UCL Department of Geography


Lab Manual

These pages must be read by all lab users before commencing work. They contain important safety information as well as information on which areas of the lab are suitable for specific types of work.

The laboratory manual is designed to be a practical guide for laboratory users. It is not meant to replace the Departmental Safety Policy but is intended to be read in conjunction with it. Some of the items covered by the Safety Policy (see Arrangements to cover activity/hazard) will be explained in more detail here and it is important that these are read and understood before any laboratory work is carried out.

General Laboratory Rules
  • No eating or drinking in the laboratory
  • Lab coats must be worn at all times
  • Safety glasses must be worn when deemed necessary by the risk assessment
  • Gloves must be worn when handling chemicals/samples/hazardous substances
  • Organic solvents must not be poured down the sinks
  • Acids must not be poured down the sinks without being properly neutralised
  • All spillages must be cleared up immediately
  • No work is to be carried out in the lab unless there is another worker within earshot
  • Undergraduate students may not work unsupervised in the lab
  • You are responsible for your workspace – keep it tidy, leave it clean
  • Label everything

All lab users should know:

  • How to sound the fire alarm
  • The location of the fire exits
  • The location of the first aid box
  • Who to contact in case of emergency and how

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So you want to use the lab

What do you need to do before you start work? This manual has information on the equipment in the lab, general safety regulations, protocols and “lab etiquette”.

Decide what you want to do in the lab

  • How many samples are involved?
  • What type of samples are they?
  • What type of information do you want?
  • What type of analysis would you like to do?
  • What methods do you intend to use?
  • Is the type of work already carried out in the lab?
  • Do you need specialist training before commencing work?
  • How long do you want to spend doing it?
  • How much is it going to cost and are the funds available?
  • Is there a “funding code” (a six digit number...) to charge the work to?

Talk to Laboratory Supervisor

No work should be carried out in the lab without telling the lab manager first. This is for your safety and for the safety of other lab users. It would be helpful if you come armed with the answers to the above questions.

Complete any training requirements      

If there is mandatory safety training associated with the method or instrument you wish to use, this training must be completed before booking lab time.

Read the methods

If there is an existing method that is routinely used in the lab, then a copy of it will be available from the laboratory web pages. Print it out. Read it. Make sure you understand it. If you intend to develop a new method, read the section of this manual that deals with method introduction and development.

Read and sign the risk assessment

If you intend to use an existing lab method there will be a safety document associated with it. You must read and sign the document before starting any lab work. Each protocol will have its own risk assessment form. Those involving chemicals will also have a COSHH (Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health) information sheet. If the method you intend to use is new to the lab, a full risk assessment must be carried out before the work can begin. Electronic templates are available to help with this and advice can be sought from the lab team. Further details on risk assessment can be found elsewhere in this manual.

Booking time and space in the laboratory

The basement lab is used continually during the year and is always very busy. Consequently, each room and piece of equipment must be booked before use. The booking system is fairly flexible and if you happen to turn up on a day when a room is empty and not booked it may be possible for you to use it, but please try to get into the habit of checking first. You can check the availability of the room in question on the laboratory bookings calendar.  For reasons of safety certain rooms can only accommodate one person at a time. You must not start work without booking first. It is essential that the lab team are aware of your presence in the lab and the nature of the work being carried out.

An email address has been set up for the lab. This will automatically go to all lab staff and will allow anyone of us to deal with all lab issues (especially important in the absence of whoever you would normally email individually). We would like this to be used for any lab booking requests that are not made in person. This will allow us to find the most suitable space for your work and also add any items of equipment that you may require (ovens, furnaces, balances etc.) – items that have been easy to forget with the online system.

Bookings will be viewable on the lab Outlook calendar. You can add this to your calendars by doing the following:

  • Go to Calendars in Outlook
  • Select the folder tab and open calendar
  • Search for “~geo” and the calendar ~Geog.LabBookings will appear at the top of the list (don’t forget the “~”)
  • Select this and OK.

The lab Bookings calendar will appear as one of your calendars. It is a “read only” calendar so you will not be able to book directly through this, but you will be able to see what is already booked. You may have to open the “daily” view to see all things booked on a particular day, as the boxes are too small to accommodate all items in the lab. You can either come down to discuss what you want to book or email your lab booking to the geog.lab address and one of us will add you to the calendar and then email back to let you know what has been booked. Please do not approach other lab users to try to make them change bookings or offer to "give your booking away".

Should there be a need to do this, the lab staff will do this on your behalf. It is important that the lab staff are aware of who is going to be using the labs There is also an email address set up for field equipment requests. Obviously, Ian will deal with most of these requests but if you email Ian and he is on holiday/off sick/on fieldwork, no one else will know about your request. If you email geog.field, we will all know about your request and will be able to help out in Ian’s absence. If you have booked the lab and find you cannot use the time booked, please let someone know. It can be very frustrating for those that need to use the lab if you don't turn up.

Browse through the rest of this manual. Find out about the equipment you want to use and the rooms you will be working in. The lab “rules” are here to make the basement a safe and efficient environment to work in. Please be considerate of other lab users and stick to the rules.

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Paying for lab work

Use of chargeable equipment and Consumables forms.

