4 of the most common hazards found within a laboratory

Every workplace has its own risks, but those present in laboratories can be particularly dangerous, largely due to the sometimes volatile materials and experimental nature of the work being carried out. If you’re a laboratory worker or manager in any capacity, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks that the scientific workplace presents, and how to avoid them. 


Here at Gas Alarm Systems, we understand that the best way to solve problems is to prevent them from happening. With more than 25 years of experience behind us, we use our expertise to deliver reliable solutions to the specific hazards of your industry.

Most lab hazards fall into four main categories: biological, physical, electrical and chemical. Each category poses significant threats to the well-being of workers, and neglecting safety measures can have serious consequences.

Biological hazards

Some of the most dangerous scientific studies are conducted with biological material and living organisms. Staff are most at risk of biological hazards when bacteria, viruses, bodily fluids or tissue samples are present. These kinds of materials can carry diseases, or hazardous allergens prone to quick chemical reactions. That can be dangerous enough alone in the moment – but potentially, those which take a longer time to manifest can be even more harmful, because by definition, they’re more difficult to contain.

All that is it’s so important that particularly infectious biological hazards (also known as biohazards) are stored correctly. Protection is the key to safety in these scenarios. Containing dangerous biological agents in designated areas is essential for minimising the risk of unwanted exposure. Also, key to minimising biological risk is wearing all relevant PPE, thoroughly disinfecting workspaces and equipment and proper waste disposal.

Any emergency procedures should be laid out ahead of time with to contain any biohazards, and minimise any potential harm to your staff and the research environment.

Physical hazards

Due to the incredibly dangerous nature of the biological and chemical hazards present in laboratories, the more common physical risks can be an easy thing to overlook – but these need equal attention too!

Hazards such as slipping, tripping, and handling are ever-present in bustling lab environments. The common cause of most physical accidents in the laboratory is poor housekeeping. It’s crucial to ensure that your staff on top of tidy-up tasks and loose equipment, in order to prevent injury-inducing slips, trips and potentially dangerous breakages.

General housekeeping encompasses tasks such as:

  • Keeping aisles free from obstruction
  • Ensuring all floors and work surfaces are kept dry
  • Cleaning all workspaces regularly
  • Keeping workspaces clutter-free
  • Proper disposal of broken equipment
  • Keeping cords tidy and out of the way

All the points mentioned above are necessary procedures for lowering the risk of physical hazards in the workplace. All laboratory personnel should also receive the relevant training for lifting, pulling and pushing. As well as this, they need to be briefed on the handling requirements for all equipment that is to be used.

Electrical hazards

When working in the laboratory, lab personnel may be exposed to electrical hazards. These include electrical shocks, fires, malfunctioning equipment or wiring and unsafe work practices.

To avoid any unnecessary electrical hazards, team members should always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for all equipment, not using any machines to perform tasks outside of their designated purposes. Additionally, it’s vital that only equipment that meets all up-to-date safety requirements is used. And, even then, it should be subject to consistent inspection and testing.

Electrical currents can cause serious injury and in extremely unlucky cases, even death. In the event a member of your staff suffers an electric shock, the first thing to do is turn off the source to break the contact between the electrical supply and casualty. Alternatively, if this isn’t possible, the next best thing is to remove the casualty from the source.

It’s important to remember not to touch someone who’s suffering from an electrical shock, as the currents can transfer from one person into another. Use a broom handle or wooden pole to push their limbs away. Then assess the severity of the situation, if the worker is in need of medical assistance, quickly call 999 or 112 for emergency help.

Chemical hazards

The use of hazardous chemicals in a lab is a normal part of day-to-day life for scientists, but the potential for harm or injury can be significant they aren’t handled correctly.

Many of the chemicals handled in laboratories are inherently toxic. Whether they’re corrosive to the skin or eyes, or dangerous to inhale and ingest, COSHH Regulations state that controlled measures must be in place to ensure the health and safety of workers, such as wearing all the relevant PPE.

It’s not just direct contact with said chemicals that can be hazardous either, chemical reactions can be just as dangerous as they can produce toxic gases and can lead to thermal burns. This is why PPE such as protective eyewear, gloves, closed-toe shoes and lab coats are vital in laboratories.

Similarly, the correct ventilation systems and precautions are absolutely necessary for lab work. Without the correct measures in place, chemical reactions could lead to explosions or the release of toxic gases — like ethanol, isopropanol and formaldehyde.

In many cases, the gases worked with in labs are colourless and odourless, making them otherwise difficult to detect until they reach threatening levels — like carbon monoxide. So they require near constant monitoring with equipment such as our fixed gas detection systems.

Our gas detection systems use sophisticated sensors, alerting any close by personnel when any toxic or flammable gas reaches harmful concentrations, facilitating prompt evacuation and safeguarding.

Feel free to browse our range of fixed gas detection systems and portable gas detection monitors here on our site, or if you have any questions or need any advice, then by all means, give us a call on 01423 862240, and we’ll be happy to help.