Prioritizing safety in the lab

The UVA DMSE is committed to protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, research partners that visit our labs, as well as the University and community where we operate. The DMSE is committed to educating students and developing an exemplary safety culture that prepares students to excel in companies and institutions with high-performing safety cultures.

The MSE Safety committee is dedicated to supporting this department-wide priority by publishing and updating the Safety Handbook, assisting in the identification and mitigation of hazards, sharing best practices from other departments and institutions, and leading professional development on various safety topics. The Safety Committee is also responsible for communicating near-miss information within the department with the goal of preventing actual accidents.

Everyone in the MSE department has a responsibility to maintain safety in the workspace.  The DMSE Safety Policy defines the roles and responsibilities of each member of the community here.

Below you will find a list of the most common safety protocols.  The entire Safety Handbook can be found here.

  • General safety principles and regulations

    Know the safety procedures that apply to the work being done. Determine the potential hazards (e.g., physical, chemical biological) and appropriate safety precautions before beginning any new operation. Every laboratory worker should observe the following rules:

    1. Safety glasses must be worn at all times in designated areas (see Appendix 1 for details). Contact lenses are permitted in these areas provided that safety glasses are also worn.

    2. Under ordinary circumstances, someone else should be present in your designated laboratory area in order to render emergency help should this be required. When working at night or on weekends, make sure that someone else is notified of your presence.  Avoid carrying out experimental work alone in a laboratory building. 

    3. All injuries (and near misses), no matter how slight, should be reported to a member of the Safety Committee or the Department Chairman without delay.

    4. Shoes with uppers of a solid material must be worn in the laboratories. This will prevent permeation by liquid chemical spills and other injuries. Open-toed shoes and bare feet, therefore, are not permitted.

    5. All chemicals must be correctly and clearly labeled and kept in capped containers. Parafilm and aluminum foil are not acceptable for long-term storage of chemicals. Screw caps should be used whenever possible Post warning signs when unusual hazards, such as radiation, flammable materials, biological hazards, or other special problems exist. It is recommended that you place your initials and date on the label of any chemical container.  Please follow EH&S guidelines.

    6. Properly dispose of laboratory waste and unwanted chemicals following strictly the procedures outlined in Appendix 2. All HAZARDOUS WASTE DISPOSAL CONTAINERS MUST BE PROPERLY LABELED AND KEPT CAPPED AT ALL TIMES ACCORDING TO THE PROCEDURES AND GUIDELINES SET BY ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH AND SAFETY (EH&S).

    7. All departing graduate and undergraduate students, staff, post-docs, visitors, and faculty, who have worked in a MSE research laboratories must complete a decommission process prior to leaving or graduating. This process will either transfer chemicals to future work or dispose of according to EH&S guidelines. This process should be directed by the MSE safety committee and or senior lab members of MSE and EH&S when necessary.


  • Handling and Storage of Chemicals and Solvents

    The following general guidelines apply to the handling and storage of chemicals and solvents.

    1. Chemical splash goggles (or face shields) and rubber gloves should be worn when concentrated acids are poured. Such equipment must also be worn when any highly reactive or toxic chemicals are handled, such as elemental sodium or cyanide.

    2. A fume hood or other approved ventilation/exhaust system should be utilized whenever flammable solvents or toxic gases are to be used. It may be recalled that the best ventilating efficiency is attained with the hood sash closed. Keeping all items 6 inches behind the sash line and minimizing the quantity of equipment within the hood area will greatly improve its exhaust effect.

    The operating condition of a hood should be determined before the hood is put to use. Fume hoods must be approved and periodically inspected by the Office of Environmental Health & Safety. The Office personnel will affix a label on the fume hood indicating the operability of the system and the maximum acceptable elevation of the hood sash.

    Do not operate the fume hood with the sash above the indicated level.

    3. All chemicals must be organized and stored on shelves or in cabinets where they will not be knocked over. One way to organize chemicals is to store organics by number of Carbon atoms and keep them separate from inorganics, which should be stored in alphabetical order. Upon receipt, date and initial the label so that the age of the stock can be determined.