  • Before starting work in the laboratory, the lab user must ensure that sufficient funds are available to cover the costs of any consumable items or equipment used. Usually there will be a project-specific grant code.
  • When booking equipment, the user should be aware of the daily/sample charge and allocate sufficient funds from grants to cover estimated use.
  • Students on the DTP programme must have their expenditure approved before starting work. No consumable items can be provided until they are authorised by the DTP administrator.
  • The user will be expected to provide details of their project code when booking the lab.
  • While carrying out the work the user should make a note of every item used – forms are available for this.
  • The completed form should be returned to the lab supervisor when the work has been completed.
  • If a form is not submitted within a week of completion of the work, the grant code will be charged at the maximum rate for the work being carried out.

Special items

If an item is requested that is not usually kept in stock and therefore has to be ordered specifically, the user will be asked for a grant code to charge the order against. This will usually be charged at the time of the order, not on completion of the work and these items do not have to be listed on the consumable request form.

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General Lab Safety

Every laboratory is potentially hazardous and all tasks performed in the laboratory involve an element of risk. Even weighing a sample on an electronic balance involves hazards: 

  • The balance is powered by 240V mains electricity
  • The vessel used for weighing may be made of glass
  • The substance being weighed may be toxic

These hazards must be considered and the risks minimised before any work is carried out.

Many accidents occur because of ignorance or complacency. If you don't know or are unsure about something, ask someone who does know and do not become complacent about routine tasks. Just because you have never spilt acid on your hands before doesn't mean you don't need to wear gloves, there is always a first time.

Many of the sections in this manual refer to safety issues. Lab users must read and make sure they understand these sections before working in the lab. If you do not understand, ask.

Safety regulations and guidelines are not written to make life difficult, they are there to protect you and the people around you. You have a legal obligation to adhere to safety regulations. If your negligence is the cause of someone else's injury, you are personally liable.

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Accident Reporting

All accidents, no matter how minor, must be reported to the Departmental Safety Officer and Deputy Department Safety Officer.

Although we all aim to prevent accidents, there are occasions when they happen. It is essential that all accidents or incidents are reported in the appropriate way - even if no one has sustained any injuries. Accidents must be reported using the Safety Services online reporting mechanism.

Once submitted a copy of the report will be made available to the DSO for investigation. For insurance purposes, it is essential that Safety Services be notified of any incident within three weeks of it happening. In the event of an injury being sustained, contact one of the Departmental First Aiders or approach UCH Accident and Emergency Department:

If a Departmental First Aider has been called to an incident, the details should be recorded on the accident report.

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First Aid treatment within the Department

A list of trained first aiders is displayed in the Foyer of the North-West Wing. In cases of emergency, dial 222.

Have the following information ready:

  • The extension you are calling from
  • The location of the incident – Building and Room number
  • Details of the incident
  • Any information that will make it easier to find you
    • Which entrance to use
    • Whether someone will be waiting at the entrance

Many members of staff have some knowledge of First Aid and it should be possible to contact one of them should the need arise. However, invariably, prompt action is necessary and everyone should have some idea of what to do if there is an accident. Most injuries in a laboratory environment are due to burns - heat, cold and chemical - and they are all treated in essentially the same way. This involves holding the affected area under cold, running water for a minimum of ten minutes.

Time this to ensure that treatment is effective. In general, if any chemical comes in contact with the skin, eyes or mouth, wash the area under running water for at least 20 minutes and remove contaminated clothing. In all cases of mouth or eye contact medical attention must be obtained. Unless skin contact is “slight”, medical attention should be sought in these cases too.

Exceptions to the above rule

One of these exceptions is the treatment for hydrofluoric acid (HF) burns. Any slight splash of HF on the skin should be treated immediately. Wash under running water for one minute and apply calcium carbonate gel. This can be found in the prep rooms with the HF. Make sure you know where it is before you commence any work with HF. Massage the gel into the affected area. Re-apply until the pain is entirely relieved and then continue for a further 15 minutes (time it!) to prevent “reversion”. medical attention must be obtained. Read the leaflet provided by Safety Services for more information on this. In cases of any fume inhalation, leave the exposed area immediately, rest and keep warm. In severe cases, seek medical attention.

General practice

In all cases, the safety of the first aider comes first. If you are treating someone with chemical burns, always make sure you are properly protected, wearing gloves and a lab coat. Make sure you do to become a casualty as well.

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Health monitoring

There are certain substances that may have cumulative effects on the health of individuals using them – heavy metal salts are a prime example of this. If an individual intends to use a substance in the lab that, according to the COSHH (Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessment, falls into this category it may be necessary for them to undergo tests at regular intervals to ensure there are no lasting effects from the use of these substances. It is of course recommended that these substances are not used unless absolutely essential.

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Risk assessments

All procedures must be covered by a current Risk Assessment. To carry out a risk assessment, you must first identify the hazards involved with the work to be carried out. This is something we actually do every day subconsciously and is far easier than it sounds. The aim of any risk assessment is to make yourself aware of the possible hazards and to minimise the risk of injury to yourself or others working nearby. If a procedure has been in practice for some time, there will be a risk assessment already in existence. If you are going to carry out the same procedure READ THE RISK ASSESSMENT FIRST. Copies of existing assessments for all laboratory procedures are kept with the Lab Supervisor. If you intend to carry out a new procedure assess the risks and fill out a form.

