At a Glance

What it is

A form of risk assessment and rating that  prioritizes hazards based on levels of risk and exposure, which leads to appropriate control selection.

Who's involved

Experienced lab workers and primary investigators should lead in establishing control bands and control measures.

Requires partnerships among:

  • Institution's environmental health and safety staff,
  • Department managers
  • Lab supervisors

When to use

Especially useful in research laboratories using hazardous chemicals. Can be applied to individual research groups, departments, or entire organizations.

Training required

  • A management support plan that defines hazards and control measures is essential. Site-specific training will be based on this management plan.
  • Lab workers should have a solid understanding of control measures first.


Control banding is a method that:

  • Divides laboratory materials and processes into "bands" based on chemical properties, processes, and other logical groupings; then
  • Identifies hazards commonly associated with each band, as well as the likelihood of exposure to these hazards; then
  • Identifies the most effective control measures, or ways to eliminate (or reduce) the hazards for each band.
  • Assigns level of risk, severity or exposure sometimes using chemical safety levels (1-4).

The goal of control banding is to match the hazard to the best control method possible to ultimately eliminate or reduce risk of accident and injury.

  • The control band assignment will be influenced by the characteristics and hazards of the materials, their quantities, the chemical processes, facility, and engineering controls available. (See Factors to Assess,)
  • Determining potential exposures involves characterizing the processes or activities in which the chemicals or processes are used.
  • For more complicated and/or toxic chemicals, materials or processes, control banding can more clearly “group” and call attention to the most challenging and dangerous hazards.

Appropriate control strategies (i.e., risk management options) are determined for each grouping.

Examples of control strategies*

  • Providing appropriate engineering controls, such as fume hoods and other local exhaust ventilation (LEV).
  • Adhering to good management practices, including housekeeping, SOP, and oversight.
  • Seeking specialized advice.
  • Planning for credible emergency scenarios.
  • Using personal protective equipment (PPE) appropriately and consistently.

Control banding is particularly helpful to research laboratories using hazardous chemicals. Anyone working in or entering the laboratory should be able to understand the control measures that have been identified for the hazards. This includes lab workers, facilities, maintenance, custodial personnel, and visitors.

Control banding is a system that relies on continued management and reevaluation over time. Annual reviews of the control banding plan--and regular review of the assigned control bands--is highly recommended.

When to use control banding

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, a good way to decide if control banding is the proper method for you is to think about these five factors:


From a scale of 1 to 4, how toxic is the chemical or material you’re working with or the task you’re performing?

Ease of exposure

Are you easily exposed to toxic materials, gases, smoke, and dust? And what kinds of materials/chemicals or processes increase or decrease exposure?

Duration of exposure

How long are you exposed to this material or chemical? How long does this task take to complete where you have to be exposed to this material or chemical? If you are dealing with a highly toxic chemical or process, how can you reduce the duration of exposure and still successfully carry out your task?

Quantity of product

This relates to the control measure of substitution or reduction. Can you perform your task with a less toxic chemical or material, can you reduce the amount to reduce your exposure and risk, and can you reduce the amount of time working with this material and still complete the task successfully to achieve the desired result?

Type of work/process

Are there any steps in your experiment that are more dangerous than others? Does it involve grinding materials or transferring chemicals from one place to another, mixing chemicals? Did you perform a job hazard analysis and did you identify hazardous tasks or practices? You can apply a control band and assign a risk rating to remind lab workers of serious dangers as they are working and when to apply extreme caution. Depending on the level of severity, who has adequate training to perform this task safely?

Limitations: The risk rating and application of control bands to certain types of chemicals, materials, tasks and processes is based on the experience level of the person assigning them.

The perception of a threat varies from person-to-person and is also based on a level of experience. Well experienced lab workers may underestimate certain risks.

While you were scoping, you probably selected control banding because

  • You are working with highly dangerous materials, chemicals or processes
  • You have several complicated processes going on in your lab but regardless of the process you want to provide a universal system to ensure everyone understands the level of danger associated with a material, chemical or process.

Assigning risk

  •  Apply chemical safety levels of 1-4 (least exposure/dangerous/toxic, most exposure/dangerous/toxic)
  •  Assigning risk levels helps to identify the intensity of the response to the hazard


Consider using Job Hazard Analysis along with Control Banding for a closer look at the individual tasks involved in your experiment.

