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Assess and Plan for Hazards and Risks

Research activities may involve a wide range of hazards, including chemical, biological, radiological, physical and electrical. A critical component of managing these hazards is to take the time to systematically identify the hazards and assess the risks when planning an experiment and include safe work practices in laboratory standard operating procedures.

Identify Hazards and Assess Risks for All New Experimental Procedures and When Procedures Change

Researchers are expected to identify the hazards and assess the risks for new experimental procedures or when existing procedures change. Identify all health and physical hazards associated with the experiment. Reassess the risks when scaling up the experiment or changing the materials or procedure used.

A literature search may or may not identify hazards associated with an experimental procedure. It is important to keep in mind that published does not mean safe.

The Office of Research Safety can assist with hazard identification and risk assessment. Contact us at for more information.

Additional hazard identification and risk assessment resources include:

  • The American Chemical Society published a guide American Chemical Society Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories assist researchers in identifying and evaluating hazards and risks in their laboratory. This guide walks researchers through five hazard evaluation techniques that are well suited for university research laboratories.
  • Chapter 4 of Prudent Practices in the Laboratory published by the National Research Council assists researchers in identifying chemical and physical hazards in the laboratory.

Incorporate Safety into Laboratory Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)

Standard operating procedures are required when working with hazardous materials in the laboratory. Researchers are responsible for ensuring that procedures for working safely with hazardous materials are incorporated into their experimental procedures. SOPs can be generic, such as addressing how to work safely with mutagens, or specific, such as how to safely perform DNA extraction with ethidium bromide. Specific SOPs should be developed whenever possible.

The following should be included in all SOPs:

  • A summary of the hazards
  • Safe handling and storage procedures
  • Controls needed to prevent or minimize exposure (fume hood, biological safety cabinet, shielding, etc.)
  • Required personal protective equipment
  • Safe handling of waste generated by experiment
  • Emergency procedures

The Office of Research Safety is available to review SOPs. Contact us at for more information. You may also want to consider a peer review of your SOPs.

Plan for Emergencies

It is the responsibility of researchers to anticipate what could go wrong during an experimental procedure as part of the hazard identification and risk assessment process and plan for emergencies that may arise.

Principal investigators are responsible for communicating emergency procedures to lab members. Be specific when discussing what actions are to be taken in the event of an emergency. All lab occupants, even those not directly involved in research, must know what actions they need to take, how to report an emergency, campus emergency phone numbers and other specific contact names and phone numbers. University emergency numbers can be found on the Emergency Preparedness web site.

When planning for emergencies, consider:

  • Emergencies associated with the experiment (spill, explosion, unexpected reaction, fire)
  • Emergencies associated with the building (fire, loss of utilities, unexpected building closure)
  • Emergencies associated with the campus (unexpected campus closure)

Establish a Procedure for Prior Approval for New Hazardous Materials or New Experimental Procedures

Principal investigators are responsible for establishing a procedure for their lab for when prior approval is required before using new hazardous materials, conducting new experimental procedures, scaling up an experiment or changing an existing experimental procedure.

Establish a Procedure for Performing Hazard Assessments

Principal investigators are expected to establish a procedure for their lab for performing hazard identification and risk assessments for all experimental procedures involving hazardous materials, processes or equipment. The procedure should address:

  • When a formal hazard assessment is required and the hazard assessment tool to be used
  • Who will perform and review the hazard assessment
  • Conditions that require a reassessment

Establish a Procedure for Writing and Reviewing SOPs

Principal investigators are expected to establish a procedure for writing SOPs based on the results of the hazard assessment. The procedure should address:

  • Who will write the SOP
  • What information must be included in the SOP and the format to be used
  • Who will review the SOP
  • How often the SOP must be reviewed and updated