Risk Assessment must be completed by the person who instigates the work or Supervisor and read and signed by any worker who will be involved in the work. Advice on assessing the risks of your new methods can be obtained from the DSO / Lab Supervisor.

When carrying out work using chemicals, it is necessary to carry out a COSHH (Control Of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessment. COSHH Risk Assessments are intended to draw the user’s attention to any long-term health risks associated with chemicals being used. The aim is to eliminate or reduce the risk of exposure to the chemical (relevant documents are available from the Laboratory Supervisor).

Risk Assessments must include details of disposal methods and emergency procedures – first aid, spillage clearance etc. This information is obtainable from the lab supervisor.

When planning work, consider the possibility of substituting less hazardous reagents. If all other options have been explored and a less harmful alternative substance cannot be substituted, other methods of preventing exposure must be found. These will normally involve wearing a lab coat, safety glasses and gloves and working in a fume cupboard with the window drawn down to a safe working height. If these precautions are insufficient to prevent exposure to the chemical in any way, the chemical must not be used in the laboratory and a substitute must be found or the procedure must be abandoned.

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Protective clothing

It is essential that lab workers wear the correct protective clothing for the task they intend to carry out. Lab coats and safety glasses are provided, as are gloves and plastic aprons.

Lab coats

You will be issued a lab coat before you start work in the laboratory and must wear it at all times when working in the lab.

Lab coats are your first line of defence. They are not just worn to keep your clothes clean, they are to protect against chemical splashes and spillages and, in some cases heat and fire. If something spills on you it is much easier to remove a lab coat quickly to prevent the substance from coming into contact with your skin, than it is to remove your clothing.

Make sure your lab coat is done up and your sleeves are rolled down. A lab coat that is flapping about is not providing the protection that it is meant to provide and can easily catch on things, knock things over etc. If you are taking things out of a hot oven, keeping your sleeves rolled down can help to protect against burns to your forearms.

Lab Coats must not be worn outside the laboratory area.

Eye protection

Safety glasses must be worn when the risk assessment indicates there is a need.

Do not underestimate the importance of safety glasses. Eye injuries are very unpleasant and are invariably followed by a visit to the UCH Accident and Emergency Department. Eyes do not like foreign bodies; no matter how harmless a substance may seem, it will hurt if it is in your eye. Protect your eyes.

Safety goggles are mandatory for those who wish to venture into the realms of heavy engineering. This includes the use of angle grinders, geological hammers, club hammers etc., all of which are available and frequently used.

Face shields are provided for use with strong acids – in particular Hydrofluoric acid – and these must be worn. They provide additional protection, not just for the eyes but also for the whole face and neck. They also have the benefit of stopping the user from touching their face whilst wearing contaminated gloves and do not have the annoying habit of slipping off the nose like safety glasses.


It is essential to wear gloves when handling chemicals or environmental samples of any kind. The disposable gloves provided are resistant to most of the chemicals likely to be encountered in the laboratory. However, when using "strong" acids (HF, H2SO4 etc.), it is recommended that thicker rubber gloves are worn. When you have finished working with chemicals, always wash the gloves before you take them off. This also applies to disposable gloves, which should never be placed in the bin whilst there is still a risk of them being contaminated.

Please think of the cleaning staff who do not always wear gloves when emptying the bins and may suffer an injury as a result of your actions. Even if they are wearing gloves, they may spread the contamination to, for example, door handles in the rest of the department. This form of contamination can also occur when lab workers walk between rooms without first removing contaminated gloves. Always be aware of these risks when handling chemicals and think of the safety of other lab users as well as your own.

Most of the gloves provided in the lab are vinyl or nitrile. Every effort is made not to use latex. However, if you are known to suffer from a latex allergy please inform the lab staff so that they can ensure that you have appropriate hand protection. Rubber gauntlets (long, thick gloves) are provided for use when acid-washing glassware and thicker “marigold” gloves are available for washing up. These are more resistant to broken glass than the thinner disposable gloves. It is important to wear gloves when washing glassware as many of the detergents used in the lab can cause skin disorders with prolonged use.


Some of the work carried out in the lab will generate fine dust e.g. grinding or sieving sediment or plant material. If this cannot be carried out in a fume cupboard other precautions must be taken to avoid inhalation of these particles. Dust masks are available and should be worn by all who are working in the affected area. Work of this nature can only be carried out in designated rooms. Chemical-resistant masks are not kept in the labs, as all chemical work must be carried out in a fume cupboard.


Chemical-resistant aprons are provided for use with Hydrofluoric acid. It is essential that these are worn over a lab coat when carrying out any procedure using HF as Lab coats are not an adequate defence against splashes or spills of HF. Once work has finished the aprons must be wiped down, even if you do not suspect that they are contaminated.

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Fume cupboards

Fume Cupboards and Filtration Cabinet

There are fume cupboards in each of the preparation rooms. They are checked on an annual basis to ensure that they are working efficiently. Should the flow rate in the fume cupboards drop considerably, an alarm will sound. If this happens anything you have been working on in the fume cupboard should be stoppered or covered to prevent the fumes from escaping into the lab and you should immediately leave the area and inform the Lab Supervisor.

