Throughout graduate school, students will likely be participating in independent research, which may require the use of hazardous chemicals or conducting hazardous operations. Accordingly, laboratory safety is a critical component of their pursuits, and students should be increasing their knowledge of safe operating procedures.
Graduate students need to be able to synthesize all the pieces of safety education they acquired during their undergraduate experience and extend the application of that knowledge to new situations. During their graduate education, they will move to a new level of understanding. They will be developing processes and synthesizing compounds that have never before existed. They need to be able to extrapolate the likely hazards and risks, and identify and use appropriate precautions.
They'll also learn more about standard and specialized laboratory operations and techniques, the associated hazards, and the safest ways to conduct these operations. For example, students may learn more about the properties and uses of pyrophoric materials and how to safely handle these materials.
Graduate students should also be learning about risk assessment and the use of risk assessment tools for research laboratories, such as those published by ACS in Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories [PDF].
Those with advanced degrees are likely to be overseeing the safety of others and offering experimental advice during and after graduation, making safety awareness a requirement throughout their professional lives.
New Grad Students
New graduate students should have mentors to help explain safe procedures and processes.
- As your experience grows, you should become a mentor for other graduate students.
New graduate students should arrive with a basic education in laboratory safety. Your education should be based on physical, chemical, and toxicological principles of safety, as summarized in the RAMP framework.
As students develop their research proposals, they should also include detailed standard operating procedures, which include operational safety, that are submitted for review and approval by principal investigators, research advisors, or other faculty.
Teaching assistants (TAs) often have responsibilities for operating and overseeing undergraduate students and laboratories. Typical expectations are listed below. Additional topics may be added as needed by a specific institution.
Safety in Academic Chemistry Laboratories should be used jointly by TAs and faculty to identify specific learning objectives for the students under the supervision of TAs.
- Understand the organizing principles of safety—RAMP—and how these apply to each experiment.
- Read and sign the Chemical Hygiene Plan for their assigned teaching laboratories.
- Know the location of the SDS information for their assigned laboratories.
- Know the underlying chemistry for each experiment being taught.
- Demonstrate proper laboratory techniques for each experiment to the students.
- Demonstrate appropriate procedures for operation of common laboratory equipment, such as burners and hot plates.
- Provide appropriate laboratory safety instruction to students, including explaining the health hazards and risks associated with each experiment.
- Manage the setup and cleanup of laboratory experiments.
- Follow appropriate safety and PPE protocols during laboratory preparation activities, such as making solutions and preparing student samples.
- Maintain good housekeeping in assigned laboratories.
- Know, follow, and enforce the institutional policies and procedures for the following:
- Appropriate use of PPE and laboratory clothing
- Responding to students or staff who have mental health problems
- Administering basic first aid to students and staff for injuries, fainting, or other physical health problems
- Generation and disposal of hazardous waste.
- Know, follow, and enforce institutional procedures and reporting protocols for emergencies, including:
- Incidental and major spill
- Building evacuation
- Loss of ventilation
- Loss of electrical power
- Fire and fire alarm
- Natural disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, volcano, or earthquake
- Active shooter alert.
Teachers & Staff
Faculty and staff who supervise students in chemistry laboratories at all levels in higher education must themselves be familiar with chemical safety and safe laboratory procedures.
They must know their institutional requirements for safety training and monitoring and the protocols for responding to emergencies.
They must also know their institutional protocols for managing the safety of students with disabilities.