Health and Safety      College of Science and Engineering (COSE)

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Common Laboratory Safety Weaknesses


Compliance Weakness

Regulatory References*

Unlabeled or improperlylabeled containers
8 CCR 5194 (f)(4); (f)(8)
8 CCR 5191 (h)(1)(A)
8 CCR 5164 (a)
(Viol.M501) SFHC1117
(Viol.M501) SFFC8001.7; 8
Incompatibles stored together.
8 CCR 5164 (a)
(Viol M401) SFHC1116 
(Viol M401) SFFC8001.11.8
Improper use or lack of gloves, safety glasses, splash goggles, protective clothing, lab coats.
8 CCR 3380 (c)
Respirator violations including lack of fit testing, training, medical, protocol
8 CCR 5194 (i)
8 CCR 5144 (c)(1)
Lack of available MSDSs or knowledge of where the MSDSs are kept.
8 CCR 5194 (g)(1)
8 CCR 5194 (h)(1)(B)
Eating and drinking in the laboratories or food/beverages in chemical/sample refrigerators.
8 CCR 5194 (f)(4)(A)(3)
Defective or lack of guards such as the one on drive belts for vacuum pumps, overridden interlocks, coverings, or indicators.
8 CCR 3320
8 CCR 3328 (c)
Damaged electrical outlets and power cords
 (e.g., frayed insulation near plug).
8 CCR 2510.4
Expired or untagged hazardous waste
22 CCR 66262.34 (e)(1)(c); (f)
(Viol G501) SFHC1117
(Viol G501) SFFC8001.7
Inadequate or inconsistent training program
8 CCR 5191 (f)(1)
8 CCR 5194 (h)(1)
8 CCR 3203 (a)(7)
22 CCR 66265.16 (d); (e)


Referenced Regulations

* CCR: Code of California Regulations
Title 8. Industrial Relations
Title 22. Social Security
SFHC:  San Francisco Health Code
SFFC:   San Francisco Fire Code


Gas Cylinders

  1. Gas cylinders must be secured with two chains/brackets -- at the bottom third and top third.

  2. Before relocating gas cylinders, make sure double-brackets and/or chains are in place. In certain cases, a smaller size cylinder may be necessary to make sure it can be correctly double-bracketed.

  3. Cylinders containing flammable gas (i.e., carbon monoxide, hydrogen, acetylene) must be grounded. Make sure a ground wire is attached to the cylinder stem at one end and a metal pipe/rod that goes to ground (i.e., plumbing pipes) wherever it is in use.




Housekeeping in the Lab

Good housekeeping in laboratories is essential to reduce risks and protect the integrity of experiments. Routine housekeeping must be relied upon to provide work areas free of significant sources of contamination. Housekeeping procedures should be based on the highest degree of risk to which personnel and experimental integrity may be subjected.

Laboratory personnel are responsible for cleaning laboratory benches, equipment and areas that require specialized technical knowledge. To facilitate decontamination, the laboratory should be kept neat and free of clutter—surfaces should be clean and free of infrequently used chemicals, glassware and equipment. Access to sinks, eyewash stations, emergency showers and exits, and fire extinguishers must not be blocked.

Additional laboratory housekeeping practices include:

    1. Reduce clutter on laboratory benches. Surfaces should be clean and free of infrequently used chemicals, glassware and equipment.

    2. Properly dispose of chemicals and wastes. Old and unused chemicals should be disposed of promptly and properly.

    3. Dispose of biohazardous and radioactive waste in specifically labeled containers, and processed in accordance with University policies.

    4. Keep aisles and corridors free of tripping hazards and blockages from trash and stored furniture or equipment.

    5. Remove unnecessary items on floors, under benches or in corners.

    6. Avoid filling up fume hood work space with excessive storage of chemicals or other materials.

    7. Clean and certify all laboratory equipment before being released for repair, maintenance, or disposal.


Practical Custodial Considerations

Housekeeping staff will not enter areas they are not authorized to enter, or do work for which they have not been properly trained, or which has not been specifically assigned to them. Housekeeping will not remove biologically contaminated or radioactive trash or move containers holding such trash within a lab. Housekeeping will not assist in spill clean up. If you need assistance with a laboratory spill call your stockroom staff or campus EHOS at x8-1449.




Personal Protective Equipment

Engineering and administrative controls aren’t always effective in eliminating hazards and sometimes aren’t feasible for specific tasks. In these situations, using personal protective equipment (PPE) may be necessary to protect the health and safety of workers. For example, transferring hexane from a 5 gallon container may be difficult to do in a fume hood, so the transfer should then be done in the solvent storage room. In doing so, however, you lose the protection provided by the fume hood sash and need an alternate way to protect the eyes and face from splashed solvent.

