Safety Information

All teachers and mentors must continually strive to promote safe science while encouraging research projects involving students.  ISEF rules provide guidelines to allow minors to safely work in a supervised research laboratory.

There are many safety requirements that laboratories must use when working with biological and chemical materials and various equipment found in research. Teachers and students can protect themselves from the hazards associated with these materials by implementing various control measures, from using a fume hood or biosafety cabinet to wearing the correct personal protective equipment.

There are many resources available to teachers and students to learn what safe practices need to be used. Take the time to thoroughly review the hazards, exposures and risks that may be encountered in the proposed research. Don’t rely on “that’s the way we’ve done it for years with no accidents”. There may be a safer way to work with the laboratory materials, and the students need guidance on what current safety practices are available.

If you have any questions regarding Laboratory Safety, please contact

ISEF Rules & BSL Checklists

ISEF Hazardous Chemicals, Activities and Devices

ISEF Guidelines for Biosafety Level 1 & 2 Lab Facilities & Operations

Material Safety Data Sheets

What is a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS)?

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) is a document that contains information on the potential hazards (health, fire, reactivity and environmental) and how to work safely with the chemical product.

How can a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) protect you?

It should tell you what to expect if the recommendations are not followed, what to do if accidents occur, how to recognize symptoms of overexposure, and what to do if such incidents occur.

When would I use an MSDS?

Always be familiar with the hazards of a product BEFORE you start using it. You should look at a MSDS, match the name of the chemical on your container to the one on the MSDS, know the hazards, understand safe handling and storage instructions, as well as understand what to do in an emergency.

What information is on the MSDS?

MSDSs must contain the same basic kinds of information, such as:

  • Chemical Identity: Name of the product; since chemicals are often known by different names, all common (trade) names should be listed
  • Manufacturer’s Information: Name, address, phone number and emergency phone number of the manufacturer
  • Hazardous Ingredients/Identity Information: List of hazardous chemicals; depending on the state, the list may contain all chemicals even if they are not hazardous, or only those chemicals which have OSHA standards
  • PEL: The OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit for each hazardous ingredient must be listed
  • Physical/Chemical Characteristics: Boiling point, vapor pressure and density, melting point, evaporation rate, etc.
  • Fire and Explosion Hazard Data: Flash point, flammability limits, ways to extinguish, special firefighting procedures, unusual fire and explosion hazards
  • Reactivity Data: Information on the chemical instability of a product and how certain materials react with others when mixed or stored together
  • Toxicological Properties: Health effects (acute= immediate; chronic= long-term), ways the hazard can enter the body (lungs, skin or mouth), symptoms of exposure, emergency and first aid procedures
  • Preventive Measures: Ventilation (local, general, etc.), type of respirator/filter to use, protective gloves, clothing and equipment, etc.
  • Precautions of Safe Handling and Use: What to do in case materials spill or leak, how to dispose of waste safely, how to handle and store materials in a safe manner

Why do some MSDS Sheets look different?

MSDS sheets look different because the laws only specify certain requirements giving manufacturers/suppliers some latitude and some put more details in than what is required. The format is left up to the manufacturer or supplier who writes the MSDS

Where can I get Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs)?

  • All labs should provide easy access to them
  • Basically every company that sells a chemical must have an MSDS sheet; you or the lab can request them from the distributor from whom you purchased the materials. Many of the companies provide internet access to their MSDS sheets. Some of the main suppliers of chemicals are: FlinnFisherCarolina & Sargent Welch
  • The Internet offers free resources and information on MSDSs, as well. If you need an MSDS sheet for a specific chemical, just google that i.e. NaOH MSDS or sodium hydroxide MSDS and that will give you several options.

If you need more information:

Call your state OSHA (if applicable) or Federal OSHA.

SBU Laboratory Safety Info

Stony Brook University Environmental Health & Safety Websites

Stony Brook University Environmental Health & Safety Assessment Tools

Chemical Safety Board’s Review of Several Laboratory Accidents

  • For a video that might benefit aspiring scientists that will be working in labs, the video linked in this document (pdf) will prove helpful!

Lessons Learned