Chemical safety

SFU has a comprehensive chemical safety program that applies to all areas where hazardous chemical agents are used, stored or handled.

Risk assessment

A comprehensive strategy to identify, assess and control risk is a foundation of laboratory safety. It not only allows researchers to systematically identify and control hazards, but also contributes to improved planning and understanding of research variables and better research outcomes.  

Use the risk assessment templates below and refer to corresponding examples if needed.

A hazard causes harm. For example in chemical agents, it is an intrinsic property, such as toxicity or flammability.

Risk is indicator of probability that a hazard will cause harm. It is often expressed as a product of the severity of exposure and the likelihood of exposure (to a hazard). Risk associated with a hazard can be reduced through control measures.

Check out this short video Why should we do laboratory chemical risk assessments? from the American Chemical Society.

When is a risk assessment needed?

A risk assessment is advised when:

  • New experiments are in the planning stage and for experiments where changes (e.g., parameters, reagents, or scale) are being considered
  • Developing an operating procedure for new equipment

WorkSafeBC requires risk identification, assessment and control as part of exposure control plans for certain classes of chemicals such as reproductive toxins, skin sensitizers, and carcinogens. Examples include benzene, chloroform, or toluene.

Who should do risk assessments?

All researchers should conduct a risk assessment before carrying out an experiment for the first time and when considering significant changes such as scale-up of a reaction, modifying reagents and/or altering conditions.

The assessment results in a risk rating of the experiment on a scale from low to unacceptable. Consult with your PI/supervisor if your risk rating is “high” or “unacceptable” to redesign the experiment or implement additional controls to reduce risk. EHS can also help with this process.

What is the role of the PI or Supervisor?

PIs and supervisors should review risk assessments conducted by lab members. When an assessment suggests a “high” or “unacceptable” risk, PIs must work with the lab member to redesign the experiment or reduce risk through additional control measures. Afterwards, if the risk rating remains “high” or “unacceptable”, consult EHS for assistance.

What are the steps involved in risk assessment?

For more background and additional resources, refer to the ACS hazard assessment in research laboratories.

  1. Define the scope. Is the risk assessment evaluating a single chemical, a simple experiment, or a broad research project?
  2. Gather background information such as a detailed procedure with experimental steps, equipment diagrams and operating conditions (e.g., pressures, temperatures, flow rates, run times, etc.), chemicals and associated hazards. Determine potential health and physical hazards (e.g., high pressure, high temperature, high voltage) and equipment safety features.
  3. Assess the risk at each step. At each step of your experiment ask, "what can go wrong?" Take into consideration your existing control measures. Seek advice from others to challenge your assumptions. Flag steps of concern where additional control measures may be needed. See Exposure control to guide selection of control measures. Document your risk assessment and chosen control measures.
  4. Test, monitor and re-assess. Consider performing a dry run with your equipment and procedures or doing a trial run at a smaller scale. When you are ready to run your full-scale experiment, monitor your control measures and modify if necessary.