Department Safety Guidelines

Good Citizen Agreement

Safety Guideline Quiz


Cal Poly Environmental Health and Safety

These Department guidelines supplement the general campus safety guidelines and resources posted by Cal Poly Environmental Health and Safety. Make an effort to become familiar with the Best Practices made available through their website.

1.0 General Lab Safety

  • No food or drink in the lab. Use food refrigerators for food and drink.
  • No gloves in the hallways, on the doorknobs, computers, or phones. Only you know where your gloves have been.
  • Don’t put pens, pencils, or fingers in your mouth. Wash your hands when leaving the lab, before eating, and after using the restroom.
  • Clean up spills. Use paper towels or a spill pillow. Remember to put the cleanup materials in the waste receptacle that you would use for the spilled material.
  • Leave your bench top as you would like to find it: neat, organized, and clean. Replace lids, and remove waste to the appropriate receptacle. All waste containers must be securely closed.  Turn off equipment such as microscope lights and spectrophotometers.
  • If you see an unsafe condition or safety issue, alert your supervisor or a technician.
  • Use care with open flames, Bunsen burners, and with hot surfaces. Tie up long hair.
  • Label everything you prepare, aliquot, or transfer to a different container. There should never be a beaker, tube, or container without a label. No one will know that it is just water in that tube.
  • When using fume hoods, make sure they are in working order. Check the air flow using the vaneometer (photo), adjust sash to ensure 80-150 LFS, remove stored objects, and ensure that the vents are not blocked.


  • When moving compressed gas cylinders, remove the regulators and put on the metal cap. Never ride in the elevator with compressed gas cylinders.
  • When opening -80°C Freezers, get in and get out. Scrape ice from door and make sure it is latched properly.

1.1 Emergencies

  • There are phones in the labs. Call 911 for fire or serious accidents. If you use your cell phone, tell the dispatcher that you are on the Cal Poly Campus.
  • If there is a chemical spill and there are fumes, exit the room, and call 911. If there is a fire, do not try to put it out. Call 911.
  • There are fire extinguishers by the elevators in Fisher Science (33) and in the hallways in Science North (53). Only use a fire extinguisher if you have been trained and have an exit path behind you.
  • There are eye washes and chemical spill showers in some of the labs. In case of spills on your clothes, get the clothes off before the chemical can reach your skin. In the case of an eye splash, remove contacts first, then begin flushing eyes and continue to do so for 15 minutes. Seek medical care. The sinks can also be used for easily-washed extremities such as arms below the elbow and legs below the knees.
  • There are first aid boxes in the labs. If blood is present and it is not your own, wear gloves.
  • Cal Poly students may go to the CP Health Center for minor injuries.  Take a buddy with you in case you get weak or faint on the way over to the Health Center. 
  •  If you are a paid student assistant or a registered volunteer, you are covered by Workers' Compensation and need to go to Med Stop, 283 Madonna Rd., Suite B, San Luis Obispo. 
  • During earthquakes, take cover under counters and tables to protect yourself from falling objects.

1.2 Injury Reporting

  • Follow the University Incident and Accident Reporting Procedures detailed on the Cal Poly Administration website
  • Report all student injuries and chemical splashes to your supervisor immediately. Fill out Form 268 Injury/Illness Report and submit it to Cal Poly EH&S.
  • Identified University Volunteers, university-employed students, and university employees (faculty and staff) are to report their bodily injury or illness related to their work for the University to their SUPERVISOR IMMEDIATELY, or, if unable to do so, WITHIN 24 HOURS or on the next business day. Obtain the Workers’ Compensations Claim Form, and call the Workers’ Compensation Claims Coordinator at 756-5444 or email form to

1.3 Lab Security

  • Theft happens. Lock windows and close blinds on ground floor, lock microscope cabinets, and don’t leave that tempting laptop sitting out.​
  • Lock the classrooms and labs when you leave.

