In laboratories, experimental hazards can result from a variety of agents, conditions, and/or activities. The fact that a chemical may have an inherent hazard does not mean that it cannot be used in the laboratory as long as the hazard is recognized! Laboratory hazards and risks can be managed using RAMP – Recognize hazards, Assess risk, Minimize risk, and Prepare for Emergencies.

Recognize Hazards

Information from the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) found on labels and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) is a starting point when researching the hazards of chemicals. The GHS pictogram and hazard codes on a container label convey the overall seriousness of the chemical’s hazards immediately. The manufacturer’s SDS for the chemical provides additional hazard recognition information such as signs and symptoms of exposure, reactivity and stability, and toxicity. For detailed information on the GHS, refer to OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard.

Physical hazards must also be recognized as most laboratory work includes activities requiring glassware and equipment involving energy and/or mechanical sources. Physical hazards from experimental conditions such as non-ambient temperature and pressure often exist. Finally, agents other than chemicals such as radiation and biological must also be determined.

  • GHS pictogram and associated hazards

    GHS hazard symbol for Explosive


    • Explosives
    • Self-reactive substances
    • Organic peroxides
    GHS Hazard symbol for Flammable


    • Flammable gases, aerosols, liquids, and solids
    • Pyrophoric liquids or solids
    • Self-heating substances
    • Self-reactive substances
    • Substances that emit a flammable gas upon contact with water
    • Organic peroxides
    GHS Hazard symbol for Corrosive


    • Skin corrosion/burns
    • Eye damage
    • Corrosive to metals
    GHS Hazard Symbol for Oxidizer


    • Oxidizing gases, liquids, and solids
    GHS Hazard Symbol for Compressed Gas

    Compressed gas

    • Gases under pressure
    GHS Hazard symbol for Irritant


    • Irritant (skin and eye)
    • Skin sensitizer
    • Acute toxins
    • Narcotic effects
    • Respiratory tract irritants
    • Hazardous to ozone layer (non-mandatory)
    GHS Hazard symbol for Toxic Substance

    Toxic Substance

    • Acutely toxic substances that may be fatal or toxic if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin
    GHS Hazard symbol for Environmental Hazard

    Environmental Hazard (non-mandatory)

    • Acute aquatic toxins
    • Chronic aquatic toxins
    GHS Hazard symbol for Health Hazard

    Health Hazard

    • Respiratory sensitizers
    • Carcinogens
    • Mutagens
    • Reproductive toxins
    • Target organ toxins, single exposure or repeated exposure
    • Aspiration toxins

    Source: UNECE. Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, 2015. (accessed Dec 1, 2015).

A hazard is a potential source of danger or harm.


Be able to identify hazards associated with laboratory work.

  • Chemical (e.g., toxicity, corrosivity),
  • Physical (e.g., contact with moving machinery),
  • Radiation (e.g., uranium), and
  • Biological (e.g., pathogenic organisms).

Assess Risks from Hazards

Assessing risk is possibly the most complicated step of RAMP because both objective and subjective components must be considered. Risk determination should be informed by unbiased accurate information. To obtain additional data about chemical and physical hazards, seek information from reliable sources such as experienced researchers and/or safety experts. Use authoritative literature and curated websites such as PubChem and CAMEO Chemicals.

Consequence Value (CV) Impact to...
Rating Value Personnel
Resources Work
No Risk 1 No injuries No impact No delays Minor No impact
Minor 5
Minor injuries
Moderate impact
Modest delays
Moderate Potential damage
Moderate 10 Moderate to life impacting injuries
Additional resources required Significant delays Substantial Damaged
High 20 Life threatening injuries from single exposure Institutional resources required Major operational disruptions Severe Loss of confidence

Risk should be evaluated during the experimental planning phase prior to work, and as needed over the course of conducting experiments – especially when conditions change. Matrices are commonly used to evaluate risk.

Risk is greatest where severity of consequence great and there is a high probability that an unwanted incident can occur.

Assessing risks relative to a specific experiment informs appropriate strategies for the next step – minimizing risk.

Risk combines the likelihood of an unwanted incident with the severity of the consequences if it occurs. The frequency of exposure also contributes to risk.    


  • Critically review safety information from reliable sources and assess information as it is applicable to your work. This applies to SDSs, the GHS designations for chemicals and other available safety information.
  • Prioritize hazards with significant risk.

Minimize Risks of the Hazards

In this step, attention should first focus on those hazards which present significant risk. What is meant by “significant risk” should consider the experience of the workers and the laboratory facilities where the work will be carried out. Minimizing risk involves lowering it to some agreed upon acceptable level. Both significant and acceptable risk should therefore be decided at the local level.

There are various approaches to lowering risk and controlling hazards – some more effective than others. The hierarchy of controls from The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) shows the approaches available and their relative effectiveness.

Hierarchy of Controls

Minimizing risk also involves recognizing the human factor involved in unwanted events. Take stock of near-misses and lesson learned. Allow time for reflection, rest, and mental recovery from the stresses of research.

The idea behind this hierarchy is that the control methods at the top are generally more effective and protective than those at the bottom.

Utilizing the hierarchy and layering controls normally leads to the implementation of inherently safer systems, where the risks has been substantially reduced.

Whenever possible eliminate hazards to control risk.


  • Strive to eliminate hazards when possible.
  • Apply the hierarchy of controls to select the most effective methods to minimize risks. Layer controls as needed.
  • Ensure support systems (emergency equipment, waste disposal, ventilation, etc.) are present and functioning correctly. Use appropriate waste containers when disposing of chemicals.
  • Include time for discussions to improve mental wellness in laboratory workers.

Prepare for Emergencies

There is always the potential in laboratory work for unwanted events to happen. Human error is still possible in a laboratory even when hazards are recognized, assessed, and minimized. Preparing for emergencies is critical for mitigating the effects of any exposure or damage that might occur.

Most basic to preparing for emergencies is working in a laboratory equipped with all the required emergency response equipment – fire extinguishers, eye washes and showers, spill kits, gas shut off valves, etc. Secondly, it is not sufficient to simply have the equipment and know the location – the equipment must be inspected and tested regularly. The final step in preparing for emergencies is to train and drill on using emergency equipment if use is expected. Emergency response should evoke brain “muscle memory” that only comes from training and practice. Depending on the laboratory, evacuation may be the response expected and so the turns on evacuation routes should memorized in preparation for a chaotic situation

Preparing for emergencies is critical for mitigating the effects of any exposure or damage that might occur.


  • Ensure all emergency response equipment is present and working. Test equipment on a regular schedule.
  • Know and practice the procedures for common emergencies such as spills, cuts, burns, and small fires if you are expected to respond.
  • Consider how long it will take professional responders to assist you in your planning.
  • Know and respect the limits of your safety equipment.

Explore RAMP Resources:

Teaching RAMP

Hard copies of much of this material may be purchased through the ACS Store.

RAMP in Practice

Hazard Assessment in Research Laboratories [PDF] 

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