Chemistry General Lab Safety

On this page, you will find information regarding the most important safety aspects you will need to be familiar with when doing basic Chemistry work. 

Everyone working in a Smith College research lab must abide by the Chemical Hygiene Plan – the official document containing all the safety norms and regulations.  You will find a link to the document in the CHEMICAL HYGIENE PLAN (side navigation menu) page.


You will need to get acquainted with all the safety aspects of the lab space you will be using and the lab procedures/chemicals you will be working with. To get you started or get you reacquainted with chemical safety in general, carefully review the material presented here.

Note: Make sure you have attended all the official lab safety training sessions required. See SAFETY TRAINING page (side navigation menu) for schedules and requirements.


Watch this American Chemical Society (ACS) video to learn more about how to approach safety in lab.


Under normal circumstances and especially important under the current pandemic condition (see College’s current operation mode here), there are four general Laboratory Safety components that you must address when working in the lab:

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Standard use of PPE to protect against chemical hazards

Always wear reasonable clothing. Apparel, including footwear, should adequately protect your skin from chemical spills. No open-toed shoes (sandals) or ballet flats are allowed in the lab. You will be assigned a lab coat that you MUST wear at all times. In addition, long hair should always be tied back.

You will also be assigned a pair of safety glasses that you MUST wear at all times unless sitting at your desk. For some experiments with serious spill hazards, you will be required to switch your safety glasses for safety goggles. Safety Goggles are face fitting and will better protect your eyes.

Gloves are to be worn whenever handling chemicals or biological samples. Most of the time you will use nitrile, disposable gloved. You should know that depending on the chemical or biological hazard your instructor/advisor might require you use a different glove material. Check the Chemical Safety page (side navigation menu) if you are curious to see all the different types. 

Watch this video to learn more about how to dress for the lab and wear eye protection.

Chemical Hazards

 All the previous measures require knowledge regarding Chemical Hazard Identification:

Different types of chemical hazards determine the appropriate PPE or extra safety protocols needed to safely conduct an experiment. Key to this knowledge is Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) and the Global Harmonized System (GHS) which provide detailed hazard information and pictograms used to classify and label chemical hazards. We want you to be familiar with what an SDS and a GHS label are before you meet with your lab group.

  • Safety Data Sheets are provided by manufacturers for each chemical they sell and include information such as the properties of the chemical; its physical, health, and environmental health hazards; protective measures; and safety precautions for handling, storing, and transporting. We use them to assess whether we need to take extra precautions when handling the chemical during experiments. 
  • The Global Harmonized System is a system of pictograms that are universally recognized as hazard labels. You will find them in chemical bottles, safety cabinets, laboratory areas, and industrial settings.

Watch the next videos to learn the basics of SDSs and GHS

Take an online pictogram quiz here!

Note:The Chemical Safety page (see side navigation menu) has a link to an online database of SDSs!

Lab Safety Equipment

To work in a laboratory you will need to know how to access and in some cases, use Lab Safety Equipment:

This is equipment designed to protect you from a potential emergency hazard, like a fire or a chemical spill. Equipment such as a fire extinguisher, a safety shower, and eyewash station, a fire blanket, a gas shut-off valve, a spill kit, a first-aid kit, or simply a wall phone should all be accessible in our laboratory space. Watch this video to learn about available safety equipment.

On the first day of lab (whether as part of a course or under the supervision of a research advisor) you will be shown how to identify, locate and properly use the safety equipment available in your particular space. 


A popular, albeit a bit dated (we now use SDS instead of MSDS, and GHS classification and identifiers, instead of the hazard diamonds…by the way in the newer GHS classification the hazard levels are ranked opposite to those described under the hazard diamonds rule. In the “new” GHS a 1 is bad and a 4 is not so bad!) , educational youtube series showcasing chemistry. Here you will see summarized many of the lab safety components we have already presented.



If the College’s COVID-19 operating mode goes on alert, you might be required to follow some or all of these COVID-19 safety practices:

  • Wear a face-fitting mask, either surgical or cotton, covering the nose and mouth.
  • Use hand sanitizer before you enter the lab.
  • Put on gloves when entering a room.
  • Maintain social distance (> 6ft) whenever possible.
  • Before leaving the lab. wash hands. When washing your hands do it with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using a paper towel to turn the faucet off and dry your hands.
  • If any surfaces need to be disinfected, use an isopropanol spray bottle. Spray and leave on the surface for at least 1 minute. Do not spray computer equipment, use a wipe instead!

Watch these videos to learn more about how to properly wear a surgical mask, wash your hands and change gloves.