Research Refrigerator and Freezer Policy

Document Number000949
Date Approved12 September 2011

1.      Introduction

As a research intensive university the loss of temperature sensitive research materials due to spoilage can have a significant financial impact and cause considerable disruption to the University's research operations.

The Responsible Conduct of Research Policy 000873 articulates the University's commitment to providing appropriate policy, systems, facilities and procedures for the safe and secure storage of research materials, and for the maintenance of accurate records of where these are stored.  The Research Data and Materials Management Policy 000869 outlines the obligation for researchers to ensure that adequate backup, archival and monitoring strategies are in place to prevent the loss of research materials and subsequent delays in the completion of research.

This policy provides minimum requirements for the management and maintenance of temperature controlled environments used for the storage of research materials in accordance with the provisions of the Responsible Conduct of Research Policy 000873 and the Research Data and Materials Management Policy 000869 and must be read in conjunction with these documents.

2.      Policy Intent

This policy is intended to minimise the potential impact of losing critical samples, specimens and research materials due to spoilage.  This includes the financial costs incurred when experimentation needs to be repeated and less tangible impacts such as reduced research reputation, loss of confidence by granting bodies, setbacks in research schedules and the ability to publish.

The policy is also intended to minimise the University's insurance exposure as insurance claims resulting from failure to adequately monitor and maintain research freezers and temperature-controlled environments are subject to commercial assessment.

3.      Relevant Definitions

In the context of this document:

research materials means critical samples and specimens that may include chemicals, enzymes, reagents, unique samples, cultures, biological specimens, genetically modified organisms, specific chemical compounds, individual cell lines etc;

temperature-controlled environments means refrigerators, freezers, cool rooms or incubators.

chief investigator means the lead researcher on a particular research project.


4.      Policy Principles

4.1 Procurement, installation, monitoring and insurance

a. The cost and availability of maintenance and reputation for reliability should be key considerations when selecting equipment.  Best efforts should be made to ensure that -80 degree Celsius freezers are obtained from suppliers providing on-site support and repair. 

b.  Subject to the availability of localised infrastructure and air conditioning, research materials must be stored in temperature controlled environments supported by an emergency power supply and have an alarm that is activated by change in internal cabinet temperatures.

c. Devices must be clearly labelled with the room number, outlet number, type of device and current emergency contact details to assist in identification when responding to an alarm.

d. Each faculty with research involving storage of materials in refrigerators or freezers will nominate a responsible officer as Faculty Coordinator.  This will usually be a technician/manager, workshops manager or senior laboratory manager, as appropriate.

e. The University purchases insurance to protect research materials stored within temperature controlled environments. This insurance will cover the reasonable cost to replace the contents, including the costs to repeat experiments if applicable provided the cause of the spoilage is covered by insurance.  The cost and time allowed to replace the contents are limited and subject to the approval of the insurers.

Such insurance is contingent on complying with the agreed maintenance schedules and ensuring that each environment has an alarm (preferably back to base) and is connected to backup power. Failure to comply with these requirements may limit or negate the insurance available to replace the spoiled contents.

4.2 Management of temperature controlled environments

a. The active management of refrigerators and freezers is a central requirement for ensuring that valuable temperature sensitive research materials remain stored in optimal conditions.  In order to minimise the potential loss of research materials and the impact this would have on the progress of research, where research requires the use of a refrigerator or freezer a Fridge/Freezer Manager will be appointed by the Chief Investigator.

b. The management of a refrigerator or freezer would usually be incorporated into the role of a Fridge/Freezer Manager. In circumstances where a small refrigerator or freezer is used for the storage of research materials that are low in value and do not support a research outcome the Chief Investigator may take responsibility for the device being positioned outside the provisions of this policy.

c. Fridge/Freezer Managers will need to maintain an operational understanding of refrigerator/freezer functions, controls, alarm modules, preventative maintenance, refrigerator/freezer space management, laboratory environment, response to alarms and the role of the Faculty Workshop.

d. The management of an incubator would usually be incorporated into the role of a Fridge/Freezer Manager.  In circumstances where an incubator is in use outside of the supervision of a Fridge/Freezer Manager, the Chief Investigator will be responsible for ensuring that the management of the incubator is consistent with the applicable provisions of this policy.