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2.0 Chemicals and Biohazards

  • What are (M)SDSs? Material Safety Data Sheets or Safety Data Sheets are documents that the chemical industry must legally provide for any products they manufacture, import, or distribute. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires (M)SDSs be available to employees, local fire departments, and local and state emergency planning officials. 
  • Know what you are working with. Material Safety Data Sheets, (M)SDSs, may be accessed on the web at or at MSDS Online. There are hard copies of (M)SDSs in the binders in Fisher Science, room 381. You will need a technician or your advisor to let you into the room, so think ahead. Know what you are working with before you spill it on yourself.
  • (M)SDSs can usually be found on the company website from which the chemical or solution was purchased.
  • Internet searches are another excellent way of researching chemical hazards. 
  • Know when to wear gloves, safety glasses, goggles, or lab coats. Know what you are working with.
  • Wear safety glasses or goggles when you are working with hazardous chemicals.  Examples of hazardous chemicals are acids, bases, flammables, toxic, carcinogenic, or mutagenic substances, corrosives, oxidizers, sensitizers and irritants.
  • Wear eye protection when anyone in your vicinity is using hazardous chemicals.  This protects you from accidental splashes.
  • Remove gloves when you leave the lab, and do not touch your face when you are gloved up.
  • Broken glass does not go in regular trash. Use a broken glass box.
    Borken glass box
  • Don’t use your hands to clean up broken glass. Use a dust pan and broom.  Use forceps to pick up small pieces.
  • Use a hard-sided, red plastic biohazard container for razor blades, needles, and any other sharp items.                                  
    • Sharps containers are treated as bio-hazardous waste.
    • Do not force sharps into the container. If the container is full, get a new one.
    • Never reach in to retrieve an item with your hand.
    • Report all needle pricks to your supervisor, and fill out Form STD 268 Injury/Illness Report and submit it to Cal Poly EH&S.
      Hard sided biohazard box
  • Use the biohazard red plastic bags for non-sharp items that have been in contact with biological agents such as bacteria, feces, or blood. To close the bag you may either knot it tightly or make a ponytail using tape as the band. Do not use bunny ears or twist ties. The bag must be sealed in case it falls over.
    Biohazard bag
  • Read and follow the Bloodborne Pathogen Safety Procedures listed in the Cal Poly Code of Safe Practice.
  • Put chemical waste in a well-labeled bottle with a lid. Preprinted forms are available in the stockroom, 33-381. Chemical waste needs to be labeled with:
    • What it is, no abbreviations, molecular formulas, or acronyms. Water is indicated as water not H20.
    • Date (waste must be removed before one year has lapsed). The start date must not be over a year old.
    • Circle all appropriate definers, liquid, solid, toxic, flammable, acid, alkali, or reactive. There may be more than one.
    • Your name or the name of the lab it is coming from.
standard hazardous waste label
Improperly labeled container poorly labeled container
Properly labeled container properly labeled container

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2.1 Liquid Nitrogen

  • Do not dispense or use liquid nitrogen until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Liquid nitrogen is a very cold liquid with a boiling point of -195.8C. It can cause severe frostbite and will freeze skin within seconds of contact.
  • Liquid nitrogen can be an explosion hazard if containers are not vented. Do not completely seal containers as liquid nitrogen expands rapidly as it warms.
  • Wear cryogenic gloves (the big blue ones) and eye protection when handling liquid nitrogen. A face mask is also provided for your safety.
  • To prevent illness, use provided alcohol wipes to disinfect face mask and glasses before use.
  • Dispense liquid nitrogen only in well-ventilated areas, never in a small enclosed space. If the nitrogen replaces the oxygen in the air you will die, quickly and without warning.
  • Never ride in the elevator with more than a small dewar ( < 250 mL) of liquid nitrogen.

2.2 Phenol Chloroform

  • Do not use Phenol Chloroform until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Phenol is damaging to the liver and kidneys.
  • Chloroform is a carcinogen and a reproductive hazard.
  • Exhibits acute oral toxicity.
  • Exhibits acute dermal toxicity.
  • If any phenol chlorofom gets on your gloves, remove them immediately. The chloroform will break though in approximately 3 minutes, carrying the phenol into your skin.

2.3 Beta Mercaptoethanol

  • Do not use Beta Mercaptoethanol until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Is toxic in cases of skin contact or ingestion.
  • Is flammable in presence of open flame and sparks.
  • (M)SDS

2.4 Formalin

  • Do not use Formalin until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Wear nitrile gloves and eye protection.
  • Is a known human carcinogen and suspected reproductive hazard.
  • Can trigger an allergic reaction after repeated exposures.
  • Is flammable.
  • Is toxic if swallowed, inhaled, or comes in contact with skin.
  • Use concentrated formalin in a chemical fume hood.
  • Formalin is a solution of 37-40% Formaldehyde. Working solutions are commonly 10% formaldehyde or 3.7-4% formalin.

