The laboratory safety program at WCU is designed to minimize the risk of injury or
illness by providing support to lab personnel through safety training programs and
guidance documents for safe lab practices. The Principal Investigator or Lab Supervisor
has a responsibility to ensure that the personnel working in his or her lab are properly
informed and trained to work effectively and safely in the laboratory. The information
and documents available below identify the requirements for each laboratory and will
ensure compliance with Federal and State regulations.
LAB SECURITY AWARENESS
Attacks on the United States with biological and chemical weapons is an increasing
concern and academic laboratories are a potential target for individuals wanting access
to explosive precursor materials, biological toxins, and equipment. This information
is intended to raise awareness for potential chemical and biosecurity risks in academic
labs and actions we can take to report suspicious behavior and mitigate potential
This short video emphasizes the importance of maintaining awareness in the academic
laboratory environment and provides guidance for reporting suspicious activities. Chemical Indicators – Laboratory Security Awareness
Use the following guidelines to help identify suspicious behavior and enhance chemical
security awareness in university laboratories:
- Be aware of unknown individuals trying to access the lab or requesting to borrow chemicals
- Maintain a chemical and equipment inventory and be aware of missing supplies or chemicals.
- Let your supervisor know if you receive a request from an unidentified person asking
questions about scientific processes or other technical information. Be aware of
emails that look like they are associated with legitimate entities (@edu.com or @edu.us).
- Use an ordering system to quickly identify any purchases that are charged to the lab
but never delivered, or items delivered that don’t have a corresponding lab purchase
- Always lock the lab when it is unoccupied, even if only leaving for a short time (i.e.
phone call, bathroom or eating break, etc.).
- Mention any suspicious activity to your lab supervisor.
Report Suspicious Activities:
WCU Department Head
WCU Campus Police 828-227-8911 (emergency), 828-227-7301 (non-emergency)
WCU Safety and Risk Management Office: 828-227-7443
Every laboratory at WCU must be registered with the Safety and Risk Management Office.
This process ensures that the Safety Office has a current list of occupied labs and
responsible parties, a survey of the type of work being conducted in the labs, and
an accurate list of lab emergency contacts.
The Principal Investigator (PI) or Lab Supervisor is required to submit the Lab Registration Form to initially register the space and at any time in the future if any of the following
- You are relocating to a new lab space, or become responsible for an additional lab
- You are using a new hazardous chemical, biological agent, or new hazardous procedure
The Safety Office will use the information provided on the form to develop door signs
for the lab. This provides a necessary reference in the event of an emergency.
You are required to submit a copy of your current chemical inventory with the lab
registration form. Please send the URL if your inventory is online or use the Chemical Inventory Template to submit a spreadsheet inventory.
A laboratory where potentially hazardous chemicals are used or stored is required
to comply with the requirements listed below. These requirements will ensure proper
handling and storage of potentially hazardous chemicals and protect lab personnel
- State and federal laws require that each laboratory have a Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP).
Ensure that a copy of the current WCU Chemical Hygiene Plan as well as a Lab Specific Chemical Hygiene Plan (completed by the PI/responsible supervisor) are available in the lab and all lab
personnel have read and signed the training documentation page.
- Prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for any particularly hazardous substance
(PHS) or hazardous procedure used in the lab. A PHS is defined as a select carcinogen,
reproductive toxin, pyrophoric, water reactive, or acutely hazardous material. This
information is provided on the container label and the chemical Safety Data Sheet.
A list of Common Particularly Hazardous Substances is provided as a reference. Contact the Safety Office if you have questions about
the chemicals you are using or intend to use in your lab. For your convenience, SOP
templates for some commonly used hazardous chemicals and a General SOP template are
- Maintain a current chemical inventory (Chemical Inventory template is available here).
- Safety Data Sheets (SDS, formerly MSDS) for all chemicals used or stored in the lab
must be available to lab personnel. The University permits electronic access, but
there must be no immediate barrier to employee access when an SDS is needed. The
SDS should be consulted before using a chemical for the first time. SDSs are available
for download from many different chemical vendors (Sigma Aldrich, Fisher Scientific,
- Store chemicals in appropriate cabinets and follow the Chemical Storage Guide to separate incompatible materials. This document also provides information for
peroxide forming chemicals.
