Chemical Safety in Laboratories

Use of hazardous chemicals in laboratory settings is regulated by the State of Washington’s Department of Labor and Industries (WAC 296-828). While these regulations are directed towards employees, Western Washington University extends the majority of these requirements and protections to students as well.

This chapter of the WAC details the following requirements of laboratories using hazardous chemicals:

Chemical Hygiene Plan (WAC 296-828-20005)

EHS has put together the following Chemical Hygiene Plan (CHP). It is important to note that the CHP is not complete until supplemental information has been added by your department and/or individual lab. 

The completed CHP must be available to all students and employees and must include the following elements:

  • Name and/or job title of the chemical hygiene officer and personnel responsible for implementing the CHP (including the lab supervisor or PI, the department head or chair, and the department safety coordinator)
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that include safety requirements for particular procedures or classes of chemicals.
  • Criteria for selecting control measures to reduce exposures to hazardous chemicals.
  • Additional protection for select carcinogens, reproductive toxins and toxicants, and chemicals of high acute toxicity.
  • Measures to ensure that protective equipment provide adequate protection.
  • Circumstances when procedures require approval from EHS.
  • Description of training.
  • Description of how and when medical consultations and evaluations are required.

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Exposure Evaluation (WAC 296-828-20010)

If you conduct processes that pose a respiratory hazard that cannot be adequately controlled by engineering controls or if you are unsure if a respiratory hazard is adequately controlled, reach out to EHS and we will conduct an exposure evaluation.

Following exposure evaluation by EHS, results will be communicated to all personnel represented by the exposure evaluation within 5 business days.

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Training (WAC 296-828-20015)

Student and employee training must be documented and include:

  • The nature of the chemical and physical hazards within a space at the time of initial assignment and before initiating a process with exposure to a hazardous chemical.
  • Methods of observing and detecting the presence or release of hazardous materials. This may include notification of previous exposure evaluations, any continuous monitoring devices, and the visual appearance and odor of hazardous materials.
  • Procedures to protect oneself from hazardous materials: appropriate work practices, personal protective equipment, and emergency procedures.
  • Refresher training as needed. EHS recommends that refresher training happen at the start of each academic quarter.

Some additional topics and information that you are entitled to:

Your supervisor must tell you what signs and symptoms are associated with exposures to hazardous chemicals used in your lab space. In addition, they must notify you of the location of your lab/department-specific CHP and any specific reference material regarding the hazards, safe handling, storage, and disposal of hazardous chemicals.

EHS asks that all labs on campus use CHIMERA (our chemical inventorying database). Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) can be accessed through CHIMERA for all chemicals that have been entered into the database. If your lab does not use CHIMERA, you must have paper copies of SDSs or other ways to access these, and you must communicate to personnel where they can be accessed. 

While many of these topics are covered in the EHS Laboratory Safety Training Canvas Course, there are a number of lab-specific items that will need to be covered by the faculty or staff in charge of the space. 

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Labeling and Safety Data Sheets (SDSs) (WAC 296-828-20020)

Incoming chemical container labels should not be removed or defaced.

New chemicals must be entered into CHIMERA in order to retain up-to-date SDSs.

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Chemicals Produced in Laboratories (WAC 296-828-20025)

If your lab produces new hazardous chemicals or chemicals of unknown hazard, you should treat these as hazardous and follow all other provisions of the CHP. If these chemicals are to be used by others outside your lab, there are additional labeling requirements and creation of an SDS is needed. 

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Medical Evaluations (WAC 296-828-20030)

Personnel are entitled to medical evaluation when:

  • Signs or symptoms of exposure to a hazardous substance are identified.
  • An emergency situation occurs that could cause hazardous exposure (spill, leak, explosion, etc.).
  • A medical provider recommends additional follow-up.
  • Exposure monitoring for any of the substances in Table 2 of WAC 296-828 are routinely over the Action Level (AL) or Permissible Exposure Level (PEL). Reach out to EHS if you are concerned regarding these or any other chemical exposures. 

When medical evaluations are warranted, evaluations for employees will be provided at no cost. Students may be responsible for the cost of medical evaluation. 

The evaluating healthcare provider must be provided the following information before evaluation:

  • Name of hazardous chemical.
  • Any signs or symptoms of exposure.
  • Description of conditions under which exposure occurred.
  • Exposure monitoring results, if available.

The evaluating healthcare provider will provide their opinion to both the employee and the employer including:

  • Recommendations for follow-up.
  • Medical conditions found that would increase risk of impairment from exposure and any other exposure-related results.
  • The opinion to the employer will not contain medical information unrelated to the exposure; if it does, the opinion will be returned to the healthcare provider.

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