2.5 Ethidium Bromide

  • Do not use Ethidium Bromide until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection.
  • EtBr is strongly mutagenic, causing living cell mutations. Even though there is no evidence at this time of human carcinogenicity or teratogenicity, this material should be considered a possible carcinogen or teratogen.
  • The powder is toxic by inhalation.
  • In case of skin contact, wash with soap and water.

2.6 Coomassie Blue Staining

  • Do not use Coomassie Staining until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Contains glacial acetic acid and methanol.
  • Glacial acetic acid is corrosive.
  • Is flammable.
  • Is toxic.
  • Is an rritant (A chemical that causes reversible inflammatory effects on living tissue).
  • (M)SDS

2.7 Acrylamide

  • Do not use Acrylamide until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Always wear gloves and eye protection.
  • Is toxic.
  • Is a carcinogen.
  • Is a mutagen.
  • (M)SDS

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3.0 Equipment Safety and Standard Operating Procedures

What are Standard Operating Procedures? SOPs are usually written for a procedure. They can be a protocol for extracting DNA or a protocol for how to use a piece of equipment safely. The following are SOPs for commonly used equipment in the Biology Department.

3.1 Autoclaves

  • Do not use the autoclave until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician. If an autoclave is not operating properly or seems unsafe, call Doug Brewster at 756-2017.
  • There are SOPs at each machine. Before using for the first time or if you haven’t used the autoclave in a while, reread the SOP.  Also, sign your name on the SOP at the machine.
  • If you are burned seriously, call 911 to get medical attention. For minor burns, immerse the affected area in cool water, remove clothing from burned area, and keep area cool for at least five minutes. Cooling the burned area will stop additional burning.
  • Autoclaves use steam with high pressure to achieve temperatures of 121C or higher. Steam is very, very hot and can burn you seriously.
  • Stand back when opening the autoclave door, keeping your head, face and hands away from the opening. It is full of hot steam and will burn you.
  • Use autoclave gloves to protect your hands.
  • When closing and opening the door, watch your fingers. They can easily get smashed in the heavy door.
  • Allow liquids to cool before handling with bare hands.
  • Allow glassware and other non-liquid items to cool before handling with bare hands.
  • Leave a note on hot items…HOT!
  • Bottles and flasks should not be more than 2/3 full. The liquids need room to expand.
  • Caps should not be tightened down all the way. Bottles can explode. Caps and lids that are tightened all the way are next to impossible to remove after the cycle finishes.
  • Place items on the racks, not directly on the metal.
  • Place liquids in secondary containment to catch overflow.
  • Not everything is autoclavable. Many plastics will melt. Use of borosilicate glass is recommended.

plastic containers melted after autoclave run plastic carboy melted after autoclave run

3.2 Centrifuges

  • Do not use the centrifuge until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Centrifuges must always be balanced with similarly weighted items across from one another.
  • If the centrifuge starts making a loud noise or starts shaking, the load is most likely out of balance. Stop the run, allow the centrifuge to come to a stop and reload your samples after balancing.
  • Always use centrifuge-safe containers that are in good condition. Not every container will survive centrifugal forces.
  • The centrifuge-safe container must fit the rotor. The rotor lid must close.
  • After using, wipe the walls, and clean rotor if necessary.
  • Leave all four buckets on the swinging bucket rotors.
  • Never use a damaged rotor.
  • Centrifuges can create aerosols, and this must be considered with each use. The necessary precautions  taken will depend upon what is being used. If hazardous materials such as carcinogens, highly toxic, or infectious agents will be placed in a centrifuge, then precautions must be taken to prevent an exposure of lab personnel to aerosols or liquids.
  • If the centrifuge starts to shake violently and make horrible loud noises, get out of the room. The rotor may be breaking up. The rotor is heavy metal, and if it comes through the side of the centrifuge, it will be traveling at a high speed and will severely damage anything in its path.
  • Centrifuges are inherently safe with far fewer catastrophic failures than most people believe. This is due to the extensive research and development work conducted by the manufacturers and the introduction of easy-to-use features that make centrifugation safe, intuitive, and trouble-free.