4.3 Role of the Fridge/Freezer Manager

The Fridge/Freezer Managers will:

a. develop and implement an operational plan that clearly outlines the procedures to be followed when responding to temperature fluctuation alarms and the identification of a fault.  This includes the co-ordination of responses to out-of-hours alarms, safety and access issues and liaison with Security Services, Risk and Assurance Services, Facilities Management, the Faculty Workshop and researchers.

The procedure for responding to the identification of a fault will include the following and the Fridge/Freezer Managers will be responsible for:

  1. checking the 240 volt outlet and the refrigerator/freezer power connection by confirming that the temperature display is illuminated;
  2. checking with staff and students to ensure that the refrigerator/freezer door has not been open for an extended period prior to checking;
  3. contacting the Faculty Workshop for assistance if there appears to be a problem with power or the refrigeration unit
  4. requesting that workshop staff install a shorting plug to clear an alarm; and
  5. transferring contents to another refrigerator/freezer whilst repairs are carried out.

The procedure for returning equipment to service after repair will include the following and the Fridge/Freezer Managers will be responsible for:

  1. assisting laboratory staff to load the refrigerator/freezer as it returns to normal operating temperature;
  2. removing or requesting the removal of the shorting plug to reconnect the refrigerator/freezer to the alarm; and
  3. testing the alarm point from the refrigerator or freezer back to Security Services;

b. undertake a risk assessment and a valuation of the contents held within a temperature-controlled environment in consultation with the chief investigator/s.  This will include all of the anticipated costs that would be incurred should research need to be repeated due to loss or spoilage.  This should be undertaken annually to coincide with the declarations required by the University's insurers;

c. establish and maintain a risk management framework to protect research materials stored in a temperature controlled environment.  Consultation with Risk and Assurance Services regarding risk management and insurance obligations is a necessary part of this process;

d. liaise with the Faculty Coordinator in the development and implementation of an induction and training program and ensure that temperature controlled environments are included in laboratory inductions.  Induction and training should include discussion of the potential impact of losing research materials, encourage the responsible use of temperature controlled environments and the need for researchers to respond to telephones within research facilities when conducting research during business hours or out-of-hours;

e. liaise with the Faculty Coordinator to ensure that in accordance with 4.1 b devices used for the storage of research materials are supported by an emergency power supply, have an alarm that is activated by change in internal cabinet temperatures and are labelled;

f. liaise with the Faculty Coordinator and Faculty Workshop in the development of a maintenance schedule and monitor its implementation;

g. ensure that maintenance schedules are kept adjacent to refrigerators and freezers;

h. ensure that filters and condensers are cleaned routinely as per manufacturer's instructions or on a three monthly schedule;

i. liaise with the Facilities Management Systems Co-ordinator when a device is relocated or taken off-line;

j. develop, maintain and make available an emergency contact staff list for refrigerators and freezers in all locations as outlined in 4.4;

k. develop an emergency plan, standard operating procedures and risk assessment to be included in the induction and training program;

l. ensure that equipment is operating at an optimal temperature.  It is recommended that operating temperatures be checked and recorded each morning and afternoon;

m. report increases in risk in relation to temperature controlled environments and concerns regarding inventory to the Chief Investigator;

n. train a Deputy Fridge/Freezer Manager where required (e.g. to fill the role of the Manager in their absence); and

o. manage the contents, undertake regular inventory of contents and monitor the space available in freezers. It is recommended that:

  1. the space available be recorded as a percentage value on a monthly basis;
  2. where multiple devices are in use, space be reserved in each device for materials to be transferred into should one of the devices fail;
  3. temperature sensitive materials from a specific project are stored in more than one device;
  4. a colour coding scheme be used to classify the relative importance of contents as this is useful in an emergency for determining which items should be saved first;
  5. storage racks be used to aid and simplify storage and content searches and minimise lid and door open times; and
  6. faculty workshops be consulted for assistance with the design and manufacture of custom storage racks;

p. ensure that the storage of research materials in temperature controlled environments is consistent with the requirements of occupational health and safety policies, procedures, guidelines and legislative requirements.