  • All fume cupboards should be used with the sash pulled down to a safe working height – usually marked on the side of the cupboard. This is the height at which the airflow into the fume cupboard is greatest and hence its extraction capacity is best.
  • Do not lean into the fume cupboard – only the user's hands and forearms should be inside the cabinet.
  • Do not store unnecessary items (including water baths and hotplates) in the fume cupboard as this will interrupt the airflow and decrease the efficiency of the cupboard.
  • After use, the fume cupboards must be emptied and all surfaces wiped clean. Although the fume cupboards will be cleaned thoroughly on a regular basis there is still a risk to the next user of contamination from the chemicals and the samples you are using.
  • Procedures not needing continuous observation, e.g. samples in test tubes gently reacting in a waterbath, samples left overnight to cool, must have clear labels of chemicals being used, worker and contact details, time/date of finishing (see overnight or unattended experiments).
  • The fume cupboard in B04 must be emptied of all chemicals at the end of each day. Chemicals should be returned to the main laboratory for secure overnight storage.

Laminar Flow Cabinet

Room B12 houses the laminar flow cabinet. This is not a fume cupboard. This cabinet has no extraction facilities; in fact, it blows air out into the room. It is to be used only for the preparation of ultra-clean samples. Any chemical work should be carried out in the fume cupboard in B19 and samples should only be transferred once there is no risk of any fumes being evolved.

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After-hours working

Normal working hours are defined by the College as between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday. During this time, there is a team of support staff both within the Department and in various other support roles throughout the College who are available should an emergency arise. As this support is not available outside of normal working hours, it is necessary to limit the type of work carried out in the laboratory to that of a non-hazardous nature. Consequently, no work involving chemicals of any kind may be carried out after 5pm.

After hours working in the laboratory is confined to the Research Microscope room and the wet lab B04.

Postgraduate Students wishing to work after 5pm must have written permission from their supervisor (a signed “laboratory late working form”) and must sign the late working book. There must also be a second person working within earshot – thus two people must sign the late working book if room B04 is to remain open outside of normal working hours.

The names of anyone with the relevant permission to work after hours will be posted on the lab door, along with details of the work they intend to carry out.

Undergraduates may not work in any of the laboratories after 5pm. Masters students may work in the teaching microscope room (B05) until 7pm provided there is a member of staff present and they have the relevant permission.

Certain categories of lab workers may only work with supervision.

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Supervision is necessary under the following circumstances:

  • All undergraduate work must be supervised by a qualified member of staff.
  • Any work of a hazardous nature e.g. use of acids/reagents, or use of the furnace, if carried out by an inexperienced worker should be directly supervised. Experienced graduate students and staff may only carry out work of this nature during normal working hours when there is at least one other person in the lab (within calling distance).

All work in the lab must have a “risk assessment” associated with it, which will give the worker an indication of whether the work can be carried out unsupervised.

 9am to 5pmAfter 5pm 
UndergraduatesAny work as deemed necessary by staff must be directly supervised at all times.No lab work
PostgraduatesAny work as deemed necessary by a supervisor, providing the supervisor has completed a risk assessment form. Inexperienced workers must be directly supervised.No chemical work of any kind is to be carried out. Sieving, weighing, labelling and sub-sampling may be carried out in approved areas, provided another worker is present.
PostdoctorateAny work as deemed necessary, providing a risk assessment form has been completed and the worker is experienced in the techniques to be employed. Work can be carried out unsupervised.No chemical work of any kind is to be carried out. Sieving, weighing, labelling and sub-sampling may be carried out in approved areas, provided another worker is present.
Academic StaffAny work as deemed necessary, providing a risk assessment form has been completed and the worker is experienced in the techniques to be employed. Work can be carried out unsupervised.No chemical work of any kind is to be carried out. Sieving, weighing, labelling and sub-sampling may be carried out in approved areas, provided another worker is present.

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Overnight or unattended experiments

If for any reason an experiment or piece of equipment is to be left running overnight or if the worker has to leave the experiment or samples unattended during the day, it must be checked for safety by the Lab Supervisor, her deputy or (in the case of students) the project supervisor, prior to being left. A clear note of any recommended emergency procedures must be left with the experiment (details of how to safely turn the experiment off) and, if any chemicals are involved, details of what they are.

All samples, reagents and reaction vessels should be labelled with the owner's name, the date left, the finish date and full details of what they are. A daily check will be made and anything unlabelled in the lab will be disposed of.

Please consider the safety of other lab users – you may know that the clear liquid in that beaker is dilute acid, but unless you label it, no one else does.

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Carrying out a procedure for the first time

If you are about to attempt a procedure that is new to you, read it through carefully first. Discuss it with someone who has experience with the method and make sure it is fully understood before entering the lab. All standard laboratory procedures should already have a risk assessment form associated with them. Copies are kept with the Laboratory Supervisor. These should be read and signed and if necessary counter-signed by your supervisor.

