Laboratory safety

Laboratories contain equipment or substances that have the potential to cause injury or diseases. We have strict health and safety requirements and guidelines to ensure that teachers, researchers and students are protected when in our laboratories.

Biohazards are infectious agents or hazardous biological materials that present a risk or potential risk to the health of humans, animals or the environment. The risk can be direct through infection or indirect through damage to the environment.

If a biohazard incident occurs please:

  1. Seek medical attention.
  2. Log the incident using the online incident reporting system.

The Health and Safety team will inform the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC).

Biohazard incidents may involve a spill of material or exposure to clinical material like a splash in the eye or a needle stick injury etc.

Security Sensitive Biological Agents

The deliberate release of harmful biological agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and toxins has the potential to cause significant damage to human health, the environment and the Australian economy.

In 2006, the Council of Australian Governments' (COAG) Report on the Regulation and Control of Biological Agents identified that the regulations in place at the time focused on safety rather than security; and that there was a need to regulate the secure storage, possession, use and transport of security sensitive biological agents to minimise the risk of use for terrorism or criminal purposes.

The aim of the Security Sensitive Biological Agents (SSBA) Regulatory Scheme is to limit the opportunities for acts of bio-terrorism or bio-crime to occur using harmful biological agents and to provide a legislative framework for managing the security of SSBA. The scheme was developed using risk management principles to achieve a balance between counter-terrorism concerns and the interests of the regulated community and aims to maintain full access to SSBA for those with a legitimate need. The SSBA Regulatory Scheme also builds on Australia's obligations under the Biological and Toxins Weapons Convention and UN Security Council Resolution 1540.

If you intend to use any agent on the list of SSBA, see http://www.health.gov.au/ssba#list at the University of Newcastle you must first contact the Health and Safety team and complete a safety review form in order to ensure that the appropriate measures are in place for the activity to be undertaken and to register the SSBA.

Further information about SSBA's is available from the Department of Health website.

Chemicals and hazardous materials are used in many different ways and can include toners, cleaning products, paints, fuels, herbicides and laboratory chemicals.

There are many risks associated with the purchase, use, handling and storage of chemicals. Some chemicals have specific requirements, for example dangerous goods in large amounts require us to provide notification to SafeWork NSW.

For the specific requirements of the chemicals in your area please see the Chemical Management Procedure (PDF, 317KB).

As part of our process, all chemicals are required to be recorded in ChemWatch Gold FFX, the UoN Chemical Management Database. This database helps us manage compliance in many areas including notifications and information for emergency situations.

For more information see:

Chemical Spill Kits

Contact details for The University Chemical Spill Kits (PDF, 24KB) for medium to large spills, smaller kits are located in individual facilities where Hazardous Substances/Dangerous Goods are stored and handled.

Chemical Waste Collection

Toxfree conducts chemical waste collections for the University on a monthly basis. Please refer to the toxfree collection schedule (PDF, 704KB) for collection dates.

In order for waste to be collected from your location please follow these steps:

  1. Ensure all your waste is stored in appropriate packaging and clearly and correctly labelled. Waste is to be stored in a safe location (e.g. flammable waste in flammable cupboard) where it does not impede walkways. Spill trays should be used to minimise the risk of spills. Risk assess waste to ensure material is segregated if required.
  2. Complete the Toxfree order sheet (XLS, 106KB) and email to wastecollection@newcastle .edu.au. The order sheet must be submitted at least two weeks before the pickup, late orders will be held over to the following month.
  3. Make sure you will be available on the day of collection to liaise with Toxfree staff or nominate an alternate contact if you will not be present.

Please note the following waste will not be accepted.

  • DG class 1 explosive waste
  • DG class 6.2 infectious waste
  • DG class 7 radioactive material

Please note, for radioactive waste which has decayed to a safe level (below 100 becquerels per gram) an isotopic declaration sheet (DOC, 79KB) must be completed and submitted with the toxfree order sheet.Contact Health and Safety on wastecollection@newcastle .edu.au for further information regarding these waste types.

