Lab Safety

Each course supervisor is responsible for the safety of their course technicians, Teaching Assistants (TAs), and undergraduate students. Persons working in labs must be made aware of any potential hazards, laboratory procedures, and dangers and risks in using chemicals. Persons must also receive training on what to do in case of an accident.

In case of fire or accident, call 416-978-2222 (University Campus Police Emergency Line). If required, also contact the designated First Aid Trained Personnel for your floor.

If an injured person has to be taken to hospital, call the UofT Campus Police at 416-978-2323 or 416-978-2222. They will provide transportation to the hospital, or call an ambulance, if necessary.

Report accidents to within 24 hours. An Accident Report must be completed, and a special form for undergraduate students and non-employees.

All TAs, technicians, and faculty must have WHMIS training, taken within three years. All chemicals used in laboratories must be accompanied by Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). A small list of MSDS will been compiled here. MSDS should be kept in a place that is accessible to everyone in the lab.

Centrifuges are commonly used in biological research laboratories to separate cellular material from a suspending liquid medium. They can range from the small bench-models to the sophisticated ultracentrifuges. Low speed centrifuges can have a speed range of 2000 to 6000 rpm, while ultracentrifuges can run at 40,000 to 80,000 rpm. Needless to say, with components revolving at such high speeds, centrifuges constitute a potentially severe mechanical hazard. In addition, there are hazards which are related to the inherent toxicity of the material being centrifuged, such as with biohazardous or radioactive materials. 

All centrifuge users must be trained in and be familiar with the safe operation of the equipment. Before using a particular centrifuge, the manufacturer's instructions for that model should be read and followed. Procedures for the safe operation of centrifuges include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  1. Ensure that the loaded rotor or buckets and trunnions are properly balanced each time it is used.
  2. Load multiple containers symmetrically in the rotor. In addition to the potential physical hazard, failure to balance the rotor correctly will greatly increase the wear on the drive system, and can cause extensive damage to the rotor and centrifuge.
  3. All floor-standing centrifuges must be fitted with interlocks so that it is impossible to open the cover when the centrifuge is in operation. The newer models are built with interlocks; many older models were not built with such protective devices, however, the Ministry of Labour requires these units (centrifuges) to be retrofitted with interlocks, prior to operation.

For bench-centrifuges not fitted with interlocks:

  • Always close the centrifuge lid during operation.
  • At the end of a run, do not open until the rotating head has come to rest.
  • Never stop the rotor by hand or with an object.
  • There must be a sign displaying the fact that units must not be opened until the rotating head has come to a complete stop.
  • Do not leave the centrifuge until it has attained its full operating speed, in order to ensure that it is running without vibration. Stop the centrifuge immediately and check the load balances if vibration does occur.
  • Do not exceed the safe maximum speed of the centrifuge as specified by the manufacturer. A particular rotor may also be derated, meaning that it cannot run at it's maximum speed. Derating is usually necessary for rotors which have completed a certain number of runs and accumulated a certain number of hours, for rotors that have corroded, or for solutions with densities greater than 1.2g/cm3.
  • Clean rotors and buckets after use and dry thoroughly. Spillages can seriously weaken the rotor due to corrosion. Rotor components of low-speed centrifuges can be made of brass, steel, plastics, or aluminum alloys. An aluminum rotor can be easily corroded by acid or alkaline solutions but even solutions containing low concentrations of salts at neutral pH can break down the protective oxide film covering the surface of the rotor.

When centrifuging toxic materials, such as the case with biohazardous or radioactive samples, extreme caution must be taken to avoid contamination of the centrifuge as well as the laboratory: 

  • Use capped tubes to contain the samples and to prevent the escape of potentially hazardous aerosols.
  • Use containers made of unbreakable material whenever possible.
  • Conduct regular inspection and testing for signs of contamination (i.e. swipe tests).
  • Be aware of decontamination procedures that apply to your sample's hazard(s).
  • Centrifuge biohazardous materials within sealed rotors or buckets. Load and unload these materials within the biosafety cabinet or chemical fume hood.
  • Biocontainment features are commercially available for centrifuges. Further information can be obtained through the Biosafety Office by calling 416-978-3981, or from centrifuge manufacturers.
  • Conduct regular maintenance, inspections and servicing of the centrifuge, as outlined in the manufacturer's instructions.
  • Examine the centrifuge and it's components regularly for signs of corrosion, cracks, flaws, or undue wear, before each use.

