Safety in the workplace

Safety Inductions

Laboratories are potentially hazardous environments and accidents unfortunately can occur. However, by being aware of possible hazards and adopting a sensible approach to the work at hand, risks can be considerably reduced. Induction involves learning about safety procedures and being prepared for emergencies.

The Faculty has an appointed Safety Officers to coordinate matters relating to safety and all staff and students can call on them to provide assistance or find information on OH&S matters. The Faculty also has appointed EEOs (Emergency Evacuation Officers) for each building and all buildings are fitted with emergency warnings evacuation systems. (Please see last page for names and contact details of Faculty personnel)

There are three distinct levels of induction training appropriate to all staff and students in the University context. These are the general "corporate (University) level"; the local Faculty or building level; and finally, the more specific "hands-on" workgroup level induction which includes all practical classes and specialised activities.

Corporate Level Safety Induction

At the corporate level, the University has commitments under its Occupational Health and Safety Policy and through the Risk Management Office (RMO) has issued numerous guidelines and policies relevant to laboratory safety. The RMO is a useful reference point for on-line information and includes a convenient search tool dedicated to OHS issues. See Occupational Health & Safety Information.

Under NSW Government legislation and the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the University has a statutory obligation to provide a safe working environment for staff and students. Amendments to these regulations have been introduced which now require greater consultation together with a "systematic" approach to managing OHS risks. Your Supervisor is responsible for pointing out hazards and advising on appropriate safety measures to be taken, particularly when performing hazardous procedures or handling hazardous substances. Always consult your demonstrator or the supervisor in charge if you are uncertain about any procedure. Ultimately, however, your safety is largely dependent on your attitude and the use of proper laboratory techniques. Under the current legislation, staff & students also have responsibilities under the Act, in particular, under section 19 they must take care for the health and safety of others at work and must co-operate with the University on matters of health and safety.

Faculty or Building Level Safety Induction

This building level safety induction will be given by a member of technical staff and relate to the specific building(s) in which you will be working. Faculty or building level induction is concerned with how commencing staff and students are introduced and advised on procedures relating to safety at the local level. This induction covers such matters as emergency evacuation procedures, the names and contact details of local emergency contact personnel etc.

Workgroup Level Safety Induction

Induction at the local workgroup level refers to specific activities done by particular groups.
For undergraduate students this usually relates to the practical class being undertaken at the time. Scheduled practical class experiments have been assessed and reviewed for safety implications. All classes are preceded by a pre-lab discussion where specific procedures and hazards are highlighted. All instructions relating to safety in the laboratory manual must be strictly adhered to. Where hazardous substances are involved, MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) will be provided and students must follow strict instructions and use appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) such as face shields, goggles etc.
For staff and postgraduate students a workgroup specific induction will be given by your workgroup leader.
This induction will cover all job and laboratory specific matters such as location of material safety data sheets (MSDS), standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) and Risk Assessments. Each laboratory has Laboratory rules which are to be strictly observed at all times. All staff and fellow students are expected to enforce these rules and the Dean will deny access to the laboratory for persistent offenders. It should be pointed out that every laboratory is different, therefore some rules may vary. You should familiarise yourself with the accident and emergency procedures applicable to your laboratory. Know the location of emergency exits, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, emergency showers, and nearest first aid facilities.
For a general introduction to laboratory safety and a good overview of the subject see the Guidelines on Laboratory Safety (Biological and Chemical Safety

Working in the Laboratory

One of the secrets for success in the laboratory lies in proper planning. Work can be carried out far more efficiently after considering all the processes involved. It is much better to know how to deal with a chemical spill before it happens rather than after the event.
Work in an orderly and methodical manner. Do not rush an experiment and see your supervisor if you have any concerns.
All students and staff in FAFNR must complete the course “working with chemicals”, and where appropriate staff and students will be expected to complete the course “Biosafety Training” before commencing any lab work. Both these courses are run by the Risk Management Office in conjunction with Learning Solutions. You can enrol in these courses at Occupational Health and Safety courses - Learning Solutions - The University of Sydney.

There are of course numerous hazards likely to be encountered in the laboratory but for systematic purposes these may be grouped into 5 main categories:

  • Chemical
  • Biological
  • Radiation (ionizing and non-ionizing)
  • Mechanical
  • Electrical

Each category is covered - together with sections on fume cupboards/cabinets and chemical storage - under Australian Standard 2243 - Safety in laboratories. Part 1-7. This standard should be adopted wherever appropriate and may be used as the preferred reference for obtaining information on safety issues in the Faculty.

Further safety advice including interpretation of AS2243 together with current information on safety legislation is covered in the CCH Laboratory Safety Manual. The Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) also provides general information on safety such as brochures and journal articles and often holds conferences to discuss safety topics.

Working with Hazardous Substances

Chemicals can produce a wide range of adverse effects, from mild and reversible irritation of the respiratory tract to disabling injury and death. To help ensure a safe working environment as well as to meet legislative requirements no laboratory work should be commenced before staff & students have; obtained and read any relevant MSDS, conducted a risk assessment and formulated an appropriate standard operating protocol.

Non-Laboratory Safety

There are other activities within the Faculty outside the laboratory where safety and WHS issues are of paramount importance. Fieldwork is a crucial component of many degree programs and attention to safety is critical. All students must follow the guidelines at Fieldwork Safety Guidelines. Once again, forward planning is essential, including assessment of all possible risks in the field. Driving to and from sites, particularly when long distances are involved, must be included in such assessments.

Office ergonomics is another area demanding attention, especially where long hours in front of a computer screen are involved. Staff and students are referred to Office Ergonomic Guidelines for more information. Proper habits learned early in your degree will be rewarded later, such as when writing up your thesis.

Trips and falls are the most common injury on campus. Should you notice an unsafe situation such as damaged floor coverings, slippery surface, dangerous cords, etc please report to your supervisor, Safety Officer or other (academic or general) staff member.

Emergency contact numbers

NOTE: All the Department laboratories now have pictograms listing hazards and emergency contact details posted on the respective entrance doorway. In addition to these details, the following telephone numbers and contact persons may be useful:

Fire, ambulance & police (notify security first): 0 - 0000
In emergency, dial University Security Service: 13333 or 13487 (24 hour)
Safety Officers & Laboratory Managers:

EEO building wardens: Iony Gyorgy & Neil Wilson (ATP)
First aid officers: Adriana Hoxha (CCWF)
Iona Gyorgy & Jessica Maley (ATP)
University Health Service: 14095 or 13484
Risk Management Office: 14335 or 14176


Disclaimer: The University of Sydney and members of the Faculty of Agriculture and Environment accept no responsibility for errors or omissions in the Laboratory Safety Tutorial. No person should rely on the contents of the Safety Tutorial without first obtaining expert advice. Please send comments or corrections to