If you have any questions please contact Neill Bourne, Senior Health & Safety Advisor on 4921 7330.

Working with genetically modified organisms

Working with genetically modified organisms (GMO) can be dangerous and proper safety and controls should be in place and is regulated under the Gene Technology Act 2000 where both the GMO (referred to as a “dealing”) and the facilities where they are handled have strict compliance requirements which are overseen by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR)

Approval/Clearance

All research and teaching activities involving genetically modified organisms need safety approval before they start.  Anyone wishing to obtain, create, store or use a GMO at UON must first prepare a complete the Safety Review Form (PDF, 2MB). safety review application that includes an assessment of the classification and sub-category of the material. If you are  planning to conduct a project or activity involving a GMO or gene technology you will need to  complete a Safety Review Form (PDF, 2MB). The form is processsed by the Health and Safety Team and the Gene Technology component is assessed by the Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) in line with regulatory requirements. For additional information please see the Procedure (PDF, 53.1KB) for completing and submitting the form and related processes for local level review.

Dealings

Classification categories of GMO’s (or dealings)and the relative  include:

Within these broad classifications are sub-categories which further identify the risk profile of the GM.

The University is required to report to the OGTR on Notifiable Low Risk Dealings in an annual report and to apply to the OGTR for individual licenses for Dealings not involving intentional release or involving release. Unlicensed dealings (NLRD’s) expire 5 years from the date of IBC review. All NLRD’s are listed on the GMO record which is available to the public on the OGTR website.

All dealings must be destroyed when they are completed or expire or a new application submitted should the work be continuing or the GM material stored.

Dealings are required to be conducted in appropriate facilities which must be certified with the OGTR. These facilities are inspected on an annual basis by the IBC. Dealings may be stored outside of certified facilities provided they have approval and are in locked storage equipment which can only be accessed by authorised personnel. Specific transport requirements must be met when transporting GM material between certified facilities or to and from storage facilities including double containment and labelling.

Physical Containment Facilities

The control strategies for handling microorganisms and other biological material (clinical samples, animal tissue and fluids etc.) are clearly outlined in AS/NZS 2243.3. The primary control is containment of the material to within appropriate facilities where the risk category of the material (risk group 1-4) matches the physical containment level (PC1-4) of the facility. The physical containment level of a facility dictates the storage, handling/behavioural and disposal requirements for material handled in the facility, so staff and students working in these facilities must be inducted and trained in line with the measures identified in the standard (AS/NZS 2243.3). The measures are in themselves a system of risk control strategies.

The University does not allow the use of risk group 3 or 4 biological material as it does not have any facilities above Physical Containment (PC)2. Facilities (including laboratories, constant temperature rooms, animal facilities and plant facilities) where Genetically Modified biological material is handled has an extra layer of compliance and these facilities require certification  with the OGTR and annual inspection by the IBC.

For more detailed information see:

In the event of an incident see the reporting procedures.

If you are working with genetically modified organisms and experience unexplained symptoms or illnesses please seek medical attention and report them using the online incident reporting system.

Training

All workers who need to access certified facilities need to complete the following training: OGTR Certified Facility Authorised Person, (PDF, 1477KB) to confirm they have read and will abide by the relevant guidelines the regulator has.

If you are working with hazardous substances you must complete a health and hazard assessment questionnaire (PDF, 504KB). Refer to the Health Surveillance Procedure in the Policy Library for further information.

Persons who come into contact with laboratory animals may develop Laboratory Animal Allergy (LAA). Allergic reactions are more likely after substantial or repeated exposure to the allergen, either to the animal itself or to items contaminated with the excretions and secretions of animals including urine, saliva, dander, fur/hair and serum. LAA may lead to serious allergic reactions, including occupational asthma, if exposure to the allergens continues. Up to 30% of people exposed to laboratory animals may be affected if appropriate risk controls are not in place. Fortunately LAA can be managed if identified early so that appropriate precautions can be put in place to allow affected persons to continue safely with their work.

