Lab Safety & Etiquette

During your years of study in the biological sciences, you will spend a great deal of time in laboratories. Our goal is to create a safer workplace for students, TAs, technicians and other staff. The workplace falls under provincial jurisdiction and is governed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act. You MUST observe these rules:

1. You may not eat or drink in any of the laboratories. There are simply too many poisonous and explosive substances around. It is, in fact, illegal under the industrial safety regulation to which we are subject. Please keep in mind that Ramsay Wright is a “smoke-free” building: smoking is forbidden in ALL rooms.

2. Rigorous cleanliness throughout all of your procedures will reduce the risk of contamination from the animal you are working with or the chemicals employed. This also reduces the risk of contamination of the apparatus (balances, microscopes, centrifuges, special glassware, etc.).

3. Special care must be taken with many of the chemicals used in labs. Some are extremely dangerous poisons, whereas others are explosive. Many, while not so dangerous as those mentioned above, can do lasting damage if accidentally ingested, splashed in the eyes, or simply inhaled as fumes in too great quantities — here formalin is the most obvious example.

4. When working with chemicals, make sure you protect yourself by wearing a lab coat, protective eyewear, and, if necessary, gloves. Gloves are not to be worn outside the classroom to prevent contaminating the public areas of the building with chemicals. If you wear CONTACT LENSES and expect to be working with chemicals during the laboratory session, remove them before entering the lab area. This is particularly important if you will be handling specimens preserved in formalin. If you splash chemicals in your eye, flush IMMEDIATELY for at least 20 minutes at the eyewash stations found at the sides of the room or in the prep room. Wash your hands before leaving the lab, even if you have been wearing gloves.

Please Note that there are three primary routes of entry into the body

(i) Ingestion (swallowing)
(ii) Absorption (contact with eye and skin may be absorbed into the body or cause local effects)
(iii) Inhalation (breathing in)

The above may have either acute (immediate) or chronic (long term) effects.
Example: Spilling acid on your hand will cause immediate harm (burn to skin).
Exposure to asbestos and tobacco smoke may result in lung cancer after as much as 20 years (long term effect).

It is mandatory to wear close toed shoes in the laboratory.

5. In some laboratory situations you will be working with radioactive materials, classed by many as among the most noxious substances. Even in “tracer” amounts they may constitute a health hazard. The health hazard arises in the following way:
(1) from external sources emitting radiations;
(2) accidental ingestion by swallowing or by inhalation of gases, vapours, dust, or powder; and
(3) by contamination of the person (skin, clothing, hair).
In this type of laboratory situation, as with others, read through your lab manual carefully, pay strict attention to your instructor, and lastly, when in doubt, stop and ask for clarification. As noted earlier, rigorous cleanliness should be exercised.

Clean up spills promptly. Chemical spill kits are located in each lab room or prep room for large spills.

6. Be extremely careful about disposing of sharp or otherwise dangerous items. OLD SCALPEL BLADES, HYPODERMIC NEEDLES, AND THE LIKE, MUST BE PLACED IN THE YELLOW SHARPS CONTAINERS AND BROKEN GLASS MUST BE PLACED IN THE BROKEN-GLASS CONTAINERS (20 LITER BUCKETS), not in the waste paper containers. We have had several incidents where cleaning personnel have been cut by such items when they removed the garbage bags. The Department is answerable to the Ontario Ministry of Labour for the safety of our staff members as well as that of our students.

Biological hazards should be disposed of in the buckets labeled biological waste. Bacterial waste is divided into liquid and solid waste. Solid waste includes pipette tips contaminated with bacterial waste. Ethidium Bromide or RedSafe solid gel waste should be disposed of in the buckets labeled Solid Gel Waste. Liquid gel buffer waste goes into the glass bottles provided. Other types of waste are to be disposed of separately and in the appropriate containers. Listen to your Prof or TA for instructions. Be careful not to mix up the different types of waste due to the differences in disposal methods necessary. Waste Disposal Labels will be attached to the waste jars. Please fill in the label with the name of the chemical you are disposing of if it isn’t already done. If you are not sure of what to do or where to dispose of something, ask. Never pour waste down the drain.

MSDS binders listing all chemicals used in the lab are stored in the prep rooms. These binders also contain WHMIS information and emergency procedures. Any accidents or injuries must be reported no matter how small. Accident reports are filed on-line at Click on the form for students on the right side of the page. Make sure your Prof or TA is aware of any incidents.

The teaching labs aim to recycle as much as possible, so you will probably see plastic or glass recycling containers in your lab. Please use them and do not mix gargage in with the recylable material.

The most important thing to remember when you are working in a teaching laboratory is that the equipment you use will subsequently be used by somebody else. So please treat all equipment with respect, and report any damage or irregularities immediately. Failure to do so will inconvenience and hamper the studies of other students who pay tuition as you do — and it is not fair to deny them their money’s worth. Don’t be afraid to report damage; your head will not be bitten off if you accidentally damage something.

If you encounter problems with any of the equipment see your demonstrator. If (s)he is busy and you really need help, see one of the Laboratory Services Staff in Rooms 136 or 312. They will do their best to help you.

Finally, remember the living animals you handle (this includes invertebrates such as insects and Daphnia) are not toys. THEY MUST ALWAYS BE TREATED WITH GREAT CARE.


Animal Use In Laboratories

Programs in life sciences at the University of Toronto include courses that involve observation, handling or experimentation on animals or on samples derived from animals. The use of animals in teaching and research is regulated by ethical and procedural guidelines and protocols. These are approved on an ongoing basis by the University Animal Care Committee, and follow provincial and federal government rules. We recognize, however, that some students may have strong reservations about personal exposure to any use of animal material in teaching. Students who want to avoid registration in programs or courses that include such labs are, therefore, encouraged to check in advance with the department. Laboratory investigations are part of all of the life science programs at the University of Toronto.