- Laboratories where hazardous chemicals and equipment are stored or used are required
to post signage in the area and on the equipment to caution personnel of the hazards
present. Printable signage is available here.
- Procedures involving volatile chemicals and those involving solids or liquids that
may result in the generation of toxic vapors must be conducted in a chemical fume
hood (CFH). This provides protection from inhalation of hazardous contaminants as
well as chemical splash, sprays, fires, and minor explosions. Fume hoods must be
used properly in order to maximize their effectiveness. Follow the Chemical Fume Hood User Guide to ensure adequate protection and hood functionality. To access more information
about chemical fume hoods and operation manuals please click here.
- Compressed gas cylinders can present a variety of hazards due to their pressure and
contents. The Compressed Gas Program manual provides guidance for the storage, use, and handling of compressed gases on
campus. In addition to the standard required work practices for inert gases, hazardous
gases may require additional controls and work practices, including but not limited
to the use of gas cabinets, gas monitors, emergency shutoffs, proper equipment design,
leak testing procedures, and the use of air supplying respirators for certain highly
toxic gases. Contact the Safety and Risk Management Office for further assistance
with the safe design of equipment involving the use of hazardous gases.
- Controlled substances are any drugs or chemical substances whose possession and use
are regulated under the United States Controlled Substances Act (U.S. CSA) and the
North Carolina Controlled Substances Act (NC CSA). Registration for all controlled
substances listed in Schedules I-VI is required at the State level (NC-DCU) and at
the Federal level (US-DEA). The registration process and compliance requirements
are detailed in the Controlled Substance Program manual. New and/or existing users of controlled substances at WCU must notify the
Office of Safety and Risk Management. Please submit the Notification of Controlled Substance Registration Form to the Lab Safety Officer.
- Nanotechnology Safety. Currently, there is limited occupational safety information
on nanoparticles and nanomaterials in the university research environment. Personnel
involved with this type of research should be made aware of the potential hazards
and risks involved and the control measures that should be utilized to limit exposures.
Please review Safe Nanotechnology in the Workplace and the OSHA Fact Sheet:Working Safely with Nanomaterials. If you have further questions or would like to have a workplace nanotechnology
safety evaluation, please contact the Safety Office.
WCU’s Biosafety Program is designed to minimize the risks of lab-acquired illness,
to ensure proper containment for activities utilizing biohazardous materials, and
to maintain compliance with regulations pertaining to recombinant or synthetic nucleic
acid molecules and biohazardous materials. Biohazards may include the following:
- Agents that can infect or cause disease in humans, animals, or plants
- Biohazardous waste
- Genetically-modified organisms
- Human blood, tissue, organs, cell-lines or other potentially infectious materials
of human origin
- Animals harboring (naturally or experimentally) zoonotic infectious agents
- Recombinant and synthetic nucleic acid molecules
- Select agents and toxins
- Transgenic plants and animals
Each Principal Investigator (PI) engaged in biological research must have lab-specific
information available which should include the following documents when applicable
to their laboratory activities:
- The documents required for Chemical Safety (listed above) if chemicals are used or
stored in the laboratory (CHP, Lab Specific CHP, SOPs, SDSs, Chemical Inventory, etc.).
- All WCU personnel who handle or may be exposed to potentially biohazardous agents
are required to read and adhere to the Biological Safety Manual. Every lab operating at BSL 2 must have a copy of the manual available in their
- Each PI should maintain a biological inventory of all biological organisms that may
be present in the laboratory including known hazards for each organism.
- Laboratories that work with human blood, body fluids, cell lines, unfixed tissue,
or other potentially infectious materials must have a Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Control Plan available and documentation showing that lab personnel are aware of the Hepatitis
B Vaccination Program and have received annual Bloodborne Pathogen (BBP) training.
- Hepatitis Vaccination Program: Employees with occupational exposure to blood, body
fluids, or other potentially infectious materials must be offered and should be encouraged
to participate in the free hepatitis B vaccination program. Employees must read the
Hepatitis B Information Sheet and then sign EITHER the Hepatitis B Vaccination Consent Form OR the Hepatitis B Vaccination Declination Form. Employees are to submit the consent or declination form to the Safety Office and
contact University Health Services to obtain the vaccine.
- All potential BBP exposures must be washed vigorously and then reported immediately
to the supervisor and University Health Services.
