if necessary divide their working area into separate wet and dry areas. They must never leave coats, bags or unnecessary samples or equipment in the laboratory. They must remove waste material from their area as soon as possible and dispose of it in an appropriate manner;
  • Make sure they know how to operate all the equipment that they intend to use. Users are responsible for cleaning and decontaminating equipment after use, and especially before they request a service or repair;
  • Never pipette by mouth: they must use a safety pipette;
  • Remove their laboratory coat and other protective clothing before leaving the laboratory, and wash their hands (especially before eating, drinking, smoking or visiting the toilet). Samples and experimental materials must not be taken into offices or areas used for eating and drinking;
  • Comply with the requirement that undergraduates do not use the laboratories unsupervised, and must be accompanied by a member of the technical staff, research staff or academic staff.
  • Comply with the requirement that any accident or injury be reported and recorded on an accident report form; and that in the event of personal injury, assistance be summoned and a First Aider called.

Fume cupboards

Fume cupboards are the principal protection devices in laboratories to prevent exposure to hazardous substances. Four fume cupboards are in use in the Geography Science Laboratories. Monitoring of their performance and maintenance are important features of their management. This is particularly so in the case of fume cupboards which are designated for hydrofluoric and perchloric acid use. These have a logbook in which must be recorded face-velocity readings at six-monthly intervals. There is also a brief monthly check of tidiness, which is kept near the fume cupboard for inspection during Departmental safety tours. It is the responsibility of the Estate Management & Building Service to inspect and maintain fume cupboard fabrics, including ducting and motors, in consultation with the University Safety Office. Any problems must be reported to the Departmental Safety Officer.

Fume cupboards must not be used for storage, and must be kept clear of unnecessary bottles or apparatus, which will cause turbulence in the air flow. They must be switched off at night or when not in use. The front of the cupboard must always be closed as far as possible in order to safeguard personnel and prevent heat loss. If experiments require overnight running this should be stated on a prominently displayed notice. Any notice forbidding use - such as when contractors are working - must be obeyed.


The chief electrical hazards include shock and electrical fires. Never use a water fire extinguisher on an electrical fire (see section on ‘Fire Precautions’). In the case of shock, turn off the electrical supply before attending to the victim. Report immediately any malfunction of electrical apparatus, including worn cables, damaged plugs/sockets or blown fuses. Do not use any item which has not been tested electrically for more than a year. Exercise special care when using electrical equipment which also uses water, and do not overload electrical sockets by using multi-plug adapters.


All apparatus connected to running water should have thick-walled tubing clamped to taps, and a secured drainage tube to prevent flooding. No running water experiment is to be left unattended or overnight. It is the responsibility of users to clear up spillages.


The commonest causes of laboratory fires are flammable materials and reagents near naked flames, and the overheating of room heaters, hotplates and waterbaths. Users should familiarise themselves with the location, type and use of fire extinguishers, and of fire alarms, and be ready to use fire escape routes and exits if the alarm sounds. They should never block a fire exit or wedge open a fire door. If a small fire is discovered it may be possible to put it out with an appropriate extinguisher, always leaving access to a fire exit. (See section on ‘Fire Precautions’ for further detail on procedures to be followed.)


The main chemical hazards include ingestion, inhalation, or contamination by reagents. Users must never use a reagent until a Chemical Hazard Risk Assessment has been performed. They must ensure that they understand any risks associated with, or handling procedures required for, the reagents that they plan to use. Reagents must be properly labelled, with clear hazard warnings if necessary, and stored and used in the correct manner. Winchester bottles should be moved in specially designed carriers; using two (gloved) hands should be considered as a last resort, or for short distances only. In these circumstances, one hand must support the base: bottles must never be held by the neck alone. Appropriate protective clothing (PPE) must be used when using reagents, and volatile reagents and strong acids should be used in a fume cupboard. Small spillages must be mopped up immediately, and help sought if a large spillage occurs. Contaminated clothing must be removed, and contaminated skin or eyes flushed with copious quantities of water. (See section on ‘First Aid’ for further details of procedures to be followed.)

