Laboratory Safety

A general definition of laboratory is a "room or building equipped for scientific experimentation or research." [American Heritage Dictionary]

The OSHA standard regarding occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals in laboratories distinguishes laboratories that fall within its scope by defining laboratory to mean a facility where the "laboratory use of hazardous chemicals" occurs. A workplace where relatively small quantities of hazardous chemicals are used on a non-production basis.

In the bloodborne pathogens standard, laboratory refers to a research laboratory which is defined as "a laboratory producing or using research-laboratory-scale amounts of HIV or HBV. Research laboratories may produce high concentrations of HIV or HBV but not in the volume found in production facilities."

Laboratory Safety

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What are the hazards associated with working in laboratories?

The physical hazards associated with working in laboratories can include: flammable liquids, gases and solids; compressed gases; water-reactive chemicals; and pyrophoric chemicals.

The health hazards associated with the use of chemicals in laboratories arise from chemicals that exhibit one or more of the following properties: acute and chronic toxicity (single organ and multiple organ); mutagenic; carcinogenic; irritation (ranging from slightly irritating to strongly irritating); and respiratory sensitization.

Additional health hazards in laboratories pertain to work with biological hazard such as, but not limited to, bloodborne pathogens (e.g., HIV, HBV, HCV, Ebola virus), Mycobacterium tuberculosis, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and other emerging disease-causing microorganisms.

What can I do to protect myself?

"Think bad in the lab!" Whether dealing with chemical or biological hazards, plan your work in advance to include how to respond to deviations in procedures (e.g., chemical fume hood failure, glove tear, unexpected chemical reaction, etc.) so that you are not injured or made ill. Be sure to follow established laboratory protocols and procedures. Ensure that all protective laboratory equipment (e.g., chemical fume hoods, biological safety cabinets (BSCs) are properly functioning and the appropriate personal protective clothing and equipment (e.g., lab coats, gloves, face shield, respirators) is worn when working with hazardous chemicals and biological hazards. Consult safety data sheets (SDS) in advance of work for chemical hazard identification, proper precautions and incompatibilities, and appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).

What resources are available to assist employers?

Safety and Health Programs

Example programs for chemical hygiene, hazard communication, bloodborne pathogens, PPE hazard assessment, hazardous chemical program, and respiratory protection are available for download and should be customized to fit workplace hazards and conditions.

Training and Outreach Services

Presentations on a variety of topics associated with laboratory work are available to assist employers in training their employees. These include: bloodborne pathogens; PPE; hazard communication; and respiratory protection.

In addition, the education, training and technical assistance bureau provides free online safety and health training and outreach services (i.e., speaker's bureau requests, safety booths) upon request. These pre-recorded webinars on hazard communication, respiratory protection and toxic and hazardous substances can also be accessed at any time.

Lastly, the NCDOL Library offers free safety and health videos (including streaming video services) and related research assistance on consensus standards (i.e., ANSI, NFPA, NEC).

A-Z Safety and Health Topics

A-Z topic pages on bloodborne pathogens, compressed gases, flammable liquids, formaldehyde, hazard communication, personal protective equipment, eyewash stations and emergency showers and respiratory protection can provide more resource information. 

Consultation Services

The consultative services bureau provides free and confidential onsite consultation regarding worksite safety and health hazards.

Which standards apply?

OSH has adopted the following standards that are applicable to laboratories in North Carolina. Note: Please also check the standards information and activity webpage to see if there has been any recent or upcoming regulatory activity on this topic. 

General Industry

General Duty Clause

  • NCGS 95-129(1) - General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of North Carolina

Other Applicable Standards

The Which OSHA Standards Apply webpage can also help identify other standards that may be applicable to your worksite.

Where can I learn more?

Compliance Documents

  • Compliance Directive: CPL 02-01-050 - Personal Protective Equipment in General Industry

  • Compliance Directive: CPL 02-02-052 - Enforcement Procedure for Occupational Exposure to Formaldehyde

  • Compliance Directive: CPL 02-02-069 - Enforcement Procedures for the Bloodborne Pathogens Standard

  • Compliance Directive: CPL 02-02-078 - Enforcement Procedures and Scheduling for Occupational Exposure to Tuberculosis

  • Compliance Directive: CPL 02-02-079 - Inspection Procedures for the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS 2012)

  • Standards Notice 72: Security of Compressed Gas Cylinders at Compressed Gas Supplier and Distribution Facilities.

  • Operational Procedure Notice 143: Suitable Facilities for Drenching or Flushing the Eyes or Body 

Industry Guides

Technical Assistance

If you would like to receive interpretive guidance on this or any other OSH standard or topic, you can submit your questions using the Ask OSH web form, by e-mail to or by calling 919-707-7876.