If there is a major spill, get out of the lab and call 416-978-7000. After regular business hours, call the Campus Emergency Control Centre at 416-978-2222.


Report all spills to:

Diane Yeager
Chief Administrative Officer
Room ES3055F
Phone: 416-978-6515

*If Sally is unavailable, you may also report spills to EEB reception, by calling 416-978-8514 or visiting room ES3055.

Complete instructions on how to clean up a chemical spill can be found
on the EHS website. lab

Every lab must have an eye wash station. If there is one is not plumbed
into your lab, you must have a portable one, similar to a 1L squirt bottle
of sterile saline or water. Portable eye wash stations are available via UShop.

For details on the use of eye washes and safety showers in case of
chemical spills on the body, visit the EHS website.

You may also click here for a summary of information about safety showers and spills at UofT.

Chemical spill kits are to be used only for VERY SMALL spills. In teaching labs, clean up kits are located under the sink in a white bucket. Research labs are responsible for supplying their own kits according to their needs. For example, if your lab uses acids, you need to have an acid spill kit. There are also general spill kits available which have clean up supplies for a variety of situations. Spill kits are available through UShop. FInd out where your lab kit is located before you need it. On the third floor, clean up kits can be found in the YELLOW wooden box, located in the hallway.

Contact lenses should be worn when other forms of corrective eyewear are not suitable. Goggles should ALWAYS be worn in the lab.

Deluge showers are required by law where a person is exposed  to a potential hazard of injury to the skin due to contact with a biological or chemical substance. These units may be located inside or outside the laboratory but must always be accessible to laboratory workers. Deluge showers must be maintained properly and tested regularly. For further details, consult the University of Toronto Emergency Eyewash and Shower Standard.

The University of Toronto Protective Eye and Facewear Standard requires that appropriate protective eyewear be worn by faculty, staff, students and visitors in all situations where there is a potential hazard of injury to the eye/face.

Eyewash units are required by law in all laboratories where a person is exposed to a potential hazard of injury to the eye due to contact with a biological or chemical substance. These units should be located close to the hazard site and must always be fully accessible to laboratory workers. They must also be maintained properly and tested regularly. For further details, consult the University of Toronto Emergency Eyewash and Shower Standard.

Every lab must have an eye wash station. If there is one is not plumbed into your lab, you must have a portable one, similar to a 1L squirt bottle of sterile saline or water. Portable eye wash stations are available via UShop.

Portable fire extinguishers are designed to extinguish or control small fires. They are not intended to fight a large or spreading fire. Laboratories that use flammable liquids are equipped with multipurpose fire extinguishers, typically marked on the wall adjacent to each doorway. Fire extinguishers are required to be unobstructed, are to be visually checked and their tags initialed by laboratory supervisor/administrators on a monthly basis. Please visit the University of Toronto Fire Prevention website for more details.

Drinking, eating, or storing food in research or teaching labs is strictly forbidden. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Appropriate shoes must be worn at all times in laboratories where there is a hazard of foot injury. Perforated shoes, sandals and the like must not be worn in the laboratories. For further details, consult the University of Toronto Foot Protection Standard.

Flammable storage cabinets are required by law in all laboratories for the storage of flammable liquids that are not required for immediate use. The University of Toronto Flammable Liquids Storage: Standard for Storage Cabinets provides further details regarding labeling, maximum permissible quantities, and good storage practices.

In most laboratories, the fume hood is the primary device for the control of exposures to hazardous substances as it provides containment of operations which may release harmful gases, vapours or aerosols. The University of Toronto Laboratory Fume Hood Standard requires that these devices be appropriately selected, installed, used and maintained such that the health of laboratory workers is safeguarded.

The intensity of air flow in a fume hood will increase as the fume hood sash is raised. Fans, located in the ceiling, will then draw extra fresh air into the room in order to compensate for the increased air loss by way of the fume hood.

Air flow can also be increased by pressing the red "Set-Reset" button on the control panel AND the grey "mute" button (the "mute" button shuts off the alarm). This procedure should NOT be done on a regular basis.

