Chemical & Laboratory Safety


To ensure the protection of individuals from health hazards associated with laboratories, a chemical hygiene plan has been formulated that governs all persons working in or entering UNDERC laboratories. Review of the UNDERC chemical hygiene plan is the responsibility of the Notre Dame Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) appointed by the President of the University and a Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO) appointed by the IBC. The UNDERC Director and Assistant Directors act on behalf of the CHO in monitoring the effectiveness of and compliance with IBC procedures and rules at UNDERC. Principal Investigators are responsible for compliance with chemical hygiene and safety procedures. These include: (1) procurement, use, storage, and disposal of chemicals used at UNDERC; (2) ensuring that employees under their direction know and follow all UNDERC rules and procedures; and (3) providing the Director with an annual inventory of the hazardous materials used at UNDERC. All individuals working in or entering UNDERC are responsible for conducting themselves and their actions in accordance with UNDERC policies/guidelines.

Behavior in the Laboratory

Individuals working in or entering UNDERC laboratories (including visitors) must conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times. Horseplay and practical jokes are expressly forbidden. Individuals should never work alone when conducting a potentially hazardous activity and must be aware of the location and proper operation of laboratory safety equipment. Unattended laboratory experiments must be set up in a manner that ensures that hazardous substances will be safely contained in the event of a power or equipment failure. Visitors to UNDERC laboratories must observe all safety regulations. Unattended children are not permitted in UNDERC laboratories. In addition, children are not permitted in areas where radioactive isotopes or hazardous chemicals are stored or used. 

Disabling or Removal of Safety Equipment

The disablement, removal, and/or frivolous use of safety and first aid equipment and supplies are prohibited. These include fire extinguishers, fire blankets, eye washes, chemical spill clean-up kits, and first-aid kits. Missing or malfunctioning safety equipment and/or missing or consumed safety or first-aid supplies must be reported promptly to the Director or Assistant Director during the spring-summer field season and to the Property Managers at other times of the year.

Avoidance of Routine Exposure

Skin contact with potentially hazardous chemicals must be avoided at all times. Individuals should never smell or taste chemicals, and pipetting by mouth is prohibited. Apparatus that might discharge chemical vapors or dusts must be vented into a hood or to the outside of the building. Only chemicals that can be used safely in UNDERC laboratories may be used by researchers. Individuals should never underestimate risks and should remain aware that chemical reactions involving two or more substances can form reaction products that are significantly more toxic than the initial reagents. In addition, individuals should always assume that substances of unknown toxicity are toxic.

Professional Habits in the Laboratory

Eating, drinking, chewing gum, and cosmetic application are not permitted in laboratories. Smoking is not permitted in the laboratories. Food must not be stored in a refrigerator with chemicals nor be prepared or served in glassware or utensils that are used in the laboratory. Hands should be washed before using the restroom; eating; drinking; applying any cosmetics, lotions, or insect repellents; and before leaving the laboratory area.  Long hair and loose clothing must be confined.

Proper Laboratory Attire

Individuals entering or working in laboratories must wear shirts, long pants, and closed-toed shoes. Persons wearing skimpy clothing such as bathing suits, halter tops, or shorts are not permitted in laboratory areas unless they are wearing a protective lab coat. Wearing of open-toed shoes is not permitted in laboratory areas. Wearing of canvas shoes is not permitted when caustic, corrosive, flammable, toxic, or radioactive substances are used. Individuals should remain alert to unsafe conditions and report and/or correct such conditions when detected.


Lab areas (bench tops, hoods, etc.) are to be kept clean and uncluttered tominimize the risk of spillage, breakage, personal injury, and unnecessary contact with chemicals. Any spills or accumulations of chemicals on work surfaces or floors must be removed as soon as possible with techniques that minimize residual surface contamination. Floors and walkways must remain dry at all times. Doorways, walkways, exits, access to emergency equipment, and access to utility controls must not be blocked. 

Personal Protection

Individuals in the laboratories (including visitors) must be informed of the location and proper use of available protective equipment. Individuals must wear appropriate protection including gloves, lab coats, and safety glasses when chemicals are handled. Contact lenses should not be worn in the laboratory unless absolutely necessary. Vapors and chemicals can get trapped under lenses making it difficult or impossible to remove lenses to properly rinse the eye. This can result in severe eye damage. If wearing contact lenses is absolutely necessary, the Assistant Director and other persons working in the laboratory at the time must be informed so that precautions can be taken in the event of an accident.

Lifting Heavy Objects

Individuals are cautioned to always get help when handling objects that are too heavy or too bulky for one person. Heavy objects should be lifted by bending at the knees using leg muscles not back muscles. Heavy objects should be held close to the body.


All glassware must be inspected for defects and cracks. Weak glass can cause severe accidents by leaking hazardous chemicals, cutting individuals, or imploding under vacuum. A lubricant must always be used when inserting glass tubing or thermometers into rubber stoppers.  All cut glass tubing and rods must be fire polished. Vacuum filtrations and distillations must use implosion resistant glassware designed for this purpose.  Individuals are cautioned to exercise special care when removing frozen glass stoppers. The glass should be soaked in hot water in order to allow it to expand. Broken glass should be promptly swept up and disposed of in sharps containers or containers marked "GLASS". Sharps containers can be obtained from the Assistant Director.