3.3 Scalpels

  • Do not change a blade on a scalpel until you have been trained by your professor or a qualified technician.
  • Scalpels are very sharp and can cause serious injury if not used properly.
  • It is best to use disposable scalpels when possible.
  • Have your professor show you how to safely remove the blade from a reusable handle.
  • Use forceps to remove a blade from a reusable handle. Do not use your hand.
  • Never use a scalpel blade without the handle.
  • Use forceps to hold the specimen. Do not use your fingers, hand or another scalpel.
  • Do not “saw” with the scalpel or put excessive force on it. The blade can snap, creating an aerosol, flying sample debris, and flying blade pieces.
  • Do not use a scalpel as a probe. Scalpels are only for cutting.
  • Always remove the blade before washing a reusable handle or soaking it prior to washing.
  • Scalpel blades must be disposed of in a hard-sided plastic bio-hazard sharps container.
  • Do not force sharps into the container. If the container is full, get a new one.
  • Never reach into a sharps container to retrieve an item with your hand.
  • Use a safe zone such as a mat or tray where instruments can be placed and picked up.​
  • Never place sharp instruments where they may be covered up with linens or other instruments.

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4.0 Greenhouse Safety and Etiquette

  • Clean up after yourself.
  • The greenhouse floor can be very slick with algae. Walk with caution.
  • Remove diseased plants.
  • Read all instructions, and know how to properly dilute and apply all pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
  • Make sure the door is locked when you leave.
  • If any of the greenhouses seem too hot, too dry, too cold, etc., contact either
    • Dr Ritter at 756-2775, or by email;
    • Dr Yost at 756-5869 or by email.

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5.0 Field Trip Safety

5.1 Trip Planning

  • Field trips are anything outside the campus core, such as Poly Canyon. Students must be notified of field trips at first class meeting, then must sign and return the Field Activities Sign Out Agreement
  • For overnight trips or trips that require travel forms or reimbursement, see the BIO Budget Analyst in 33-272, or call 805-756-5241
  • Never arrange transportation for the students. Allow them to arrange it amongst themselves.
  • Prior to departing, let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Take along a charged cell phone, and be aware whether you have a signal and where you have a signal if it’s spotty.
  • Know the important contact numbers of the wilderness responders in your area.
  • Carry a well stocked first aid kit.  They are available for check out.
  • Having a CPR trained associate on the trip is an added bonus.
  • Take extra food, water, and clothing, in case an emergency or a mechanical breakdown forces you to remain.

5.2 While in the Field

  • Drive only on maintained roads. Never park or drive over dry grass/vegetation as the vehicle’s catalytic converter could start a fire.
  • If you’re in an unfamiliar area, be aware of your surroundings and the route you intend to use to return.
  • Don’t work in the field alone. Have a buddy.
  • Wear appropriate clothing, including sturdy closed-toed shoes, long pants, and a sun hat. Tuck pants into boots.
  • Bring sufficient water, and drink frequently to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat-related illness, and take proper steps to prevent onset.
  • Wear insect repellant when necessary.
  • Check yourself for ticks periodically and at the end of your field session.
  • Don’t put your fingers or toes anywhere you cannot see or have not checked for snakes.
  • If you are bitten by a venomous snake, seek medical attention immediately. Do not try to suck out the venom or cut out the affected area. Do not use tourniquets, ice, or electric shock. Have your buddy (remember you should have a buddy in the field) drive you to a hospital. If necessary, call 911. Remain calm.

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6.0 Cal Poly Pier Safety

The Cal Poly Center for Coastal Marine Sciences manages the Cal Poly Pier, the flowing seawater system, and the Scientific Boating and Scientific Diving Programs. The Pier website posts Forms, Guidelines and Manuals specific to these program areas. Contact Tom Moylan, Pier Operations Manager, at 805-756-0225 or by email, to coordinate research or work-related activity at the Pier.

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7.0 Good Citizen Agreement

If you plan to work in any capacity within the Department with any of the above facilities, equipment, chemicals, or fieldwork,  you must print, sign and return the Good Citizen Agreement to the Department Office in 33-281. If you have questions or concerns, please email Alice Hamrick.

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