These guidelines cover the hazardous nature of laboratories and laboratory work and direct the reader to a wide range of information available on laboratory safety.

Due to the diverse nature of laboratory work specific laboratory safety information is not provided here. Instead reference should be made to local or departmental laboratory safety manuals and safe work procedures (SWPs) that should be developed and made available in each laboratory area to cover the wide range of risks posed by local laboratory operations and practices.

A reference list of relevant Standards, Codes of Practice, Guidance Notes and legislative documents is provided to assist staff to achieve laboratory safety compliance and management of risks associated with laboratory work and to ensure the health, safety and well-being of all personnel working in or accessing laboratories.

  1. Scope
  2. Definition of a Laboratory
  3. Laboratory Design and Construction
  4. Access To Laboratories
  5. Laboratory Hazards
  6. Laboratory Safety
  7. Responsibility for Laboratory Safety
  8. Information on Laboratory Safety

1. Scope

These guidelines are applicable to all University staff and students who work in laboratories and associated areas. They are also applicable to contractors and other University affiliates who visit or access University laboratories and associated areas. Responsibilities for managing health and safety in laboratories is also included.

2. Definition of a Laboratory

A laboratory is a place, building or part of a building used for scientific and related work that may be hazardous. The work conducted in a laboratory may include teaching or learning, research, clinical or diagnostic testing and analysis. A laboratory may have associated areas including preparation, instrumentation, decontamination, wash-up and storage rooms, or a workshop in an engineering area (eg mechanical, electrical, aeronautical and civil engineering).

Laboratories are commonly used for scientific disciplines ranging from biology, chemistry, physics, botany and zoology to medicine, psychology, dentistry, engineering, agriculture and veterinary science.

3. Laboratory Design and Construction

Laboratory design and construction plays an essential and critical role in ensuring that laboratories and associated areas are safe places to work and visit.

Safe design principles are fundamental to laboratory design and construction and are detailed in the SafeWork Australia - Safe Design of Structures Code of Practice. These principles consider the safety of those who construct, maintain, clean, repair and demolish a laboratory building or structure, as well as those who work in or visit the laboratory. Laboratory personnel, project managers, design managers, architects, engineers, and others involved in the laboratory design and construction process, have an important role to play in identifying health and safety risks that could arise throughout the life cycle of the laboratory building or structure and where practicable, eliminating or reducing risks during the design and construction phase.

Management of health and safety in laboratories is therefore an ongoing responsibility shared by a number of people who control the design, construction, use and maintenance of these areas.

General requirements to be considered when planning for the construction of a new laboratory or refurbishment of an existing laboratory are detailed in AS/NZS 2982 - Laboratory design and construction – Sections 1 to 7. Laboratories that are to be used for biological or radiological work have additional requirements as detailed in Sections 8 and 9 of this Standard. AS/NZS 2982 is to be used in conjunction with the National Construction Code – NCC (previously known as Building Code of Australia - BCA) and NSW Work Health and Safety (WHS) legislation and other relevant Australian Standards.

Microbiological laboratories have specific containment requirements in addition to those specified in AS/NZS 2982. Refer to AS/NZS 2243.3 - Safety in laboratories Part 3: Microbiological safety and containment for details.

4. Access To Laboratories

Laboratories are considered to be high risk environments when compared to other areas in the University (e.g. offices, tutorial rooms, lecture theatres etc). As a result, entry to any laboratory is to be restricted to individuals who are authorised by the laboratory supervisor or laboratory manager, to enter. The Supervisor shall ensure that any person given authority to enter receives appropriate:
(a) information regarding hazards and related risks that are present;
(b) safety measures to be adopted (eg local rules, SWPs, suitable protective clothing and equipment etc), and
(c) supervision.

Children are not permitted in laboratories, workshops or associated areas (refer to Children in Univeristy Workplaces and Premises Policy).

5. Laboratory Hazards

Defined simply, a hazard is anything that may cause injury, harm or damage. The hazards encountered in a laboratory are many and varied and may result in short term or long term health effects if individuals are exposed to these hazards. When planning any work in a laboratory the risk of exposure to laboratory hazards is an important consideration during the risk assessment and risk management process.

Laboratory hazards fall generally into one of five categories:

  • Biological - eg pathogenic microorganisms, animals, biological tissues, blood and other body fluids (human and animal)
  • Chemical - eg corrosive, flammable, toxic
  • Physical - eg noise, radiation, manual handling
  • Electrical/Mechanical - eg high voltage apparatus, machinery with moving parts
  • Psychological - eg emotional stress, workplace bullying

6. Laboratory Safety

Laboratory safety rules and safe work practices or procedures (SWPs) should be established by Faculties, Schools and Disciplines to cover specific operational needs and to reduce the risks associated with laboratory hazards.

As a condition of entry to a laboratory, all individuals must complete a laboratory safety induction and receive specific training in local safety rules and laboratory procedures relating to their work (including relevant SWPs).

Individuals are required to comply with laboratory safety rules and procedures at all times whilst in the laboratory. Individuals who act contrary to the rules and procedures should be excluded from the laboratory.