Instrument and Equipment Care and Operation

Individuals should never attempt to operate a machine or instrument without proper instruction in its use. The area around instruments must be kept clear of obstructing materials. All belt-driven equipment (vacuums, air pumps, etc.) must have a guard to prevent hands and/or clothing from being pulled between the belt and pulley. Equipment with damaged or frayed electrical cords should not be used. Such damage must be reported by completing an UNDERC Work Request form, which is located in the UNDERC office. Oil and boiling water baths should never be unattended. Precaution should be taken to contain any hot oil or water spills. Equipment in the UNDERC-East Storage area (drill press and table saws) must be locked when not in use, to prevent unauthorized use. Permission to use any UNDERC equipment must be obtained from the Director or Assistant Director.

Chemical Procurement and Distribution

All OSHA Standard Specific Chemicals must have the approval of the University of Notre Dame Chemical Hygiene Office and UNDERC Director before being transported or delivered to UNDERC. A material safety data sheet (MSDS) is required for all chemicals if a MSDS is not already on file. All containers must be adequately labeled with the following information as a minimum: substance name, appropriate hazard warnings, precautionary measures to be observed when storing and using the substance, owner's name, date the substance was received, and date the container was opened. Chemical containers may not be brought to or stored at UNDERC without an adequate identifying label. Bulk quantity chemicals that are subdivided must be placed in containers that are labeled with the same information as a minimum. Unneeded items must be removed from UNDERC or disposed of properly. When potentially hazardous chemicals are hand carried, the container should be placed in a second container to protect from breakage and spillage. In addition, each Principal Investigator must provide the Director or Assistant Director with a yearly inventory of all chemicals used at UNDERC in order to make this information available to the Notre Dame Risk Management and Safety Department. 

Lab Chemical Storage

Stored and working amounts of hazardous chemicals must be as small as practically possible. Storage of bulk chemicals beyond what would be reasonably consumed during a single field season requires approval from the Director or Assistant Director. Chemical reagents must remain in closed containers when not in use. Flammable chemicals must be stored in a flammable materials cabinet or in the flammables storage building located next to the gas pumps at UNDERC-East. Incompatible chemicals should be segregated. Gas cylinders must be secured at all times, and safety caps should be in place when the cylinder is not in use.  

Bulk Chemical Storage

Only working amounts of chemicals may be stored in laboratories unless advanced approval is given by the Director or Assistant Director. Chemicals in containers 5 gallons or larger which are unlikely to be used within a two week period are considered "bulk" and must be stored in the flammables location. This location is divided into the following areas: acids, bases, solvents, gas, and alcohol. Containers must be stored in the appropriate area. Each container must be adequately labeled with the following information: substance name, appropriate hazard warnings, precautionary measures to be observed when storing and using the substance, owner's name, date the substance was received, and, if opened, the date the container was opened. Chemical containers may not be brought to or stored at UNDERC without an adequate label. Chemicals not consumed within a single spring-summer field season may be stored between field seasons with the approval of the Director or Assistant Director.  

Waste Storage and Disposal

Individuals working in the laboratories are responsible for properly disposing of all wastes. Broken glass and radioactive or chemical waste must be properly labeled and disposed of by procedures that avoid injury or contamination of the work area and property habitats. Procedures must conform to OSHA, EPA, state, and NRC regulations. All radioactive and potentially hazardous chemical waste must be stored in areas that are inaccessible to unsupervised non-laboratory personnel.

Accidents, Hazards, and Injuries

All accidents resulting in injury, damage, or potential chemical or radioactive contamination must be reported immediately to other individuals in the laboratory area who might benefit from this information. Accidents must then promptly be reported to the Director or Assistant Director during the spring-summer field season and to the Property Managers at other times during the year. Unsafe laboratory conditions and/or practices by laboratory personnel or visitors must be similarly reported whether or not they result in injury or contamination. Emergency telephone numbers are posted by the telephones in the research laboratories. 


Protocols for different types of spills follow –

Chemical spills

Chemical spills must be cleaned up by spreading the contents of an appropriate spill control kit on the spill. Once the chemical is absorbed, the material must be scooped up and deposited in a plastic disposal bag. The contaminated surface must then be wiped up with soap, water, and a sponge. This must be added to the disposal bag contents as well. The disposal bag must then be tied and labeled. Notify the Assistant Director (or in his or her absence the Director or Property Managers) for appropriate disposal procedure or pickup. If there is any doubt regarding proper spill cleanup procedure, contact the Assistant Director or call the Notre Dame Risk Management and Safety Department at (574) 631-5037.

Radioactive material spills

For radioactive material spills, consult the "RADIATION EMERGENCY PROCEDURES" section of the Notre Dame Radiation Safety Manual (section IV, page 51) located in the laboratories. Immediate notification of an on-site Radiation Safety Officer (normally the Director or Assistant Director) is required. If the Radiation Safety Officer is unavailable, the Notre Dame Risk Management and Safety Department should be notified at (574) 631-5037. If no one answers, Notre Dame Security/Police should be notified at the 24-hour number (574) 631-5555. Notre Dame Security/Police then contact a Notre Dame Risk Management and Safety Department representative and notify him or her of the situation.

Radiation Safety Considerations

  • Permission to use radioactive materials at UNDERC must be approved by the Director and the Radiation Control Committee at the University of Notre Dame.
  • All personnel using radioactive materials must complete Radiation Safety Training through the Office of Risk Management and Safety at the University of Notre Dame annually.
  • During the summer, the Assistant Director operates as the Radiation Safety Officer, and is responsible for all deliveries of radioactive materials, as well as monthly surveys of all labs using radioactive materials.
  • Labs where radioactive materials are stored must be locked when not in use.
  • Radioactive waste disposal must be arranged through the Office of Risk Management and Safety at the University of Notre Dame.
  • All researchers using radioactive materials must adhere to the Radiation Safety Manual provided by the Office of Risk Management and Safety at the University of Notre Dame.