4.4 Emergency Contact Staff List

a. The availability of emergency contact information in a consistent format allows security staff to respond effectively to multiple alarms resulting from a major incident.  Therefore the standard template included as Appendix 1 must be used to record emergency contact information. Emergency contact information must be accurate and kept current and Security Services must be advised when amendments are made to contact details.

b. A primary and secondary emergency contact should be provided.  At least one of the contacts must be contactable outside of normal business hours, including University shutdowns, public holidays and weekends.  The Fridge/Freezer Manager's contact details also need to be included to provide advice out-of-hours or to respond to an alarm.

c. Contacts on the emergency list must be available to respond to an alarm promptly and be familiar with the contents of a device.  Emergency contacts must also be familiar with the procedures to be followed when responding to temperature fluctuation alarms as outlined in 4.3 a.

4.5 Role of Laboratory Staff and Students

While minimising duplication of effort, laboratory staff and students using temperature controlled environments will:

a. monitor refrigerator/freezer cabinet temperatures when the door is open for extended periods to ensure that the cabinet temperature does not rise above the alarm set point;

b. ensure that seals remain clean to ensure correct closure of doors or lids;

c. ensure that a cool temperature is maintained in air conditioned laboratories as freezers may fail if the laboratory ambient temperature rises above 30 degrees Celsius;

d. not overload refrigerator/freezers with room temperature product;

e. immediately report changes in refrigerator/freezer operating characteristics to the Fridge/Freezer Manager;

f. advise the Fridge/Freezer Manager when alarmed incubators are in use and who should be contacted in the event of an alarm.  The Fridge/Freezer Manager is to be notified when critical incubators are turned off for cleaning or are no longer in use; and

g. ensure that the Fridge/Freezer Manager is advised of amendments to the emergency contact list.

4.6 Role of University Security Services

University Security Services will:

a. monitor alarms activated by fluctuations in temperature;

b. contact the laboratory on the telephone number provided for advice in response to an alarm;

c. contact the emergency contact using the information provided in response to an alarm; and

d. facilitate access to a facility should material need to be moved from a device.

4.7 Role of the Faculty Coordinator

The Faculty Coordinator, will, where applicable:

a. liaise with Facilities Management during the installation of a new device to ensure access to appropriate connections to emergency power and alarm systems;

b. liaise with the Fridge/Freezer Manager, Facilities Management, the Faculty Workshop and Security Services in developing a maintenance schedule;

c. liaise with Facilities Management and check all critical equipment alarm points for correct operation as per an agreed schedule to minimise risk;

d. liaise with Risk and Assurance from an insurance perspective when responding to incidents involving the loss of research materials;

e. liaise with the Fridge/Freezer Manager in the development and implementation of an induction and training program; and

f. liaise with the Fridge/Freezer Manager to ensure that in accordance with 4.1 b devices used for the storage of research materials are supported by an emergency power supply, have an alarm that is activated by change in internal cabinet temperatures and are labelled;


5.      Essential Supporting Documents  

Occupational Health and Safety Policy 000241
Responsible Conduct of Research Policy 000873
Research Data and Materials Management Policy 000869
Research Data and Materials Management Procedure 000870


6.      Related Documents

Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research,
Risk Management Policy 000601
Business Continuity Management Policy 000891
Quotation Procedure 000948


Appendix 1 - Emergency Staff Contact list   (Word version)

Critical Alarms / (Add Location)




Location / Alarm Point



Fridge/Freezer Manager

Primary Contact

Secondary Contact
















Room ABC01 / Phone 123456

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no

















Room no / Phone no









Approval AuthorityDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Date Approved12 September 2011
Date for Review12 September 2014
Policy SponsorDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Policy OwnerDeputy Vice-Chancellor (Research)
Policy ContactDirector, Research Services