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 safe workplace for students, TAs, Professors, 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:
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. Ramsay Wright is a “smoke-free” building: smoking is forbidden in ALL rooms.
Store all personal items except what you need for immediate use in the lab in the coat rack/cubby area. One section of the unit holds street clothes only, and the other coat rack is for lab coats only. If you bring your lab coat with you, it should be stored in a separate plastic bag from the rest of your personal items. Ensure it is washed regularly. If a lab coat is spilled on, it should be cleaned in the lab prior to being sent to laundry.
Rigorous cleanliness throughout all of your procedures will reduce the risk of contamination from the organism you are working with or the chemicals employed. This also reduces the risk of contamination of the apparatus (balances, microscopes, centrifuges, glassware, etc.).
Special care must be taken with many of the chemicals used in labs. Some are dangerous poisons, whereas others are explosive or can damage DNA. 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.
When working with chemicals, make sure you protect yourself by wearing a lab coat, safety glasses or goggles and disposable gloves. You may need to wear a face shield, depending on the hazard. Gloves are not to be worn outside the classroom to prevent contaminating the public areas of the building with chemicals, bacteria or yeast, as three examples. 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 and then seek medical help. 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 of acute effect: Spilling acid on your hand will cause immediate harm (burn to skin).
Example of chronic effect: Exposure to loose asbestos fibres and tobacco smoke may result in lung cancer after as much as 20 years.
It is mandatory to wear closed toed shoes in the laboratory.
In all laboratories, 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 all spills promptly. Chemical spill kits are located in each lab room and prep room for large spills. Notify your TA or a lab tech if you need help.
Be extremely careful about disposing of sharp or otherwise dangerous items. SCALPEL BLADES, HYPODERMIC NEEDLES, AND THE LIKE, MUST BE PLACED IN THE YELLOW SHARPS CONTAINERS. 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.
Waste is divided into liquid and solid waste. Biological hazards should be disposed of in the buckets or autoclave bags labeled biological waste. Solid plastic waste includes pipette tips contaminated with bacterial or chemical waste. Ethidium Bromide or Red Safe solid gel electrophoresis waste should be disposed of in the buckets labeled Solid Gel Waste beside the Gel Doc. Liquid 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, read any in-lab clean-up instructions and check your lab manual. Be careful not to mix 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.
Safety Data Sheet (SDS) binders listing all chemicals used in the lab are stored in the prep rooms. These binders also contain WHMIS information and emergency procedures. Safety Data Sheets also found online by searching “safety data sheet” and the chemical name.
https://ehs.utoronto.ca/resources/hazardous-materials-information/ Click the link “ChemWatch Gold FFX” from U of T IP addresses to access safety data sheets and information.
Any accidents or injuries must be reported no matter how small. Accident reports are filed on-line at http://www.ehs.utoronto.ca/Home.htm. Click on the form for students on the right side of the page. Make sure your Prof or TA is aware of any incidents. First Aid Kits are located in the hallways by the elevator as well as in the CSB teaching lab rooms and prep rooms.
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 garbage in with the recyclable 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 damaged or missing items – the technicians would rather know sooner rather than later that something needs to be repaired or replaced.
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 one of prep rooms. They will do their best to help you.
Finally, remember the living animals you handle (this includes invertebrates such as insects and Daphnia) 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.