Flammable & explosive substances

A Chemical Hazard Risk Assessment form must be completed for any experiment involving highly flammable or explosive substances. Follow the laboratory rules and in addition:

  • Keep quantities on the bench to a minimum, and always less than the legal maximum, 500 ml.;
  • Store flammables needed in an appropriate flammables cabinet, never in a normal refrigerator;
  • Do not use naked flames in the same area as flammable substances;
  • Put flammables only in spark-proof refrigerators;
  • Always use ether in a fume cupboard;

Vacuum Techniques

Vacuum desiccators present a hazard from a possible implosion when evacuated. They must be screened with the correct heavy gauze container or wrapped in cling film for as long as their contents are under a vacuum. In addition:

  • Workers using vacuum lines must wear safety spectacles or goggles in case of implosion.
  • All glass containers under vacuum (e.g. on a freeze drier) must either be screened from the operator or wrapped in cling film.
  • Do not draw solvent vapour through a vacuum system: use a trap between the apparatus and the pump.

Solitary working

Working alone in the laboratory out of hours, or when assistance may not be available immediately, can be hazardous, and should only take place in exceptional circumstances, when the nature of the experiments to be undertaken make it necessary. Undergraduates are not normally permitted to work outside normal hours. Anyone intending to work in the laboratories out of hours should inform a responsible person in the Geography Department, or at their home or College, of where they are working and when they expect to return. Work involving special hazards such as handling strong acids and alkalis or using machinery must not be undertaken unless prior arrangements have been made for at least one colleague familiar with emergency procedures to be close by.

Use of equipment overnight

Any apparatus which is left to run overnight should be checked by the worker concerned to ensure that there is no danger of fire or flooding. A signed, dated note should be attached to the apparatus indicating the duration of the experiment. Any service or apparatus which is running continuously must be labelled accordingly.

Storage of laboratory chemicals

Keep quantities of chemicals stored in laboratories to a minimum. In addition:

  • Do not store chemicals, acids or solvents on the floor. If underbench storage is necessary, it should be on shelving or in cupboards.
  • Do not store winchester bottles and dangerous materials above waist height.
  • Bottles of acids must not be kept in the same cupboard as organic solvents.
  • Never put dry ice into freezers because of the build-up of CO2.
  • Before storing any hazardous or biological material, contact a technician.

Compressed Gases

Situate gas cylinders away from working areas and heat sources, including sunny windows. In addition:

  • Handle cylinders carefully and transport them on a cylinder trolley;
  • Fasten cylinders securely in use, transit and storage;
  • Always use a regulator;
  • Make sure the threads of the regulator are free from grit, oil or grease before fitting;
  • Never hammer at a regulator, or overtighten it;
  • Check for leaks by applying a little soapy water around the seal;
  • Report immediately a cylinder which is leaking and remove it from working areas;
  • Close valves when not in use and remove regulator in transit;
  • Close valves on empty cylinders and mark as 'empty';
  • Know the cylinder contents and the properties of the gas;
  • Always keep acetylene cylinders and other liquefied gases in an upright position;
  • Normal gas lines from cylinders to gas chromatographs and other instruments should be piped in copper. If acetylene gas is to be piped, it must be in STEEL TUBING, not copper.

Non-indigenous Biological Material

It is illegal to import, or work on, a number of non-indigenous bacteria, plant pathogens and pests unless this is carried out under the terms of a licence from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural affairs (DEFRA). It is also illegal to import a range of plant material which does exist in the UK without certification and licences from DEFRA. Details of the current Departmental licensing position, and of arrangements for the safe disposal of soils and plant materials, may be obtained from the Laboratory manager. Users should also take note of the possibility of contact with anthrax spores in certain soil matter. This possibility makes the use of relevant personal protective equipment (in particular, gloves, goggles and face masks) particularly important. A notice demonstrating anthrax lesions for the sake of identification is displayed in the laboratories.