If it involves a particularly hazardous chemical or procedure, arrange for an experienced worker to be present the first time you do it (and on subsequent occasions if you are not fully confident). Plan your work in advance; find out where things are kept; make sure there are sufficient stocks of the chemicals you are going to use - this will save you wandering around with contaminated gloves, lab coats etc. when you run out of something halfway through a prep. If the risk assessment gives details of protective clothing, you must wear it.

Make sure you are aware of all emergency procedures and disposal methods involved – you will be signing a risk assessment that gives details of these; ensure you have read it thoroughly.

Introducing a new method

If you have decided to try out a new method or are proposing changes to an existing method, this must be discussed with your supervisor (if you have one) and the lab supervisor before any work is carried out.

No new methods are to be carried out until the following is done:

  • Provide the lab supervisor with a draft copy of the method. Preferably this should take the form of a word document so that the method can be added to the lab web pages easily. The method should include any references that are available.
  • Carry out a full risk assessment. This can be done with assistance from the lab supervisor or your own supervisor. If chemicals are involved, a COSHH assessment will also need to be included.
  • Make a list of requirements. If the method involves any chemical or equipment that is not a “stock” item, an order will have to be placed to obtain them. Please note that some items will not be readily available from suppliers, so this may have to be done well in advance of work commencing. When ordering items for a new procedure, a grant code must be available so that the order may be charged against it. If any additional safety equipment is necessary for the procedure (safety screens, gloves of a particular chemical resistance etc), please ensure that these are included on the list. These will have been identified in the risk assessment.
  • Book lab time. Ensure that time has been booked in all the rooms required and that all equipment required is available – this will include balances, centrifuges, ovens etc. Always allow plenty of time for developing new methods. You will normally need to carry out the method using standards and duplicate samples several times before the method is “officially” introduced into the lab. Allow time for repeating samples and for clearing up. It is better to overbook time than to run out of time halfway through.
  • Ask for help. If you have little or no experience with the methods or chemicals you are using, find out if there is someone who has. This can save time and prevent accidents. If necessary and available, ensure you have received suitable training in techniques you are about to try.

Once this has all been done, then you can try out the method.

  • Next... revise the method. If any revisions are made to the method as you go along, you may also need to revise the risk assessment accordingly. A final copy of the method and the risk assessment should be given to the lab supervisor, along with the references and a list of any procedural problems that will help any future user. Please make the methods as detailed as possible, including any observations - “it went pink when I added this…”, “it boiled over if you added this too quickly….”. It is also useful to include details of the time taken at each stage of the procedure to enable people to book adequate lab time should they wish to use the method.

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Training in use of lab equipment including use of X-Ray Fluorimeter

Some training will fall under mandatory safety training (e.g. Ionising radiation). In these cases, access to the equipment will be denied until the training has been completed. Lab users will not be allowed to start work until they have received appropriate training in the use of the equipment they intend to use. This includes ALL lab equipment, from centrifuges to auto-pipettes. These regulations apply to all lab users including research staff.

  • Workers must show competence in the use of the equipment before they will be allowed to use it unsupervised
  • Training must be carried out by an authorised and qualified member of the staff
  • Damage to equipment caused as a result of misuse by untrained workers will be repaired or equipment replaced at the expense of the worker or, where applicable, their supervisor’s grant
  • Those wishing to use the XRF or Sedigraph will first have to complete the Moodle "ionising radiation" training. A certificate of completion must be stored with the instrument log book.

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Storage provision in the laboratories

Samples and personal items should only be stored in allocated spaces. Any item left in the laboratory without permission, whether labelled or not, will be removed. Unlabelled items will be disposed of. Work surfaces in the Laboratory are not storage areas.

In the vicinity of areas such as around sinks, adjacent to fume cupboards, and around balances, it is essential no materials are left to pile up. These areas are for samples being worked on, i.e. those being weighed, space for slides, vials etc during slide making. Nothing should be left in these clearly-visible ‘clearaway’ zones.

Short-term sample storage

  • Cupboards and crates are provided in room B09 for storage of samples that are being worked on. Samples should not be left out overnight but should be placed in a labelled crate in the cupboard.
  • Crates should be labelled with the following information:
    • Name of lab user
    • Date left
    • Expected date of removal
    • Sample identification
    • Analysis to be carried out
  • In the case of PhD or Research worker the following additional information should be added:
    • Name of Supervisor/ PI
    • The Contact phone number for Supervisor/ PI
  • In the case of Masters or Undergraduate dissertation students the following additional information should be added:
    • Name of Supervisor
    • Student’s E-mail address/ telephone number
    • Name of Course (e.g. FACS, CONS etc..)
    • Date of end of project
  • Any samples left for longer than stated will be disposed of. This area is not meant for long-term storage of samples and if the worker does not have lab time booked to work on them, the samples must be removed and alternative storage found.

Longer-term storage

  • Staff and PhD students using the research microscope room may request lockable cupboard space. These cupboards will be allocated by the lab team. Whilst the content of these cupboards is the responsibility of the user, it should be noted that chemicals or foodstuff may not be stored here – especially not together.
  • Masters and undergraduate students carrying out dissertation work in the labs may request the use of a locker in room B05 (the large microscope room). You will be asked to pay a small, refundable deposit for a key. Please ensure the keys are returned after use. These lockers are not meant for long-term use and the user will be asked to empty the locker once their lab work is finished.