7. Responsibility for Laboratory Safety

Responsibility for safety and compliance with laboratory safety rules and procedures rests primarily with the management of the laboratory. Work Health and Safety (WHS) Advisers, Safety Officers and Health and Safety Representatives (HSR) may also provide advice and feedback on the effectiveness of risk control measures outlined in local laboratory safety rules, manuals or SWPs for work being carried out within a laboratory. (Refer to the WHS Policy and Procedures).

Heads of Schools, Disciplines and Centres: are answerable through their Dean/Head to the Vice-Chancellor and the Senate for the administration of their departments in accordance with legislative requirements and University policies. This includes responsibility for the health, safety and wellbeing of staff, students, contactors and affiliates who work in or access laboratories. They must also ensure that WHS risks relating to all activities undertaken in laboratories under their control are properly identified, assessed and controlled.

Supervisors/Lab Managers: have a particular responsibility to their Head of School, Department, or Centre for ensuring that the work for which they are responsible is carried out in a manner that safeguards the health, safety and wellbeing of staff, students and visitors in their charge. They must also ensure that all personnel who access laboratories have received the appropriate laboratory safety induction and training to enable them to undertake their work safely, and that documented records of this training is kept for at least five years.

Staff/Students/Affiliates: required to undertake work in laboratories are to comply with local laboratory safety information, rules, manuals and SWPs. Failure to comply may result in disciplinary action being taken by the University.

Staff and students must take personal responsibility for ensuring their own safety and the safety of others by:

  • taking the necessary action(s) to eliminate or minimise the risks of laboratory hazards over which they have control;
  • complying with safety instructions, policies and procedures, including local/departmental safety rules, manuals and SWPs;
  • completing the appropriate laboratory safety induction and training to enable them to undertake their work safely, and ensure that this training is documented and records are kept by the supervisor/laboratory manager;
  • making proper use of all safety devices and appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment;
  • complying with the instructions given by emergency response personnel such as emergency wardens and first aid officers;
  • not wilfully placing at risk the health and safety of any other person;
  • seeking information or advice where necessary before carrying out new or unfamiliar work;
  • maintaining dress standards appropriate for the work being done i.e. appropriate personal protective clothing, footwear and equipment must be worn and used at all times;
  • only consuming or storing food and drink in designated areas outside the laboratory;
  • being familiar with emergency and evacuation procedures and the location and use of emergency equipment (only if appropriately trained);
  • reporting all incidents, injuries, hazards and 'near miss' incidents to their supervisor and submitting a report on the 'Riskware' reporting system.

8. Information On Laboratory Safety

There are many different types of laboratories and a great number and variety of different hazards within laboratory environments. Consequently, there is a large volume of information available which addresses health and safety in laboratories. This information may be derived from the University's A-Z of WHS Information, regulatory information and literature, advice from experienced personnel in the University or external experts.


(a) Australian Standard AS/NZS 2243 - Safety in Laboratories

This Standard comprises ten separate parts dealing with different aspects of laboratory safety (see list below). Australian Standards can be accessed from the University’s Library webpage (view Electronic Resources -Databases then select “Australian Standards”). Standards may also be purchased from SAI Global.

  • AS/NZS 2243.1 - Planning and operational aspects
  • AS/NZS 2243.2 - Chemical aspects
  • AS/NZS 2243.3 - Microbiological safety and containment
  • AS/NZS 2243.4 - Ionizing radiations
  • AS/NZS 2243.5 - Non-ionizing radiations – Electromagnetic, sound and ultrasound
  • AS/NZS 2243.6 - Plant and equipment aspects
  • Obsolete: AS 2243.7 - Electrical aspects (Refer to DR AS/NZS 2243.2 – 2018 draft)
  • AS/NZS 2243.8 - Fume cupboards
  • AS/NZS 2243.9 - Recirculating fume cabinets
  • Obsolete: AS/NZS 2243.10 - Storage of chemicals (Refer to DR AS/NZS 2243.2 – 2018 draft)

(b) CCH Laboratory Safety Manual

This manual (accessible through Electronic Resources-Databases - select “CCH”) provides clear safety advice on laboratory safety matters and interprets relevant sections from the Australian Standards and legislative requirements.

(c) Other Australian Standards, Codes of Practice & Guidance Notes

A number of other Australian Standards have further information on laboratory safety - some of these are listed below. Codes of Practice and Guidance Notes are documents prepared by eminent or regulatory bodies which specify safe practices for particular tasks, workplaces or occupations. Some of those relevant to laboratory work are also listed below.