- PIs operating at BSL 2 designation should perform their own laboratory self-inspections
using the BSL-2 Inspection Checklist.
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) relevant to the laboratory must be written and
made available to lab personnel. For your convenience, template SOPs that can be
modified for each specific lab are available BSL-2 SOP & Autoclave SOP.
- Laboratories that work with recombinant or synthetic nucleic acid molecules (rDNA)
are required to follow established guidelines issued by the National Institute of
Health (NIH). Principal Investigators of any on-campus or proposals for off-campus
rDNA research are required to submit a WCU Application for Recombinant DNA to the
Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) prior to initiation of the study. Guidance,
contact details, and forms are available on the Institutional Biosafety website.
- Select Agents are identified by the CDC and USDA as infectious agents and biological
toxins that have the potential for biological warfare and are subject to additional
regulations. Investigators must obtain approval from the IBC and must register with
the CDC or USDA before possessing or beginning any work with agents on the Select Agent List.
Any researcher wishing to use vertebrate animals for research or teaching purposes
is required to coordinate with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC). The Western Carolina University IACUC will assure that the animal care
and use are in compliance with all federal, state and local regulations as well as
university policy and assurances.
PIs conducting animal research should have the following available for their lab personnel:
Safety and Risk Management has developed a program to provide guidance to WCU faculty,
staff, and students for the safe operation of lasers and laser systems and ensure
compliance with the American National Standard for the Safe Use of Lasers (ANSI Z
Principal Investigators conducting work with Lasers should have the following available
for their lab personnel:
- Laser Safety Program manual
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Class 3b and Class 4 must be written and
made available to lab personnel. This template Laser SOP can be modified for your specific lab.
- The PI must notify the Safety Office of all Class 3b or Class 4 lasers/laser systems
by submitting a Laser Registration Form for each laser/laser system to the Safety Office. The form must be re-submitted when
significant modifications are made to the original laser/laser system. The Safety
Office will conduct a hazard evaluation of the laser work area and make necessary
recommendations. The Safety Office should also be notified if the Laser is transferred
to another PI on campus, transferred off campus, or is intended to be sold/disposed
- For lab personnel working with Class 3b or Class 4 lasers, laser safety training is
required and is available by contacting the Safety Office.
FIELD RESEARCH & OUTDOOR LAB SAFETY
Fieldwork is an important part of teaching and research at WCU. The Safety Guidelines for Field Research is a resource of information that will enable and encourage those working in the
field to work safely, and eliminate or reduce the potential for exposure to hazardous
conditions in the field.
As required by state and federal law, the Safety and Risk Management Office will conduct
laboratory inspections to determine individual laboratory compliance with WCU’s Chemical
Hygiene Plan (CHP) and other relevant safety policies. These surveys are comprehensive
and address record keeping, fire safety, egress, engineering controls, personal protective
equipment, work practices, and where appropriate, chemical, biological, and radiation
safety. At least one annual inspection will be announced in order to work directly
with the PI or laboratory supervisor to address specific items, such as inventories
of particularly hazardous materials or processes, biosafety compliance, and any other
safety concerns that arise. Other inspections may be unannounced to provide a snapshot
of laboratory safety and compliance and help to continually improve the safety program.
An inspection report identifying deficiencies and areas for corrective action will
be directed to the laboratory’s principal investigator or supervisor. These items
must be corrected within 30 days of receipt of the laboratory inspection report. If
the items cannot be corrected in that timeframe, the principal investigator must submit
a written corrective action plan detailing the expected corrections and estimated
date of completion within the same 30 days. Any inspection finding deemed an imminent
danger (likely to cause a serious hazard, injury, disability, or death) must be corrected
Lab Inspection Follow-up Process
- If no response is received within 30 days of the initial report, then the Safety Office
as a courtesy will contact the Principal Investigator of the laboratory with a reminder.
If the laboratory conducts research, additional department designees may also be
- If no response is received and/or corrective actions are not completed after 60 days
from receipt of the initial inspection report, the laboratory will be deemed noncompliant
and information will be forwarded to the Dean’s Office.