Long Term Storage of Samples

  • Cold Storage – see cold rooms (B07 & B14). Frozen samples can be stored in the lab freezers. They must be fully labelled as above. Freezers in room B09 are primarily for use with the freeze drier and whilst samples may be stored here they may be moved from here to accommodate people using the freeze drier.
  • Dry Sample Storage – for details of archive storage see Ian Patmore.

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Working in the Cold Room

The Cold Room work area like all the other lab space needs to be booked prior to use. All workers must read and sign the associated risk assessment before commencing work. As this is essentially a big fridge, it is vital that the door is only kept open for short periods of time, therefore anyone wishing to carry out prolonged work must do so with the door closed. This, of course, leads to the necessity for strict safety precautions to be taken when undertaking work in the Cold Room.

  • Workers must wear appropriate clothing: Ensure that you have warm clothing that will fit under a lab coat where appropriate.
  • No lone working: Work inside the cold room must be carried out in pairs with a third person, who is aware of the work, outside of the cold room. The third person must be working in the basement area.
  • Timers/Alarms: Two timers must be set when work commences, one to be kept inside the cold room and one to be kept by the third person. The timers will indicate the maximum time that the workers can stay in the room and when the alarm sounds the workers must take a minimum of 30 minutes break. The person outside of the cold room must ensure that the workers are out.

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Safe use of equipment in the Lab

There are a number of pieces of equipment in the lab that require extra care in their use. It is essential that you have adequate training in the use of all equipment before attempting to use it. If you have not had training do not use any equipment until you have spoken to the technical staff.


If you have never used centrifuges before, it is essential that you seek advice before attempting to use them. Misuse of the centrifuge can cause irreparable damage. There are various makes of centrifuge in the labs and all will have slightly different operating instructions. Do not assume that they are all set to do what you want them to do.

All centrifuges must be fitted with a locking device, which prevents the lid from being opened whilst the rotor is in motion. It is foolish and dangerous to try to bypass this lock. It is a contravention of the departmental safety policy and is therefore also illegal.

The rotor must be balanced before the centrifuge is switched on. This involves ensuring that the sample buckets positioned opposite each other on the rotor weigh the same. This is very important, as an imbalance will cause the rotor to wear and possibly crack. The centrifuges do have lights to indicate whether they are properly balanced, but these only come on once the speed of the rotor has reached 1000 rpm and this is often too late to prevent damage. A broken rotor travelling at high speed is capable of breaking through the outer casing of the centrifuge; accidents of this nature are potentially fatal.

Centrifuge tubes are designed to withstand certain spin speeds. Always make sure that the tubes are fit for the purpose that you are using them for. Never take a tube up to a speed higher than its specification states – this will break the tube and may damage the centrifuge and you will lose your sample. If your sample is not separating as you would like, you may have to spin it for longer instead of using a higher speed.

Should a tube break in the centrifuge, clean the centrifuge, including the sample buckets, immediately. This may prevent later breakages, which are often due to small fragments of glass or dust in the tube holders. If the spilt sample contains any hazardous substance please inform a member of the technical staff so that they can advise on the best method for cleaning the centrifuge – do not leave broken tubes and spillages for someone else to find later.

Use of corrosive chemicals in the centrifuge;- Tubes should be stoppered if they contain corrosive chemicals. This will prevent any fumes from corroding the inside of the casing. If the tube cannot be sealed – for example if gases are being evolved which would cause pressure to build in a sealed tube – then the centrifuge must be cleaned thoroughly as soon as the samples are taken out.

Cleaning the centrifuges – It is the responsibility of the lab user to clean the centrifuge after use. The buckets and holders must be washed thoroughly in soapy water and the inside of the centrifuge should be wiped out. Once the buckets and holders have been cleaned they should be left next to the centrifuge to ensure that they are perfectly dry before being replaced. This will also give the next user an indication that the centrifuge is clean and ready to use. Failure to do this could result in damage to the centrifuge.

Furnaces and ovens (B11)

There are 3 “muffle” furnaces in the lab. These are capable of heating to temperatures in excess of 1000 degrees Celsius. There are no interlock devices to prevent the furnaces from being opened when they are hot and quite often it is necessary to do so. This procedure should be carried out with great care - stand to one side of the furnace as the door is opened. It is essential to wear the protective gloves provided, as well as a lab coat (with sleeves rolled down) and safety glasses. Tongs are provided for loading/unloading the furnace. Practice using the tongs before attempting to pick up a precious or extremely hot sample.

The furnaces may not be left on overnight.

There are also 2 drying ovens. The ovens are less hazardous, but care should still be taken when using them. If they are to be left on overnight, a notice must be left on them giving instructions of what to do in cases of emergency. Remember that although you may know what is in the oven overnight security staff/cleaners etc. do not.

Always check the temperature at which the ovens and furnaces are set. They are used in various settings and may not be set at the temperature you require.

An important point to remember:

HOT glass and porcelain look exactly like COLD glass and porcelain.

Do not test them with your fingers. Always wear the appropriate gloves when removing things from the ovens.