It is essential that personnel working with animals read and understand this document and report any symptoms as early as possible. Early detection allows management of the condition to minimise the chance of progression to severe symptoms.

Symptoms of LAA

  • Rhinitis (itching/ running nose, sneezing)
  • Conjunctivitis (itchy, red, watery eyes)
  • Skin Rashes (including urticaria (pink raised rash) and wheals on the skin around bites and scratches)
  • Shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing

These symptoms may appear alone or in combination and may occur any time.

Risk factors

The most important risk factor is level of exposure to the allergen. Persons with pre existing allergies or asthma may be more at risk of developing LAA or of exacerbation of their pre existing allergies or asthma.

Smokers may be more at risk of developing LAA.

Exposure to Allergens

Animal allergens are generally proteins contained in saliva, urine, hair/ fur, shed skin (dander) or serum and exposure may occur through:

  • Skin contact with urine, saliva, fur, serum, dander or tissues.
  • Inhalation of airborne allergen.
  • Inoculation after skin penetration by bites, scratches or sharp instruments.

Prevention

The risk of developing LAA can be reduced by minimising exposure to laboratory animal allergens. It is essential that personnel working within animal facilities wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and adhere to procedures for animal and cage handling. Procedures will vary with the type of animal facility and caging and may include:

  • Wearing long sleeved closed front gowns cover shoes, and gloves during activities involving animals.
  • Wearing, in addition to normal PPE, correctly fitted P2 mask and safety goggles during high exposure activities
  • Removal of PPE before leaving animal handling areas to prevent spread of allergens outside animal areas.
  • Using individually ventilated caging and handling animals and associated equipment under biohazard hoods.
  • Local extract ventilation for high exposure activities.
  • Working in well ventilated areas
  • Segregating areas where airborne allergy loads are highest (e.g. cleaning rooms and cage dump areas)

Reporting Symptoms

Early detection is important to the management of this condition. All personnel working with animals must complete the LAA Workers' Questionnaire, initially 6 monthly (with the initial questionnaire to be completed prior to commencing work with animals or as early as possible after commencing work), then annually after the first year.  In addition personnel should report any LAA symptoms immediately via Incident Reporting and contact the University Health Service.

The University Health Service can provide valuable assistance and guidance in managing LAA and minimising the impact of this condition on the affected individual.

More information

More detailed information can be found in the Animal Hazards Procedure.

Instructions for using High Risk Area Door Sign

  1. Save a copy of the High Risk Area Door sign (PDF, 193KB) onto your computer.
  2. Complete the relevant sections,
    1. Type the room number into the top left box,
    2. Next to this write the name of the facility and below this the School or Department,
    3. Under PPE Required ensure a tick is visible in each of the boxes beside mandatory PPE for the facility (this is PPE to be worn at all times),
    4. Under Contact Details list the work/onsite contact details for the Supervisor of the facility and the primary contact person (e.g. facility manager, senior staff member),
    5. Under Special Considerations you may list any facility specific information, such as switch off mobile phone before entry, remove all metal objects before entry, facility operating hours etc.,
    6. Finally complete the Date issued section.
  3. If you identify that there are Dangerous Goods classes in the facility over the placarding level, please contact Health and Safety on 4921 6846 to organise stickers. Provided your ChemWatch chemical manifest data is complete you will be able to check this through the ChemWatch GoldFFX reporting tool.
  4. Save the form, print and place it on the facility entrance door*.

*IFS will be installing A3 perspex frames on all laboratory and workshop doors. These frames will house this signage and any facility certification or registration paperwork.

Teaching and research that directly or indirectly involves the use of radioisotopes, ionising radiation and non-ionising radiation must follow the radiation safety manual (PDF, 333KB).

Resources

Management of Scintillation Waste including the Scintillation Vials (PDF, 718KB)

Student Exemption to the Radiation Licensing requirements of the Radiation Control Act (NSW) 1990