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Health & Safety: Department Safety Orientation

The following notes are intended to give you an overview (or review!) of basic safety issues that pertain to your work in this Department. Some of the remarks concern the Safety Committee, issues of training, and general safe practices and procedures. Reading this manual is a starting point; it does not mean that you are fully trained to work safely. You must receive specific training for operating equipment and performing particular procedures. This manual is not designed to replace the Material Safety Data Sheets, instrument operating instructions, biohazard, or radiation regulations or the individual supervision you receive in the lab. It is the responsibility of your supervisor to ensure that adequate training is available to you. Do not proceed with something if you are unsure how to do it.

Your Responsibility

Safety is very much the responsibility of everyone in the department. While the department provides resources and training to identify hazards, you are the one performing experiments and you are ultimately responsible for your own safety.


Research creates potential hazards that can only be appreciated by highly trained individuals. If there is a procedure you do not understand, or if you are using hazardous materials that you are unfamiliar with, consult your supervisor before proceeding. The key to working safely is to avoid becoming complacent.

Get into good work habits now and safety becomes second nature.

It is also important to foster a safety-minded ethos in the department. You can work with the utmost care and diligence but it means little if your lab colleague is exposing you to carcinogens or pathogens. Do not hesitate to point out to someone if they are working in a hazardous manner. Bring the matter to the attention of your supervisor, or the department Safety Committee or Department Chair.

Safety Committee

The Departmental Safety Committee is not an optional committee; it is required under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA)

There is also a University Central Joint Health and Safety Committee and an office of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)

The local Departmental Committee is assigned a number of specific tasks including workplace inspections, reporting unsafe conditions and practices, training and departmental orientation, incident investigations, accompaniment of government inspectors, maintaining safety files, emergency planning and first aid, and posting information. The AHL/Pathobiology Joint Health and Safety Committee is comprised of faculty, staff, and graduate students from both departments. This joint committee works well as we share the same geographical building and have common concerns. Notices and information posted by this committee are located between Rooms 2124 and 2121 at the top of the stairwell in Building 49.

"Safety" tends to expand into many other areas - including housekeeping, maintenance, and good manners. The Safety Committee works with you in promoting safety in the department. You should consider yourself a "member-at-large" of the Departmental Safety Committee - You have an important role in ensuring your workplace is safe! Please talk to us, ask us questions, and we'll try to help!

Due Diligence and Training

The phrase "due diligence" is used to indicate that employers and supervisors will do their utmost to ensure that the work place is safe and that people will be trained so that they can work in a safe and knowledgeable manner. It also means that you, as an individual, will do your very best to be informed, to learn correct procedures, and practice them. Under the provisions of "due diligence", the University can -and has been- fined when a person who didn't know how to operate a piece of equipment was severely injured. In addition, non-compliance with safe practice guidelines can mean loss of working privileges (e.g. radioisotope licenses, biohazard permits) or damage to equipment.

So, it is in everyone's interest, including your own, for you to take safety seriously!

There are many opportunities for you to get both basic and specialized training in safe working procedures. The EHS office sponsors a variety of short training sessions on various topics and you are welcome to participate. Other training may be more specialized, relating to your research work. You should document the training you have received from your supervisor or advisor (e.g. biohazard materials, equipment training, specialized procedures taught to you).

Safety Inspections

Workplace inspections are one of the primary methods of identifying and eliminating actual and potential hazards. These hazards can include problems with equipment, the workplace environment, the building, as well as with work practices. There are many different kinds of workplace inspections, including daily "walkabout" inspections when you enter your laboratory or office, "pre-use" inspections of equipment you are going to run, and "spot-checks" by your work supervisor or advisors. Other inspections are more formal, and involve documenting the fact that inspections have been done on a regular basis as part of "due diligence".

The Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that the workplace be inspected monthly. It would not be practical for the members of the departmental safety committee to perform comprehensive inspections of all areas of this building each month. In addition, the people who are most knowledgeable about what goes on in a room or laboratory - and the people most directly concerned with safety in that location - are the people who work in that space. As a result, the workers and supervisors of a lab routinely perform informal safety inspections as part of their daily work routine. Care and maintenance of equipment, stocking of adequate supplies, and providing personal protective equipment relevant to the tasks performed insures the laboratory work can proceed safely.

Once a year, one or more members of the Departmental Safety Committee* inspect each laboratory and facility in the building. Written documentation of these inspections is made in the form of the Workplace Inspection Recording Form, submitted to the Departmental Safety Committee, Supervisor of the work area, Department Chair, EH&S for review. Included in the inspections report is the Lab Inspection Action Report ranking potential hazards and safety inspections and designating corrective actions to either the supervisors of the work area or the administrative assistant responsible for building maintenance.

Please participate in these reviews of your working areas and talk to your laboratory colleagues about safety issues. The most important safety inspection is your own daily, weekly, monthly review of your workplace - be aware of experiments in progress, what's going on and potential hazards.

*As the voluntary Graduate Student and Research Technician members of the Departmental Safety Committee are not always at liberty to spend substantial amounts of time on inspections, the Departmental Safety Committee members may ask for assistance from departmental members in conducting inspections of particular facilities. The Department thanks you for your anticipated willing and enthusiastic participation!

Reference: EHS Bulletin 851.06.09 September 2000- Workplace Inspections.

Reporting Accidents and Incidents

Please visit the Occupational Health and Wellness website for further information.

In the event you should have a work place accident or injury, you have two responsibilities:

  1. Seek first aid and/or treatment

    Please don't shrug off a problem as a "little" accident or minor chronic problem. Seek help, whether it's a cut that needs disinfecting or a situation that needs an independent assessment. Every laboratory exit door in Pathobiology lists trained personnel in First Aid and CPR. Also listed is the location of the nearest first aid kit, shower, eye wash station. Familiarize yourself with this information.

  2. Report the incident or problem

    Tell your supervisor/ advisor or a member of the Safety Committee about the problem as soon as possible. For personal injuries or hazardous situations, a formal incident report form must be completed and sent to EHS from the Chair's Office within 24 hours. Click here to access an Incident Report. Find the University of Guelph Injury and Incident Reporting Policy.

    Such reports document problems that have been encountered and are required by the Ontario Health and Safety Association. "Hazardous situation reports" (The "near misses" category) also allow safety committees to recognize and remedy problem situations before something serious happens.