Microwave digestion system

If you intend to use the microwave digestion system you will need to book the prep room as well. Chemicals should be added to the vessels in the fume cupboard. Please avoid carrying the carousel around the labs when the vessels are full.

Always inspect the vessels for signs of damage before use. The microwave digestion system must only be used by trained and authorised persons.

The following is a list of general guidelines as laid down by the manufacturers:

  • All vessel components must be dry and free of particulate matter. Drops of liquid or particles will absorb microwave energy, causing localised heating that may char and damage vessel components, leading to possible vessel failure.
  • Never heat liquids in a sealed vessel or container that is not equipped with a pressure relief device.
  • Never attempt to digest samples larger than 0.5 grammes if the organic content and composition of the sample are unknown.
  • When working with an unknown sample, always perform a pre-digestion step in an unsealed, open vessel, allowing a minimum of 15 minutes for the reaction of volatile or easily oxidised compounds to subside before sealing the vessel and microwave heating.
  • Microwave heating of alkaline or salt solutions will concentrate these solutions, causing the precipitation of salts and the formation of crystal deposits on the vessel walls. These crystals will absorb microwave energy. This will cause localised heating that may char and damage the vessel components, leading to possible failure.
  • Do not heat high boiling point acids (sulphuric or phosphoric) inside the digestion vessel. The vessels cannot withstand the temperatures that these acids will reach and they will melt.

UV emitters

A UV light box is used in the lab to cure Norland slide mountant. The light must never be switched on if it is not mounted in the wooden box. Do not place your hands inside the box when the source is on. Never leave the light on for longer than 15 minutes. Never look directly at the light source.

Sieve shakers

The sieve shaker for dry sieving is noisy and is housed in an acoustic box. Do not operate the shaker unless the door to the acoustic enclosure is shut. When using the sieve shaker, ensure the sieves are properly stacked and the top is firmly clamped down. Always switch it off at the plug before removing the sieves. A shaker is available for wet sieving. This should only be used with stainless steel sieves. As with the dry sieve shaker, ensure that the sieves are properly clamped down before switching them on. Do not operate the shakers without putting lids over the top sieve.

Freeze drier

A booking system is in operation for the use of the freeze drier. Please allow time for freezing samples before the date booked for using the equipment. It should be noted that the time taken for samples to dry will depend upon the number and size of samples placed in the chamber and upon the water content.

The freeze drier may be used for drying samples that would degrade if dried at high temperatures. There are various safety issues involved with its use and anyone wishing to use the freeze drier should read and sign the associated risk assessment first.

The following points should be noted:

  • The freezer operates at a temperature of about –40oC and the base plate can cause burns if touched with bare skin.
  • The plastic chamber is used under a vacuum. It should be visually inspected before use and if there is any damage to it, it must not be used. Even the slightest flaw can cause the chamber to implode…
  • Check the oil level in the vacuum pump before switching it on. Apart from damaging the pump, a lack of oil in the pump will cause it to overheat and could start a fire.
  • The freezer chamber must be allowed to defrost between batches of samples. Ice will block the tubes and prevent the vacuum pump from working efficiently. This may cause the pump to overheat. It is not sufficient just to wait until the temperature indicator is at room temperature – this does not mean the ice has thawed. It will take several hours for all the ice to melt.

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Safe use of chemicals in the Lab

Chemical agents

All chemicals must be used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. These can be found in the Hazard Data Sheet books that are kept in the Laboratory Supervisors office. In particular, pay attention to the Risk and Safety phrases (R and S numbered phrases - copies of these phrases are kept by the Laboratory Supervisor) and the Hazard Symbols. Absence of Hazard symbols or Risk and Safety Phrases should not be taken to indicate that these chemicals are non-hazardous.

The following chemicals are used routinely in the basement lab. Even if you are not planning to use these chemicals yourself, make sure you are familiar with the safety procedures in case someone else has an accident with them.

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Hydrofluoric acid
  • Nitric acid
  • Sulphuric acid
  • Acetic acid
  • Acetic anhydride
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Iodine
  • Sodium carbonate
  • Potassium iodide
  • Tert- butyl alcohol (2-methyl propan-2-ol)
  • Methanol
  • Acetone
  • Isopropanol
  • Decon 90
  • Naphrax


The use of carcinogenic substances is discouraged in the laboratory and where possible alternatives should be found. If the use of such substances is absolutely necessary, all precautions must be taken to avoid exposure both for the user and any other lab workers. All other lab workers must be informed that the chemicals are being used and should be made aware of emergency procedures in the event of an accident or spillage. Consult the Hazard Data Sheets for details.