Previous inspection reports are a good measure for addressing safety issues and eliminating
laboratory risks. To help prepare for future inspections, please review the Laboratory Inspection Checklist and perform self-inspections on a regular basis. PIs operating at BSL 2 designation should perform their own laboratory self-inspections
using the BSL-2 Inspection Checklist. The self-inspection process is an excellent learning tool for students and other
lab personnel, and should be documented as part of the lab specific safety training
- All employees (paid students, faculty, and staff positions) are required to complete
safety training courses that are relevant to their job description at WCU. Each employee
working in the lab needs to submit the Hazard Assessment Training Determination Form to be enrolled in the required courses. This form is required initially and at any
time in the future if additional duties or new procedures are implemented.
- Paid WCU employees are currently enrolled in an online training system delivered via
a third party, Vivid Learning Management Systems. Please review the Online Safety Training Information for more details about the training program.
- Unpaid lab personnel (undergraduate students or volunteers) must also receive safety
training relative to their duties on campus. This is provided directly from their
lab supervisor and also by request to the Safety and Risk Management Office (828-227-7443).
- The lab PI/Supervisor should document the training received by their paid and unpaid
LAB EQUIPMENT SURPLUS OR DISPOSAL
Laboratory equipment and potentially contaminated furniture used in a laboratory must
be cleared by the Safety and Risk Management Office prior to disposal or surplus.
Contact the Safety Office (828-227-7443) and request an Equipment Clearance. A Safety Officer will visit the lab to verify that the equipment has been decontaminated
and affix an “Equipment Clearance Form” to indicate that it is safe to dispose of
or surplus the equipment.
LABORATORY MOVE OR CLOSE-OUT
The Safety Office must be notified prior to a laboratory move, relocation, or vacancy
for any reason in order to perform a lab check-out assessment. This procedure will
ensure that all hazardous materials are accounted for and properly disposed of and
will prevent the next occupant from inheriting “unknown” or potentially hazardous
To begin the lab closeout procedure, please complete the Laboratory Closeout Procedure Checklist and return this form to the Safety and Risk Management Office. When the form is
received, a Safety Officer will conduct a walk-through of the lab space to ensure
that all hazardous materials have been removed.
ACCIDENTS OCCURRING IN THE LAB OR FIELD
All employees must immediately report any injury or illness associated with an incident
at work to their supervisor, no matter how minor the injury may appear to be. This
initiates a process to investigate the incident and put corrective action in place
to prevent similar events from occurring in the future. The supervisor is responsible
for notifying the Safety & Risk Management Office as soon as they are made aware of
a work-related injury, typically within 24 hours.
LABORATORY PPE & SAFETY PRINCIPLES
Personal protective equipment is worn to minimize injuries and limit exposure to hazards
in the workplace. Please click here for more information on the different types of PPE available and to determine the
appropriate equipment for activities in your lab.
Laboratory Safety Principles
Everyone involved in laboratory operations from the highest administrative level to
the individual workers and students must be safety minded. Please click here for a discussion on general lab safety principles.
ADMINISTRATIVE ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES
The effectiveness of the Laboratory Safety Program depends on the cooperation and
understanding among all parties involved, particularly among faculty and the laboratory
safety committee. The general safety responsibilities of each of these key participants
is summarized below:
- Enforce safety rules with lab personnel, students, and visitors.
- Ensure that proper safety equipment, such as safety showers, eyewash stations, and
fire extinguishers are readily available, operable, unobstructed, and the location
known to all people in the laboratory.
- Ensure that the lab is equipped with adequate fume hood facilities and other applicable
- Ensure that appropriate warning signs for potential hazards are placed at the entrance
and within the laboratory.
- Provide staff training on hazard information, safety rules, and recommended good lab
- Ensure that Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for chemicals used and stored in the laboratory
are readily available for personnel.
- Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for particularly hazardous chemicals and
procedures used in the lab.
- Review the safety manuals and guidance documents provided by Safety and Risk Management
and perform self-lab inspections on a regular basis.
Lab Safety Committee:
- Hold regular meetings to address the department's safety concerns.
- Follow up on Safety and Risk Management inspection reports.
Lab Safety Officer (Safety & Risk Management Office)
- Update safety manuals and guidance documents.
- Conduct laboratory safety inspections and provide corrective action reports in a timely
- Conduct Chemical Fume Hood inspections and certification annually.
- Monitor hazardous material storage and disposal.
- Investigate hazardous material incidents.