Physical Hazards

Hazards in the laboratory not only include chemical hazards but physical hazards as well. These include, but are not limited to, compressed gases, electrical equipment, lasers, radiation, and seismic considerations and thermal hazards.

compressed gas signCompressed gases

Leaks and ruptures can cause asphyxiation or turn the gas cylinder into a projectile.

Compressed gas cylinders must be restrained in an upright position in the lab at 1/3 and 2/3 the height of the tank, preferably with chains.

Caps must be in place when cylinder is not in use.

Make sure regulator and supply lines are in good condition.

Never use rigid plastic tubing, which can shatter if the pressure limits are exceeded.

When turning on the gas,

  • Ensure that the flow valve is open (so there will be no pressure in the supply line). Adjust flow valve only after you have opened the regulator.
  • Turn your head away from the tank

For more information on compressed gases.


Electrical Equipment

Always inspect electrical cords prior to use.  Do not use if they are cracked or have exposed wiring.

Never use electrical appliances near water.

Make sure hands are dry when unplugging a cord.

Do not overload outlets.

Avoid excessive use or “daisy chaining” (several cords strung together) of extension cords.

Never override the safety features on electrical equipment.



If you work with lasers in your lab, your supervisor must provide you with specific operating procedures and safety information.

Laser Safety training is available through EHSRM (907-474-2762).



Radioisotope use at UAF includes both sealed and unsealed sources.

  • Sealed:  gas chromatographs, scintillation counters
  • Unsealed: Tritium (3H), Carbon 14 (14C), Phosphorus 32 (32P), Iodine125 (125I)

Use of radioactive materials requires prior authorization from the UAF Radiation Safety Officer (907-474-6771).

For more information on radiation safety.


Seismic Bracing Considerations

Interior Alaska is in a geologically active region that experiences earthquakes on a regular basis. Most of them are too small to be felt but they can be much bigger as the Interior found out on November 11, 2002 after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake. Some damage as a result of a seismic event will be inevitable but there are a few precautions that employees can take to help minimize damage.

  • Secure large appliances such as refrigerators and heavy scientific equipment to the wall or floor.
  • Secure bookcases to the wall or to each other if they are in a series.
  • Secure books and small glass ware to the shelves by either having a lip on the shelves, with a bungee to keep items from falling or by special mats to that line shelves to keep items from “walking”.
  • Avoid placing big and heavy items near the doors. If they were to fall over, one may not be able to get the door open after the event.
  • Store glass ware near the floor. Reserve the upper shelves for plastic ware. If you wouldn’t want it to drop on your head, move it down.
  • Establish a method to know who in the department is missing as opposed to those who may still be at home, in another building, etc.
  • Keep in mind that an earthquake can do more than structural damage. As a result of an earthquake, fires can start and there can also be water damage from fire hoses. Be aware that instrumentation, experiments, research projects, and project notes can be ruined. If possible, have duplicates of what ever is possible in more than one location.
  • The fire department will not apply water until it is known what chemicals are in the effected building so to avoid using water on water reactive chemicals. Submit chemical inventories at least annually to EHSRM.

EHSRM has a limited supply of seismic bracing equipment available for departments to have for their use Please contact EHSRM at 907-474-5413 for available materials.


Thermal Hazards

Hot items:

  • Use heat-resistant gloves when handling hot items.
  • Use caution when heating liquids on hot plates.
  • Use a stir bar or Boil-Eezers to ensure even heating of the liquids (to prevent superheating and boil-overs)
  • Never leave hot plates unattended.
  • Bunsen burners
    • Inspect tubing prior to using the burner. It should not have cracks, and should fit tightly to the burner and to the gas spigot.
    • Be alert to gas leaks along the tubing—these can ignite.
    • Stand back from the burner when lighting the gas.

Cold items:

Ultra cold freezers

  • Wear insulated gloves when accessing ultra cold (-60 to -80 °C) freezers.
  • Bare skin can stick to cold surfaces, especially if fingers are damp.

Liquid Nitrogen (LN2)

  • Wear insulated or cryoprotective gloves when accessing LN2.
  • Note: cotton gloves are not sufficient. Splashes of LN2 can easily penetrate the gloves, causing frostbite and serious injury.
  • Wear face shield or splash goggles to protect face and/or eyes from splashes.
  • Use caution when adding items to LN2. Rapid addition of items can result in splashes to the face and hands.
  • Tubes that have been stored in LN2 should be thawed behind a shield.
  • Sometimes LN2 leaks into the tube during storage. The nitrogen will rapidly expand upon warming, causing the tube to shatter.
  • Liquid Nitrogen training is available (907-474-6771).

Physical Agent Data Sheets (PADS)

For more information on physical hazard considerations.