General guide to the use of chemicals

  • Read the label and any safety literature first (available from the Laboratory Supervisor). If the chemical is “harmful when inhaled” it must be used in a fume cupboard. This covers just about all of the chemicals frequently used in the lab. If the chemical is an “irritant” or “corrosive”, wear gloves. This covers just about all the other chemicals used frequently in the lab. A lab coat, gloves and safety glasses must always be worn.
  • Do not leave bottles near to the edge of benches; always replace the lids when you’ve finished using a chemical; return chemicals to the shelf/cupboard when finished and do not put empty bottles back – these should be given to the technical staff immediately for disposal.
  • Spillages must be dealt with immediately. Always dilute spillages with plenty of water before mopping them up. This is particularly important with powerful oxidising agents (e.g. hydrogen peroxide), as they will react with the paper towel when in their concentrated form and this may result in a fire. Always wear gloves and safety glasses and consult the Hazard Data Sheets for safe methods of disposal.
  • Acid spillages must be treated with extreme care. When water is added to acid, heat and fumes are evolved, therefore if the spillage is more than just slight, the acid should be absorbed onto an inert medium e.g. sand or “spillage absorption granules”. Never attempt to clear up a large chemical spillage single-handedly. All spillages must be reported to the Lab Supervisor.
  • Organic solvents must not be poured down the sink. Solvent residue bottles are available for the disposal of waste material. Do not mix Chlorinated and non-chlorinated waste solvents (If you are unsure of which category your waste solvent fits into consult the Laboratory Supervisor). If any organic solvent is spilt it should be absorbed into a suitable inert medium and disposed of as a solid in a suitably labelled container.
  • Powder spillages should be swept up and put into a suitable container. This container should then be labelled clearly and given to the Lab Supervisor for disposal. Never mix chemicals for disposal.
  • All waste disposal is arranged by the Laboratory staff. It is disposed of via the College Hazardous Waste Service.
  • Always allow yourself plenty of time to carry out any procedure and to clear up properly afterwards, rushing only adds to the dangers.
  • Make sure the area you are working in is kept clean and tidy.
  • Clear up as you go along
  • Label all beakers etc. clearly, even if they only contain distilled water - you may know what they contain but other lab workers do not.

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Biological agents

Currently, we do not intentionally work with biological agents in the laboratory. However, it should be noted that some of the water samples brought into the laboratory for analysis may be contaminated. It is advisable for lab workers carrying out these analyses to have appropriate vaccinations and to take precautions against the ingestion of these samples.

Gloves must be worn when handling water samples of any kind.

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Cryogenic substances/oxygen depletion

The only cryogenic substance that we use in the basement is Liquid Nitrogen. This is used in conjunction with the gamma spectrometers and is supplied from large pressurised vessels.

When handling liquid Nitrogen or re-filling the dewar associated with the spectrometers, it is essential that the appropriate gloves are worn. Safety glasses and lab coats must also be worn. In the event of a Liquid Nitrogen leak, there is a risk of the room becoming depleted of oxygen. There is a monitor in the room that will sound an alarm if this is the case. If this alarm is heard, contact Dr Handong Yang or Dr Neil Rose (x30543). The monitor is serviced annually and the battery pack is replaced.

Should Liquid Nitrogen come into contact with anyone’s skin, treat it as a chemical burn and hold it under running water for a minimum of twenty minutes. If the burn is any more than small /minor seek medical attention immediately.

Do not re-fill the dewar unless you have received training and have read the risk assessment. If the dewar needs refilling, please consult the list of people authorised to do this and seek their assistance.

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Pressure vessels

Vessels designed to hold liquid/gases at a pressure of more than 0.5 Bar are covered by the pressure vessel regulations and need to be inspected annually by a competent person. This can be arranged through estates or through BOC.

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Compressed gases

Compressed gases are available in various-sized bottles and are supplied at various pressures. It is essential that the correct regulator be used for each gas. Never attempt to use an incorrect regulator - they are designed to withstand different conditions. The regulators should undergo a visual inspection every time a cylinder is changed and should be replaced/overhauled every five years. Do not attempt to change a regulator without proper training.

If you should discover a leak on any gas line or cylinder, report it immediately to the Lab Supervisor. If possible isolate the leak by shutting off the cylinder. All cylinders must be securely clamped both during storage and use. Cylinders should only be moved using a cylinder trolley and by personnel who have attended a manual handling course.
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Manufacture and repair of equipment

In general, repairs and manufacture of equipment will, where practical, be carried out by members of the technical staff. If you require this service please consult the lab supervisor in the first instance.

Use of tools - drills, saws, abrasive wheels etc

When using power tools always follow the manufacturer's safety guidelines. Do not for any reason remove blade guards or other safety devices. Always wear the appropriate protective clothing - safety goggles, armoured gloves etc. Please also make sure that there are no loose items of clothing that can catch anything. Long hair must be tied back. If you have never used these tools do not attempt to do so without proper instruction.


Any soldering must be carried out in a well-ventilated area. Gloves and safety glasses must be worn. Always wash your hands after using the solder. Asthmatics and pregnant workers must not use solder.

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Glassware and general laboratory equipment

Each laboratory has its own set of glassware /equipment. These are colour coded and must not be removed from their designated area except for cleaning (i.e. removal to B13 for washing up). It is essential that glassware does not migrate from lab to lab, as its washing and treatment will be different for each area.

If you find that there is not enough glassware in the area you are in, please check the washing-up room (B13) first and then report this to the technical staff. Every effort will be made to return glassware to its appropriate room as quickly as possible after cleaning, but if, for example, the glassware is being acid washed, this process may be delayed.

Glassware is commonly broken in laboratories. It is essential that broken glassware is removed (with great care) from work areas. Report the breakage to the lab supervisor and place broken glass fragments in the sharps bin.

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