Using personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect employees is considered the last resort when engineering and administrative controls aren’t enough. In part, this is because PPE effectiveness is dependent upon both consistently choosing the right equipment and wearing it properly.


Examples of personal protective equipment (PPE):

  1. Gloves
  2. Splash goggles
  3. Safety glasses with sideshields*
  4. Faceshield
  5. Lab Coat
  6. Welding apron
  7. SCBA breathing apparatus

*Note: Safety glasses with sideshields are designed protect eyes from flying objects and provide minimal eye protection from splashes. They don’t protect the face very well and are not suitable for working with corrosive or toxic liquids in anything above very small quantities.



Departments are responsible for setting policies on the type, quantity, and enforcement of personal protective equipment in teaching and research areas. Although COSE Health and Safety staff is available to provide guidance, they neither choose the specific brand or material nor can they be responsible for enforcement of department policies.



Show people how to use their PPE. When it comes to safety, effectively using and caring for protective equipment is as important as choosing the right equipment.

  1. Train lab workers to use and store their PPE properly
  2. Inform them of equipment limitations
  3. Enforce their use when required



Respirators and Dust Masks


It is important to note that there is a difference between what we call "respirators" and "dust masks". Respirators are intended to protect the wearer against harmful airborne contaminants, while dust masks are intended for comfort use in dusty, particulate-laden environments. Dust masks do not protect against gases and vapors, nor do they protect against harmful particulates in excess of Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs). (Although welding-type masks can provide limited protection from metal fumes below PEL levels, they do not protect against gases and vapors.) For our purposes, dust masks are not respirators*.


1. COSE Filtering Facepiece Respirator Program      

This program has been established by the College of Science and Engineering (COSE) in accordance with California Code of Regulations Title 8 Section 5144, Respirator Protection. This program applies to the use of dust masks (filtering facepiece respirators) for voluntary comfort use only.


This program does NOT apply to the use of respirators* worn to protect employees from exposures to airborne contaminants above the Permissible Exposure Limits or otherwise necessary to protect employee health. Such “air purifying” respirators should only be issued when it is impractical to remove airborne contaminants through the use of engineering or administrative controls (i.e, fume hoods, glove boxes, housekeeping, special techniques).


A. COSE Policy

Departments in the COSE, may allow filtering facepiece** respirators (i.e., dust masks) to be worn on a voluntary basis, only if they are intended merely for the comfort of the employee while performing a particular task.

  1. Filtering facepiece dust masks must be certified to meet NIOSH standards for Class 95*** particulate respirators.
  2. Dust masks may only be worn by an employee on a voluntary basis for the purpose of comfort against nuisance-level particulates or aerosols.
  3. Dust masks must be stored in a bag or box or otherwise protected from dirt or contamination.
  4. Recipients are required to read the information sheet entitled, “Information for Employees Using Filtering Facepiece Respirators When Not Required” and sign it before being issued a filtering facepiece respirator (dust mask). There must be one on file for each wearer.
  5. Employees must inform the COSE Health & Safety Specialist or University EHOS staff (x81449) if they are experiencing physical difficulty while wearing the mask or if they are concerned about overexposure to hazardous substances.

* dual or single cartridge, air purifying type
** negative pressure particulate filtering facepiece respirator with a filter as an integral part of the facepiece or with the entire facepiece composed of the filtering medium. Note: “surgical masks” are not dust masks and are neither permitted nor suitable for non-medical purposes
*** respirators that meet NIOSH 42 CFR 84 N95, R95, or P95 requirements


2. SFSU Respirator Program            

If engineering, administrative, and work practice controls fail to maintain exposures below Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs), workers must use respirators to achieve that end. Employers must provide appropriate respiratory protection at no cost to workers, provide appropriate training and education regarding its use, and ensure that workers use it properly.
(Excerpted from OSHA Fact Sheet: Hazardous Chemicals in Labs, 2002)

The use of respirators for employee protection is governed under the University’s filtering Respirator Program and only campus EHOS may issue such equipment after a thorough evaluation. An exposure evaluation, training, medical clearance, and fit testing are required before a respirator may be issued.

For more information or to obtain an (air purifying type) respirator, contact campus EHOS, at 338-1449.

More Information

Glove Guide (Michigan State University)

Eye and Face Protection Guide (Michigan State University)

Electricity and Electrical Appliances (City of Phoenix)    

COSE Filtering Facepiece Program (PDF)     

Required Dust Mask Handout (PDF)

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