Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment

Research laboratories are dynamic, fluid environments.  For the most part, no two days are alike; experiments change frequently and represent a variety of hazards.  Lab workers also represent a wide range of backgrounds and skills, from high school students to scientists with decades of experience. 

Hazard identification and evaluation, hazard controls, roles and responsibilities, and general chemical safety are all important parts of this assessment.

Hazard Identification and Evaluation

Before beginning the hazard evaluation and risk assessment process, a researcher must define the scope of work.  What are the tasks that must be evaluated?  A well-defined scope of work is a key starting point for all steps in the risk assessment and hazard analysis. 

The next step after identifying the scope of work is to identify the hazard.  A HAZARD IS A POTENTIAL FOR HARM.   Hazards can be identified as an agent, condition, or activity that has the potential to cause injury, illness, loss of property, or damage to the environment.  The table below has been adapted from Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories, which you can find in the Resource tab to the right.

Table 3-1: Examples of Hazards Commonly Identified for Research Activities


Hazard Types




Carcinogenic, teratogenic, corrosive, pyrophoric, toxic, mutagenic, reproductive hazard, explosive, nonionizing radiation, biological hazard/pathogenic, flammable, oxidizing, self-reactive or unstable, potentially explosive, reducing, water-reactive, sensitizing, peroxide-forming, catalytic, or chemical asphyxiate



High pressure, low pressure, electrical, uneven surfaces, pinch points, suspended weight, hot surfaces, extreme cold, steam, noise, clutter, magnetic fields, simple asphyxiant, oxygen-deficient spaces, ultraviolet radiation, or laser light



Creation of secondary products, lifting, chemical mixing, long-term use of dry boxes, repetitive pipetting, scale up, handling waste, transportation of hazardous materials, handling glassware and other sharp objects, heating chemicals, recrystallizations, extractions, or centrifuging


Hazard Controls

When evaluating the risks associated with specific hazards, the results of this evaluation should guide the researcher in the selection of risk management techniques including elimination, substitution, engineering controls, administrative controls, and personal protective equipment.  This is known as the Hierarchy of Controls.

Hierarchy of Controls.png

Image courtesy of NIOSH

Elimination and Substitution

The most preferred method of controlling risk is to eliminate the hazard altogether. In most cases, elimination is not feasible and when possible, substitution is the best approach to hazard mitigation.  When possible, substitute less hazardous agents in place of their more hazardous counterparts.  This also applies to conditions and activities.  Examples include substituting toluene for benzene, non-lead-based paints for lead-based ones, or SawStop table saws for existing traditional table saws. 

Engineering Controls

Engineering controls consist of a variety of methods for minimizing hazards, including process control, enclosure and isolation, and ventilation.

  • Process controls involve changing the way that a job activity is performed in order to reduce risk.  Examples of this include using wet methods when drilling or grinding or using temperature controls to minimize vapor generation.
  • Enclosure and isolation are targeted at keeping the chemical in and the researcher out, or visa versa.  Glove boxes are a good example of enclosure and isolation.  Interlock systems for lasers and machinery are other good examples of isolating processes.
  • The most common method for ventilation in research laboratories is localized exhaust systems.  Fume hoods, snorkels, and other ventilation systems are discussed at length in the Laboratory Equipment and Engineering Controls section of this site.

Administrative Controls

Administrative controls are controls which alter the way work is performed.  They may consists of policies, training, standard operating procedures/guidelines, personal hygiene practices, work scheduling, etc.  These controls are meant to minimize the exposure to the hazard and should only be used when the exposure cannot be completely mitigated through elimination/substitution or engineering controls.  

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE should always be used as a last line of defense and is an acceptable control method when engineering or administrative controls cannot provide sufficient protection.  PPE may also be used on a temporary basis while engineering controls are being developed.  See the standalone PPE section of this site for more information.

Roles and Responsibilities

Laboratory Worker

  • Attend laboratory safety training.
  • Review the Chemical Hygiene Plan
  • Follow procedures and laboratory practices outlined in the Chemical Hygiene Plan and EHS Website and as provided by supervisors and principal investigators.
  • Use engineering controls and personal protective equipment, as appropriate.
  • Report all incidents, accidents, potential chemical exposures and near miss situations to the principal investigator and the Chemical Hygiene Officer.
  • Document specific operating procedures for work with particularly hazardous substances, including carcinogens, reproductive toxins and chemicals with high acute toxicity.

Principal Investigators

Departmental Chemical Hygiene Officer

  • Establish and implement a Chemical Hygiene Plan.
  • Review and update the Chemical Hygiene Plan at least annually.
  • Investigate accidents and chemical exposures within the department.
  • Act as a liaison between the department and EHS for laboratory safety issues.
  • Maintain records of training, exposure monitoring and medical examinations.
  • Ensure laboratory workers receive chemical and procedure-specific training.
  • Review and approve use of particularly hazardous substances.
  • Approve laboratory worker's return to work following a chemical exposure requiring medical consultation.

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)

  • Conduct exposure monitoring, as needed.
  • Provide general training.
  • Audit the departmental program periodically.
  • Provide safe working guidelines for laboratory workers through the EHS web page.
  • Review the model Chemical Hygiene Plan at least annually.
  • Inspect fume hoods annually.
  • Provide consultation for safe work practices for hazardous chemicals.
  • Conduct limited laboratory safety inspections annually.
  • Develop and maintain the EHS Website.

Chemical Safety and Risk Assessments

General Chemical Safety

Physical health hazards of chemicals, routes of entry, and chemical exposures are all discussed at length in the Hazard Communication-Chemical Safety section of this site. 

For more specific chemical handling, storage, and waste considerations, please visit the Chemical Safety page located in the Laboratory & Research Safety section.   

Risk Assessments

There are a variety of methods for conducting risk assessments. For assistance in conducting a risk assessment for your laboratory, please contact EHS