Australian Standards

  • AS/NZS 1270 – Acoustics, Hearing protectors
  • AS/NZS 1336 – Eye and face protection – Guidelines
  • AS 1473 - Guarding and safe use of wood working machinery
  • AS 1473 - Wood processing machinery - Safety (series 1-8)
  • AS/NZS 1715 - Selection, use and maintenance of respiratory protective equipment
  • AS/NZS 1716 – Respiratory protective devices
  • AS 1894 – The storage and handling of non-flammable cryogenic and refrigerated liquids
  • AS 1940 - The storage and handling of flammable and combustible liquids
  • AS/NZS 2161 - Occupational protective gloves (all parts)
  • AS/NZS 2210 - Occupational protective footwear (all parts)
  • AS/NZS 2211 - Safety of laser products (series 1-12)
  • AS 2252.4 - Controlled environments, Part 4: Biological safety cabinets Classes I and II - Installation and use
  • AS 2252.5 - Controlled environments, Part 5: Cytotoxic drug safety cabinets – Design, construction, installation, testing and use
  • AS/NZS 240.3.6 – Classification of hazardous areas, Part 3.6: Examples of area classification – Laboratories, including fume cupboards and flammable medical agents
  • AS 2714 - The storage and handling of organic peroxides
  • AS 2830.1 - Good laboratory practice - Chemical analysis
  • AS 2845.3 - Water Supply-Backflow prevention devices Part 3: Field testing and maintenance of testable devices
  • AS/NZS 2982 - Laboratory design and construction
  • AS/NZS 3000 - Electrical installations (known as Australian/New Zealand Wiring rules)
  • AS/NZS 3833 - The storage and handling of mixed classes of dangerous goods in packages and intermediate bulk containers
  • AS 4332 - The storage and handling of gases in cylinders
  • AS 4775 – Emergency eyewash and shower equipment
  • Refer also to UN. Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS)

SafeWork Australia Publications
Guidance Material, Fact Sheets, National Standards and Codes of Practice:

  • Prevention of eye damage
  • Diseases acquired from animals
  • Cyanide poisoning
  • Arsenic and its compounds
  • Solvent vapour degreasing
  • Storage of Chemicals
  • Control of workplace hazardous substances
  • Labelling of workplace substances
  • Assessment of health risks arising from the use of workplace hazardous substances
  • Passive smoking in the workplace
  • Prevention of occupational overuse syndrome
  • Prevention of occupational noise-induced hearing loss
  • List of designated hazardous substances
  • Safe handling and use of carbon nanotubes
  • Getting Students to Work Safely

SafeWork NSW/WorkCover Publications

  • Managing Chemical Hazards in the Workplace
  • Safe use of solvents at work
  • Reading Labels and Material Safety Data Sheets
  • Hierarchy of hazard controls
  • Principles of machine guarding
  • Safe Manual Handling
  • Nanotechnolgy
  • Work involving use of Carcinogenic Substances Guidelines for Notification
  • Storing Security Sensitive Dangerous Substances GE08: Guide to obtaining a Licence
  • Using Security Sensitive Dangerous Substances GE02: Guide to obtaining a Licence
  • Cytotoxic Drugs and Related Waste Risk Management Guide
  • Passive smoking in the workplace
  • Pregnancy and work

(d) Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

SDS are used internationally to provide the information required to allow the safe handling of hazardous substances at work. The SDS describes:

  • the substance - i.e. its identity, physical properties, chemical properties and uses;
  • health hazard information;
  • precautions for use;
  • appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment; and
  • safe handling information (including first aid, dealing with spills and emergencies etc)

Staff, students and other laboratory personnel shall be provided with ready access to SDS for each chemical they use in their workplace/laboratory (refer to ChemAlert - chemical information database). Laboratory chemicals should only be purchased from suppliers who will provide an appropriate SDS, that is less than five years old, for each chemical supplied.

(e) University Policy and Information

The University has a Policy Register that includes Health and Safety policies and information on a range of work health and safety requirements, many of which are relevant to those working in laboratories (refer to A-Z of WHS Information).

(f) Other Texts on Laboratory Safety

There are many texts which provide information on various aspects of laboratory safety - subject areas range from dangerous properties of chemicals, toxicology and waste disposal to specific texts on laboratory safety. These texts are available from various book suppliers with a range available for perusal in the WHS library (contact Safety, Health & Wellbeing on x15555 for assistance).


Information on laboratory safety may also be acquired from other personnel (within or outside the University) who have relevant experience and knowledge.

Any health and safety concerns of staff or students should be discussed initially with the local Supervisor eg., academic staff member, laboratory manager or senior technical officer in charge of the laboratory.

Safety Officer
Most departments have a Safety Officer who acts as a local source of information on WHS matters and may be approached for advice.

Other Safety Officers
Many departments also have a local Radiation Safety Officer or Biosafety Officer who has specialist knowledge in these areas. They may be approached for information on radiation safety or biological safety.

Health and Safety Representatives (HSRs)
Local HSRs can be contacted for advice and assistance with WHS issues arising in a specific work area.

Safety Health & Wellbeing (SHW)
SHW has WHS Advisers and Specialists, including a Laboratory Safety, Radiation Safety and Biological Safety Advisor that can be contacted for further information or advice on laboratory safety matters.

External Experts
There are many organisations and individuals external to the University who may provide information on particular safety issues eg, the SafeWork NSW, SafeWork Australia, ANSTO, CSIRO, Department of Health and Ageing, specialist consultants etc.