Laboratory Safety


lab safety


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.   


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 apply:

  • You are relocating to a new lab space, or become responsible for an additional lab space
  • 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.

CHEMICAL SAFETY & compliance

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 from exposure.

  • 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 available to use.
  • 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, Grainger, etc.).
  • 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 Laboratory Safety Signs are 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.  More information about chemical fume hoods and CFH Operation Manuals are available 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 lab.
  • Each PI should maintain a biological inventory of all biological organisms that may be present in the laboratory including known hazards for each organism.
  • 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


  • 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 thoroughly washed with soap and water and then immediately reported to the supervisor and University Health Services.
  • For an employee bloodborne pathogens exposure incident, a Post Exposure Incident Report Form must be submitted to the Safety and Risk Management Office within 24 hours. 


  • 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 Laboratory 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 personnel.

laboratory inspections

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.

Inspection Reports

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 immediately. 

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 notified. 
  • 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 requirement.


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 136-2007). 

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 of.
  • For lab personnel working with Class 3b or Class 4 lasers, laser safety training is required and is available by contacting the Safety Office.


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 a generator of Hazardous Waste the University is required to comply with Federal Standards promulgated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). These regulations cover the storage, handling, and documentation of the transfer of hazardous waste from the point of generation to the final disposal.

The Laboratory Waste Management Plan applies only to laboratories on campus (teaching labs, research labs, art studios, photo labs, field labs, diagnostic labs, and areas that support labs such as chemical stockrooms or prep rooms).

Hazard Waste Management Training is required for all personnel generating waste on campus.  The training is administered by the Safety and Risk Management Office and is accessed through Blackboard.  For access to this training, please contact the Laboratory Safety Officer (828-227-7443 or For a training refresher please review the Lab Hazardous Waste Training Presentation.


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.


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 materials.

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.


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 issues. 

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 or equipment.
  • 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 ( or
  • 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 order.
  • 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


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.

It is also important to report a near miss - an event that did not result in an injury, illness, or damage, but had the potential to do so. Reporting a near miss allows us to determine how and why it occurred and take action to prevent a similar, or more serious, incident from happening in the future.


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 safety equipment.
  • 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 practices, etc.
  • 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 manner.
  • Conduct Chemical Fume Hood inspections and certification annually.
  • Monitor hazardous material storage and disposal.
  • Investigate hazardous material incidents.
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