Laboratory workers guide to chemical hygiene

Chemical Hygiene at the University of Nevada, Reno

Laboratory workers routinely handle a variety of hazardous chemicals – from those that have only minimal hazards to those that are highly toxic, carcinogenic, or which have unknown hazards. The University chemical hygiene program seeks to minimize the risks associated with laboratory activities at the University through written policies, training of laboratory personnel, standard operating procedures, effective communication of hazards, and preplanning of emergency actions based on actual laboratory risks.

The University Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP) is the document that describes the university’s policies and procedures for handling chemicals in laboratories. View the University's Chemical Hygiene Plan, or obtain a hard copy from EH&S by calling (775) 327-5040.


All laboratory personnel at the University have a responsibility for health and safety in the laboratory. The actions of a single laboratory worker can adversely affect the health and safety of themselves, other laboratory workers, and the environment.

Department Chairs

Department Chairs have ultimate responsibility for chemical hygiene issues within their department. In order to facilitate implementation of the chemical hygiene program, each Chair whose department includes laboratory operations is asked to appoint a Department Chemical Hygiene Officer.

Department Chemical Hygiene Officers

Department Chemical Hygiene Officers serve as a liaison between EH&S and their home department to facilitate implementation of the chemical hygiene program.

Principal Investigators/Laboratory Supervisors

Principal Investigators/Laboratory Supervisors are responsible for the health and safety of all personnel working in their laboratory. This includes implementing all portions of the CHP that are applicable to their laboratory.

Laboratory Workers

Laboratory Workers are responsible for following chemical hygiene policies and accepted safe laboratory practices, participating in required training, and reporting accidents or unsafe conditions to the laboratory supervisor.

Chemical Hygiene Training

All laboratory personnel must be provided with chemical hygiene training.

General chemical hygiene training

General chemical hygiene training is provided by EH&S and covers the University chemical hygiene program, hazards by chemical class, methods to minimize chemical exposure, and general emergency response.

Laboratory-specific training

Laboratory-specific training is the responsibility of each Laboratory Supervisor. This training should supplement the general training by covering hazards and procedures specific to the particular laboratory.

Teaching laboratories

Teaching laboratories should be provided laboratory safety training by the academic department. Students should be made aware of the hazards they will be exposed to and the methods used to control those hazards.

Minimizing Exposure to Chemicals

Laboratory Hoods are the primary method used to minimize inhalation of chemicals. To ensure that hoods are functioning properly, hood performance is tested by EH&S on an annual basis.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) must be developed to cover laboratory-specific procedures. SOPs should target laboratory operations that involve use of “particularly hazardous chemicals” (carcinogens, reproductive toxins, and chemicals that have high acute toxicity), frequently performed procedures, and chemicals that are used frequently or in relatively large amounts. SOPs should also be developed for procedures that have high potential for fire, explosion, or other physical hazards.

Designated Areas

Designated Areas are required when working with particularly hazardous chemicals. The designated area must marked as to the chemical hazard and appropriate warning, and access must be limited to authorized and trained personnel.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment includes safety eyewear, lab coats, and gloves. At a minimum, safety glasses are to be worn when working in the lab. Additional equipment such as goggles, faceshields, and chemical resistant gloves are to be worn when the hazard warrants it. Lab coats provide an extra barrier and are recommended when working in the laboratory.

Chemical Storage

Chemicals must be stored so as to discourage unauthorized access. Chemicals should be segregated based on general hazard class, with flammability usually taking priority. Chemicals should be inspected periodically for container integrity, chemical stability, and continued need in the laboratory. An inventory of all chemicals in the laboratory must be maintained and regularly updated.

Chemical Labeling

All chemical containers must be labeled.

Secondary chemical containers

Secondary chemical containers must be labeled with the chemical name and hazard information similar to that on the original container. Laboratory reagents (such as buffers or dilute acids) only need to be labeled as to their content and chemical concentration. If reagents are flammable, highly toxic, or carcinogenic, a hazard warning should also be included.

Research materials

Research materials (such as newly synthesized chemicals) must be labeled with the researcher’s name and available information regarding identity and hazards. A reference to research notebooks can be included when necessary to convey identity and hazard information.

Hazard Communication

Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) are chemical information sheets that are compiled by the manufacturer. SDSs must be readily available to laboratory personnel. SDSs can be accessed through the EH&S SDS retrieval system, or by contacting EH&S at 327-5040.

Laboratory Safety Summaries

Laboratory Safety Summaries are similar to SDSs but are designed to be more applicable to laboratory workers. Laboratory Safety Summaries are available in the laboratory safety reference book, Prudent Practices in the Laboratory, or can be searched for online. Availability of Laboratory Safety Summaries does not fulfill the regulatory obligation of providing availability to SDSs.