Applying Control Banding through Chemical Safety Levels

Applying a control band using chemical safety levels 1-4 can help your team understand just how dangerous the material, chemical or task is. As with forms of risk rating, assigning a numerical value from 1, least dangerous/toxic to 4 most dangerous/toxic, it serves as a clear warning to anyone working in the lab, regardless of experience or educational level.

Chemical Safety Level (CSL) assignment should be accomplished through a partnership of your institution's Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) professionals, academic department management, and individual laboratory supervisors.

  • EHS professionals develop and support the implementation of criteria for chemical safety level assignment based on the chemical hazards associated with the research process.
  • Academic department management provides general information about the type of research currently undertaken and planned for the near future.
  • Individual laboratory supervisors provide the laboratory-specific information about chemical inventories and processes necessary to complete the chemical safety level assignment and make the ultimate risk level designation.

Common methods for determining appropriate CSL for laboratory activities include: Conceptual Hazard Levels and Raw Data.

Conceptual Hazard Level Approach (CSL)

This approach facilitates the assignment of laboratory activities to groups according to conceptual descriptions. (E.g., “Chemical Safety Level 1” is described as “Laboratory hazards equivalent to typical household use of chemicals”.) Once an activity is assigned a CSL, the various safety measures appropriate for that CSL may be explored.

Raw Data Approach

One of the most common methods of “banding” chemicals is to use raw data for individual chemicals. The following tables illustrate how raw data can be used to assign laboratory activities to CSLs, which can then be associated to generic guidelines. Control banding scales generally range from 1-4 (1 lowest, 4 highest). Even within those individual hazard levels, you can take more specific numerical data like flashpoints, temperatures or toxicity levels and use them as maximum or minimum values to represent level of danger.

Hazard Fire Reactivity Acute Toxicity Chronic Toxicity
CSL 1 Flashpoint above ambient temp (140 F) No chemical changes expected in the process All chemicals have known toxicities and OELs > 500 ppm None known
CSL 2 Flashpoint near ambient, expected concentration < 10% LEL No known incompatibilities between chemicals being used All chemicals have known toxicities and 10 ppm < OELs < 500 ppm Specific target organs or irreversible effects suspected
CSL 3 Expected concentration > 10% LEL Chemicals with known reactions or contamination hazards present Unknown toxicities or OEL < 10 ppm Specific target organs or irreversible effects probable
CSL 4 Pyrophorics, air, or water reactives, etc. High hazard reactions in use OEL < 1 ppm Irreversible toxicities require use of designated areas
Chemical Safety Level Assignments Using Raw Data
Hazard Facility Training Oversight PPE Response Protocol
CSL 1 Any room, no ventilation Read the label Generic self inspection guidelines Covered legs and feet No unusual hazmat concern
CSL 2 Ventilated lab room Follow the procedures General training and check-in visits Nitrile gloves, eye protection Occupants respond as to general alarm
CSL 3 Lab room with local ventilation (fume hood) Generic training for unexpected events Process training and external audits Appropriate gloves, eye protection, lab coat Specific occupant responses planned before the event
CSL 4 Specifically designed lab Practice before working with live materials Written SOP and specific oversight practices Process-specific PPE Special responder planning
Generic Protection Guidelines for Chemical Safety Levels


  • Expedites an overview of hazard controls appropriate to the research laboratory with well-established processes and reactions.
  • Good for risk communication and training; provides a logical way to assess hazards and apply controls systematically.
  • Useful tool for understanding how protective strategies are matched to chemical hazards in a holistic way.
  • Straightforward for laboratory workers, facility, and maintenance personnel to understand the basic requirements.
  • The concept can be applied to other workplaces where chemicals are used that are not traditionally considered “laboratories” (e.g., art studios, theater shops, field stations or research stations).


  • Not recommended for non-routine and high hazard activities that present unique hazards.
  • Applications and nomenclature vary (e.g., “Class 1” may mean “most hazardous” in one organization, but mean something else in another.)
    • A management plan must be written and disseminated to support effective use.
    • Nomenclature should strive to avoid confusion among different audiences.

This collection of methods and tools for assessing hazards in research laboratories is based on the publication, Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories [PDF]. The guide was published in 2015 by the Hazard Identification and Evaluation Task Force of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety in response to a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

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