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Lab Safety Audits Exposed

A summary of recommendations based on audit and inspection reports, along with some general lab safety recommendations, provide a broad overview of the types of issues raised during safety consultations.

by James A. Kaufman
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Outside Evaluations Reveal Critical Issues and Concerns

Over the past 30 years, I’ve conducted thousands of audits and inspections of laboratories and other workplaces. In addition to labs, those inspections have included storage rooms, classrooms, and areas such as fire departments, artist studios, crime labs, jails, libraries, and theaters. I have also been training personnel in how to conduct these audits and inspections.

This article is a portion of a Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI) publication, Audits and Inspections: A Summary of Recommendations, summarizing the recommendations from my audit and inspection reports over the past several years. Some general lab safety recommendations have also been added. It is intended to provide a broader overview of the types of issues and concerns raised during these consultations.

Having an outsider evaluate your workplace can be very helpful, as an outsider is not unbiased but differently biased. An outsider questions and compares in ways that insiders may not feel comfortable.

There’s another issue. It’s very difficult for insiders’ voices to be heard. Colleagues are often unable or unwilling to hear the insider’s voice. So, having an outside review can be very helpful in getting the message across to colleagues and management/ administration.

Summary of Audit/Inspection Recommendations

Biological and Animal Hazards

1. Use dissecting specimens preserved with non-formaldehyde (formalin) preservatives.

2. Store scalpels all pointing away from you.

3. Store syringes in locked drawers or cabinets.

4. Ensure proper care for live specimens during vacations.

5. Seal specimen containers with vinyl electrician’s tape.

Chemical Disposal

1. See if a rendering company will take biological specimens to make glue.

2. Some items (carbon disulfide, ammonium dichromate) should be returned to central storage or kept only with permission.

3. Collect hazardous wastes in clearly labeled containers which are kept sealed at all times except when waste is being introduced.

4. Keep waste containers closed except when waste is being introduced.

Chemical Handling

1. Do not permit the preparation and consumption of food or beverages in areas where chemicals are handled or stored.

2. Properly label all chemicals and containers.

3. Install additional fume hoods as noted.

4. Put warning labels on hazardous chemicals.

5. Resecure labels with wide, clear shipping tape.

Chemical Storage

1. Store oxidizing acids (nitric and perchloric) separately from other acids (formic, acetic and butyric acids are organic fuels).

2. Store corrosives and other hazardous chemicals below eye level.

3. Post “No Food Storage” signs on all chemical and biological storage refrigerators.

4. Store mercury in closed containers.

5. Store corrosives separately from other chemicals.

6. Store oxidizers separately from other chemicals.

7. Corroded storage cabinets need to be cleaned and repainted with epoxy paint.

8. Store flammables in approved flammables cabinets.

9. Establish a system-wide method for chemical arrangement.

Compressed Gases

1. All compressed gas cylinders should be chained to avoid falling over.

2. Transport liquid nitrogen in freight elevators or using passenger elevators as dumbwaiters.

3. Use a regulator to remove gas from cylinders when the pressure is above 30 psi.

4. Keep the protective cap in place at all times except when the gas cylinder is in use.

Electrical Hazards

1. Repair faulty electrical receptacles and equipment as noted.

2. Eliminate the use of two-prong unpolarized plugs on all electrical devices.

3. Install additional receptacles as noted. Do not use extension cords for permanently installed equipment.

4. Upgrade circuit breakers to GFI circuit breakers.

5. Repair plugs with missing ground prongs.

Emergency Facilities

1. Install eyewash fountains, safety showers, first aid kits and fire blankets as noted.

2. Provide signs to designate the location of emergency equipment and emergency facilities.

3. Make sure emergency equipment and facilities remain unobstructed.

4. Clean, tag and date eyewash facilities and safety showers regularly.

5. Make sure safety showers are useable (i.e. have chain attached).

6. Repair emergency facilities as noted.

General Facilities

1. Install guards on paper cutters and fans as noted.

2. Repair damaged facilities as noted.

3. Belt/pulley guards are required on all vacuum pumps.

4. Provide running water and electricity to labs as noted.

5. Turn off gas and electricity when not in use.

6. Clean and defrost refrigerators as noted.

7. Install alarm systems for computer room security.

8. Reduce overcrowding by assigning fewer students to science classes.


1. Discard broken glassware in designated containers.

2. Store glassware below eye level.

3. If beakers and flasks must be stacked, use a sheet of corrugated cardboard between the layers.


1. Provide general clean-up for the noted areas.

2. Store heavy objects on lower shelves.

3. Stored materials and equipment should not stick out from shelving.

4. Where electrical cords must run across walkways, provide covers to avoid tripping hazards.


1. Use the ANSI Z-136.1 Standard as the guide for laser safety.

Safety Equipment

1. Use only chemical splash goggles in chemistry and biology laboratories.

2. Use impact goggles for physics and shop.

3. Use sanitizer cabinets between classes to disinfect goggles.


1. Install additional fume hoods as noted.

2. Repair fume hoods as noted.

3. Make sure that all labs and storage rooms have proper ventilation.

4. Keep fume hoods clean of paper and other items.


1. Secure file cabinets to wall to eliminate tip over hazard.

2. Do not store materials on the floor and in aisles or walkways or within 24 inches of the ceilings.

3. Make sure alcohol burners have caps.

4. Make sure sharp objects (knives, scissors, syringes etc.) are pointing away or stored.

5. Repair or discard cracked fish tanks.

Safety Program

1. The school should have a written safety and health policy that is endorsed and supported by the principal and superintendent.

2. There should be assigned responsibility for the school’s health and safety program. That person should report directly to the senior administrator.

3. There should be a written safety program describing the various activities that will go on to help ensure that the policy in #1 is implemented.

4. These activities should include:

a. A safety committee

b. Regular inspections

c. Taking corrective actions

d. New employee safety orientation

e. Recordkeeping and reporting

f. Accident investigation and reporting

g. Safety meetings

h. Written rules and regulations (like an emergency procedure for dealing with spills.

i. Regular safety and health training as mandated by the state and federal laboratory standard, hazard communication standard, right-to-know and Workers Compensation Regulations.

j. Emergency planning

k. Rewards

l. Enforcement

m. Performance evaluation

n. Student and staff rules agreements, which include the four critical parts: read, understood, agree, and realize

This article is based on LSI’s publication Audits and Inspections: A Summary of Recommendations. Approximately half the recommendations are presented in this article. Interested readers may contact LSI ( to order the full publication.