Gloves must be worn whenever handling hazardous substances that can cause harm to or can be absorbed through the skin. Gloves must be selected on the basis of the material being handled, the particular hazard involved, and their suitability for the operation being conducted. For further details, consult the University of Toronto Protective Glove Standard.

The University of Toronto Hearing Protection Standard requires that appropriate hearing protection be worn by all those whose work requires exposure to potentially hazardous noise levels or are at increased risk of developing occupational noise-induced hearing loss. Potentially hazardous noise levels should be reduced or eliminated through the use of engineering and/or administrative controls. If this is not feasible, the use of appropriate hearing protection devices can reduce this potential hazard. 

Almost all EEB and CSB labs use chemicals, cultures, or microorganisms, and anyone working in a lab using these materials/substances must wear a lab coat.

Lab coats used in labs should not be worn outside the lab or in non-lab areas. Lab coats are to be worn only inside the lab but have to be removed when leaving the work area.

The department provides two lab coats for all faculty and staff, and provides a laundry service for all faculty, staff and graduate students.

Lab coats to be laundered should be placed in the blue laundry basket located in room ES1023C. Prior to handing in your coat to be laundered, make sure that your name is on it. All laundered lab coats are stored in and can be picked up from the same room. Each person should have at least two lab coats. The turn around time for laundering lab coats is approximately two weeks.

All lab coats worn by personnel in Bio Safety Level II labs have to be AUTOCLAVED prior to handing in to be laundered.

The University of Toronto Protective Clothing Standard provides further details and information regarding the selection and use of appropriate protective clothing.

As appropriate, laboratories must be equipped with or have ready access to safety equipment that may include fume hoods, eyewash units, deluge showers, flammable storage cabinets and fire extinguishers.

All persons working with microorganisms are required to take Bio Safety training, given by Environmental Health & Safety (EHS).

Although you may not be working with pathogenic organisms in your studies, you should always be aware of safety procedures in dealing with microbes in general. The mammalian immune system is normally able to handle most microorganisms, including those that are potentially pathogenic. However, there are two hazards that must be avoided.

  1. Persons with diseases that affect the immune system are at risk in handling normally non-pathogenic microorganisms. If you believe that you have such a condition, you should consult your physician. Should your condition be confirmed, you will be excused from laboratory exercises using microorganisms.
  2. Living cultures of "harmless" microorganisms can become invaded or colonized by pathogenic ones. Although this is unlikely, it is always safest to treat all microorganisms as potentially pathogenic.

 All persons working with microorganisms must observe the following rules:

  1. Clothing coming in contact with microorganisms should be removed and washed. The best way to avoid the embarrassment of leaving crucial pieces of clothing behind in the lab is to wear a lab coat. Lab coats are required for these exercises and should be taken home in a plastic bag and washed frequently. 
  2. Never touch living microorganisms with any part of your body. If you do come in contact with microorganisms, was the affected area(s) thoroughly in soap and water.
  3. Keep laboratory doors closed at all times.
  4. Never eat or drink in the laboratory.
  5. Wash your hands frequently and before leaving the laboratory.
  6. Report any spills to an instructor so that they can be cleaned and disinfected.
  7. Never leave microbial cultures open to the air. Keep them covered at all times. Many microorganisms can become airbourne and inhaled.
  8. Sterilize all instruments that you use to handle microorganisms. Before working with microorganisms, you must be instructed on how this is done. 
  9. Place all used microscope slides in the jars of disinfectant provided.
  10. Place all culture vessels away from the edge of the lab bench and away from areas where they could be knocked over.

Wearing proper personal protective equipment in the laboratory is mandatory when it is stipulated by policy, procedure or the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)

Propping or wedging doors open is strictly prohibited by the fire code.

Fire doors provide protection from smoke and flame in the event of a fire, and must be closed at all times.

The use of domestic refrigerators for the storage of highly volatile, flammable liquids presents a significant hazard to the laboratory work area. If flammable liquids are to be stored, specifically designed "explosion proof" or "explosion safe" refrigerators must be used. For further details, consult the University of Toronto Flammable Liquids Storage: Standard for Refrigerators.