5.3 Standard (Safe) Operating Procedures

Standard (Safe) Operating Procedures (SOP) that include safety information are very important when pre-planning lab experiments.  This general chemical hygiene plan along with safety data sheets (SDS) may be sufficient as the primary source of information for pre-planning certain simple lab activities or experiments.  However, others may require surveying additional safety information and preparation of a SOP that describes the hazards of the activity or hazardous material(s) as well as the safety measures needed to control the hazards.  Developing approved SOPs with safety information is especially important when the material or process possesses inherently higher hazards or is regulated by OSHA or another regulatory entity. When determining what chemical or process needs an SOP, start with materials and processes that have the most potential for fire, exposure or acute adverse health effects, or injury.

Labs may use a standard SOP template provided in Appendix A or create an equivalent procedure.  Safety information can also be incorporated directly into each step of a written protocol for a particular procedure that the lab already possesses; in this case a separate SOP is not necessary. 

The SOP needs to be approved by the PI or the lab supervisor.  Each lab worker who will conduct an experiment covered by an SOP needs to have been trained using the SOP as training material.  The approved procedures should be kept with the lab safety information.  The SOP needs to contain the following information at a minimum:

  • Description of the purpose for the SOP and what it covers
  • List the hazardous chemicals
  • Describe the potential hazards from chemicals or equipment
  • List specific engineering controls or containment devices needed to control exposure to hazards
  • Describe safe work, handling and storage practices necessary to control the hazards
  • List specific personal protective clothing or equipment needed to minimize exposure to material hazards
  • Describe spill management supplies to maintain prior to work and applicable spill and injury management procedures
  • Describe waste management/disposal procedures if they are different than described in the EHS Waste Management Guidelines and Procedures document
  • List specific approvals required before using the material or conducting the process if applicable
  • If the work requires a higher level of control, designate a specific location where the work will be conducted; list how hazards of the work will be communicated to all lab staff
  • Describe specific procedures necessary to clean work areas or equipment after use or to keep hazardous material fully contained in the designated/controlled work area if applicable
  • Document training on the SOP

Developing approved SOPs with safety information is especially important when the material or process possesses inherently higher hazards or is regulated by OSHA or another regulatory entity.  Examples of materials with higher hazards are listed below.  More detailed examples of materials or categories of materials with higher hazards, OSHA-regulated chemicals and additional guidance are described in Appendix B.

Toxic chemicals, including carcinogens

Include chemicals with the following hazards:

  • Carcinogenicity
  • Acute Toxicity (Oral, Dermal, Inhalation)
  • Skin and Eye Corrosion or Damage
  • Respiratory or Skin Sensitization
  • Specific Target Organ Toxicity
  • Reproductive Hazards (mutagens, teratogens, developmental reproductive toxicity)
  • Biological toxins with acute health hazards

To find this information quickly, most chemicals with one or more of these health hazard categories will have the OSHA signal word “Danger” on the chemical label or safety data sheet.

Other potential or known hazardous chemical substances (physical and/or health hazards)

  • Chemicals with OSHA Signal Word “Danger” including
    • Air-reactive, water-reactive, self-reactive other highly reactive chemicals;
    • Explosive chemicals;
    • Organic Peroxides;
    • Flammable Gases, Liquids, Aerosols, Solids;
    • Pyrophoric chemicals; and
    • Oxidizing Gases, Liquids, Solids.
  • Engineered Nanomaterials/Nanoparticles
  • OSHA-regulated chemicals

Example processes with potential physical or health hazards

  • Processes under very low or high pressure
  • Processes under extremes of temperature
  • Processes using large volumes of chemicals

Spill Preparedness Planning

Spill preparedness is an essential step in planning before work with chemicals or other hazardous materials.  This step is discussed in more detail in section 13.0 Spill and Emergency Plans.