Working safely in the lab

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Key points

  • When working in a laboratory, follow the lab rules.
  • Hazard symbols give information about chemicals and materials.
  • When working in a lab, take safety precautions.

Why is lab safety important?

Accidents can easily happen. It’s best to minimise risk to avoid getting hurt.


Watch the video below about safety rules in the lab.

Look out for the labels on the bottles of chemicals that the scientist has in the lab, as well as how they use the Bunsen burner

Risk and hazard

A is something that can cause harm. A is a chance that a hazard will cause anybody harm.

The type of harm that could be caused is often shown using a . Hazard symbols can also be seen on items in the home.

Hazard symbols

A man lying on wet floor after falling over. There is a sign advising caution as the floor is wet.

Warnings about hazards are often seen in everyday life. If these warnings are ignored, accidents can happen. In the lab it is important to know what hazard symbols mean.

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On the bottle of hazardous chemical, there were three hazard symbols. Name one of them.

Flammable, moderate health hazard, or dangerous to the environment.

Spot the hazard symbols

What is the name for a label on a bottle that tells us a substance could cause harm?

A hazard symbol.

Lab rules

To reduce the risk of harm in the lab, it’s important to take . These precautions are often given as a set of general lab rules to follow. Lab rules are put in place to keep everyone as safe as possible. These are some of the most important rules to follow.

Top 10 laboratory safety rules

Teacher assisting two students with science project involving test tubes and a conical flask.

Do not enter the lab without permission

To keep everyone safe in the lab, a member of staff must be present. There could be dangerous equipment or chemicals left in the lab.

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Plan for hazards and risks by thinking about what precautions to take in certain situations. Follow these steps:

  • First identify the hazard.
  • Then think about what could increase the risk.
  • Finally, consider what precautions can be taken to reduce the risk.

Examples are shown in the table below.

HazardRisks increased by…Precaution to reduce risk
acidBottle of acid being close to edge of a bench.Store acid away safely or at least move away from the edge of the bench.
Flame from a Bunsen burnerHaving loose clothing or hair hanging down that could catch fire.Tie hair back, tuck in ties and shirts.
Bags on the floorPeople running, not seeing the bags and tripping up.Store bags under benches safely out of the way and walk carefully around the room.
Fumes from chemicalsLack of ventilation in the room so fumes could harm the nose and lungs.Open windows to allow movement of air in and out.

Lab safety

Using a Bunsen burner

The correct precautions must be taken when using a Bunsen burner, but first, it is important to know how to use it.

How to use a Bunsen burner:

  1. Make sure there are no breaks or holes in the gas hose.
  2. Follow lab rules: safety goggles, tie hair back, tuck in your tie.
  3. Put the Bunsen burner on a heat-resistant mat, making sure it isn’t near the edge of the bench.
  4. Turn the collar to ensure the air hole of the Bunsen burner is closed.
  5. Hold a lit splint 1-2 cm above the top of the barrel of the burner.
  6. Turn on the gas at the gas tap, and the Bunsen burner will burn with a yellow flame.
  7. Extinguish the splint and place it on the heat-resistant mat.

Bunsen burner

An illustration of a Bunsen burner labelled with the different parts: flame, barrel, collar, air, gad, rubber tubing, base
A Bunsen burner
  • When you light the Bunsen burner, the flame will be yellow - this is often known as the ‘safety flame’ because you can see it.

  • The blue flame is used for heating. It is hotter because more air can flow through the Bunsen burner but it is harder to see.

  • Turning the collar of the Bunsen burner lets different amount of air in and changes the temperature of the flame.

  • A reaction takes place when the Bunsen burner is lit.

What colour is the flame when it is being used for heating?


Test your knowledge

Quiz - Working safely in the lab

Did you know?

  • Hazard symbols are the same all over the world. Before 2017, symbols looked different in many countries, which wasn’t helpful for moving chemicals around the world.

  • Bunsen burners are named after the German scientist Robert Bunsen.