  • Compressed Gases and Gas Regulators

    1. Know the contents of a cylinder and be familiar with the properties of that gas. Never use a cylinder which cannot be positively identified; cylinder color coding varies among gas vendors and is an unreliable identifier of cylinder contents.

    2. All cylinders in operation or not, must always be firmly secured by an adequate bench- or wall-mounted cylinder clamp or chain. Keep in mind that breakage of the valve body on a compressed gas cylinder can easily transform the cylinder into a “torpedo” capable of going trough concrete walls!

    3. When ordering new gas cylinders, consider purchasing gases in refillable containers. The disposal costs of empty containers often offset the increased initial cost of having to purchase a larger amount of gas.

    4. Upon receipt of a new cylinder from the vendor immediately check the cylinder valve for leaks with a soap solution. Leaks in cylinders should promptly be reported to the shop personnel and corrected.

    5. When installing a new cylinder, write your name on the cylinder information tag and attach it to the valve stem.

    6. Use cylinders only with matched connectors and proper Compressed Gas Association (CGA) regulator. Never install cylinder adapters on a regulator. Teflon tape must never be used on any CGA cylinder valve fitting.

    7. Oxygen regulators should be used only on oxygen tanks. Contamination of oxygen regulators with the oil present in other gases can result in a serious explosion hazard when the regulator is again used for oxygen.

    8. Leak test all connections to a cylinder with a soap solution. CAUTION! Any gas, regardless of its health hazard may cause asphyxiation by displacing oxygen.

    9. Pressure-relief devices protecting equipment attached to cylinders of flammable, toxic, or otherwise hazardous gases should be vented to an exhaust duct or fume hood.

    10. When not in use, the regulators on cylinders should be depressurized. If the cylinder is not to be used for a long time, the regulator must be removed. Never leave partly assembled apparatus attached to gas cylinders. Never attempt to refill a cylinder.

    11. IMPORTANT:

    When storing or moving a cylinder, always attach the safety cap securely to protect the valve stem, and transport gas cylinders of size 2 or larger only on a specifically designed wheeled cart.   Do Not use a regular hand which has no chain or strap to secure the cylinder.

    12. Cylinders should be located in the lab so that the cylinder valve is accessible at all times.

    The main cylinder valve should be closed as soon as it is no longer necessary that it be open (i.e., it should never be left open when the equipment is unattended or not operating.) When storing or moving a cylinder, have the cap in place to protect the valve stem and never expose cylinders to temperatures higher than 50 Centigrade.

    13. Cylinders of compressed gases must be handled as high energy sources and therefore as potential explosives. Cylinder valves should be opened slowly. Never tamper with any part of a valve such as the safety relief or packing nuts.

    14. A cylinder should never be emptied to a pressure lower than 172kPa (25 psig): leave a slight pressure to keep contaminants out and notify the vendor with a note if draw-down occurs. Empty cylinders should not be refilled by anyone except the gas supplier.

    Remove the empty cylinder regulator and replace the valve cap. Keep the empty cylinder chained until pickup by the gas vendor. Be sure that a cylinder tag is attached and indicates the proper status of the cylinder (full, partially full, empty).

    15. Cylinder discharge lines should be equipped with approved check valves to prevent inadvertent contamination of cylinders that are connected to a closed system where the possibility of flow reversal exists. Sucking back is particularly troublesome in the case of gases used as reactants in a closed system. If there is a possibility that a cylinder has been contaminated, it should be so labeled and returned to the supplier.

    16. When ordering toxic or flammable gases, whenever possible request a Flow Restrictor cylinder Valve. The FRV orifice considerably reduces the full-open leak rate in event of a major leak (e.g., regulator diaphragm failure).


  • Safety Committee Members

    Tao Sun
    Associate Professor
    Safety Committee Chair

    Chip Blankenship
    Montgomery Distinguished Professor of Practice
    Safety Committee Co-Chair

    Jerry Weaver
    Building Manager

    Petra Reinke

    Richard White
    NMCF Facility Manager

    Helge Heinrich
    Research Scientist

    Zachary Harris
    Research Scientist

    Katie Detwiler
    Graduate Research Assistant
    Graduate Student Representative