The University of Iowa

Sharps Injury Prevention

Purpose and Applicability

The purpose of this research safety guidance is to prevent and/or minimize broken glass injuries while handling laboratory glassware. This guidance applies to all staff and students who handle glassware. Additional site-specific procedures may be incorporated to meet the needs of individual work areas.

Questions about this topic can be directed here. 

Potential Risk

The most likely person to be injured from mishandling of glassware is the user. However, anyone in the vicinity of breaking glass is likely to be hurt, so it is important for everyone to wear their personal protective equipment (PPE). By implementing safety controls and using PPE, the potential risks associated with glassware handling can be reduced.  Please see the table below.

Specialized glassware, including Schlenk line tubes, separatory funnels, vials, desiccators, autoclavable tubing/glassware, micro-fabrication and thin film deposition devices, laser optics, etc., are prone to breakage from hairline cracks and from dropping the item. Wear slip-resistant or cut-resistant gloves when handling glass to prevent cuts, abrasions, and skin puncture.

Type of Glassware Safety Control Recommendations for Risk Reduction Example Process/Activities  Potential Risk
Injury from imploding glass or flying glass.
(Vacuum apparatus)
  • Tape vacuum flasks and vacuum desiccators with electrical tape.
  • Keep cryogenic vacuum flasks wrapped with Nylon or other polymer based plastic mesh (view example).
  • Wrap glass desiccators with friction or electrical tape in a grid pattern, leaving the contents visible; this will guard against flying glass in case of implosion.
  • Wear a face shield or safety glasses with side shields, appropriate gloves, and lab coat.
  • Educate researchers in vacuum techniques.
Consider other factors that could possibly reduce risks, such as: Use low intensity vacuum devices, use smaller flasks, assure vacuum is released at the vacuum pump before removing vacuum flask/glassware, and make sure glassware under vacuum is not located where it could be bumped or struck.
Working with vacuum apparatus.  HIGH
Cuts when forcing glass tubing or pipettes onto rubber stoppers
  • Use glycerin as a lubricant.
    • Wear cut-resistant gloves and safety glasses with side shields.
Working with glass tubes or Pasteur pipettes.  Moderate Plus

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Equipment-specific safety precautions should be followed to prevent broken glass injuries by selecting and using proper PPE. Process-specific PPE may include cut-resistant gloves, full length lab coats/gowns, and a face shield/safety goggles.  These provide protection of the skin, including forearms, fingers, and the eyes. All research labs should have cut/puncture-resistant gloves similar to Kevlar® or D-Flex® and an approved sharps disposal container large enough to contain broken glass.

First Aid, Medical Attention, and Treatment

In the event of an injury involving a broken glass or sharp instrument, the following steps should be followed:

  1. Encourage bleeding of the wound; but do not directly massage or attempt other forceful means to remove any remaining broken glass from the wound.
  2. Wash the wound thoroughly with warm water and soap if available. Use cold water if warm water is not available.
  3. Seek medical attention as appropriate. 
  4. Immediately report the incident to the PI or lab supervisor, as all injuries from lab incidents exposures and near miss incidents should be reported to these individuals.
  5. If the incident involves potential exposure to infectious materials or bloodborne pathogens, then immediate medical attention is required. In situations where the risk of exposure to infectious materials is unknown or uncertain, and the injury occurred in a biological research area, the injury should be treated as a possible exposure to infectious material and reported immediately to the Biological Safety Officer (353-5679) or contact EHS at 335-8501, so a risk assessment can be initiated.
  6. Paid students, staff and faculty should complete a First Repor of Injury (FROI) online within 24 hours of the incident or as soon as possible. If the individual is unable to complete the FROI right away, the supervisor can complete one for him/her. The FROI can be accessed by:
    1. Go to Employee Self Service; 
    2. Click on the Benefits & Wellness button;  
    3. The First Report of Injury is located under the Workers Compensation header.

Unbroken/Broken Glassware Disposal 

  1. Do not handle broken glass with bare hands, use appropriate cut-resistant gloves.
  2.  Use forceps, tongs, scoops, or other mechanical devices for removing or retrieving broken glass from the work area or a fume hood.
  3. A dustpan and brush should be used to clean up shards/small pieces of broken glass, Pasteur pipettes, or shards of glass.
  4. Place broken/unbroken glass into a sharps container.
  5. Never remove any item from a sharps container.
  6. Substitute glassware with plastic ware, including desiccators, wherever possible.


The PI/Lab Manger is responsible for the site specific and hands-on training for the use of this equipment/apparatus in their lab. Training should be directly documented in the researcher’s lab notebook. On each day of training, both trainer and trainee should sign the lab notebook. 

Initially, researchers should perform the reactions with the PI or senior researcher present to observe the safe handling of this equipment/apparatus. Review the reagent specific safety data sheets (SDSs). Evaluate the hazards associated with the equipment/apparatus experimental setup.

External Links

Glass shop