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School of Physics Safety Manual



All staff, visiting workers and students are required to contribute to health and safety in the School of Physics by working in a manner that is clean, tidy and thoughtful at all times and by ensuring that all work procedures have been subject to risk assessment. The following general safety points apply.

·         There must be no eating, drinking, smoking in laboratories or workshops.

·         Fire doors must never be jammed open

·         Where appropriate and required, suitable protective clothing must be worn but must not be taken into rest areas and coffee rooms. Laboratory coats should be hung up separately from other clothing.

·         All staff should be aware that, for example, open shoes or shorts are inappropriate for certain types of activity. There may be occasions when long hair should be tied up.

·         Safety spectacles or visors must be worn when handling acids, alkalis, corrosive or other hazardous materials and when using workshop machinery.

·         Suitable gloves should be worn when handling hazardous materials, including liquid cryogens.

·         Where used, disposable gloves should be changed frequently to avoid contamination. Remove disposable gloves before handling other equipment and books and before leaving the appropriate work area/laboratory if possible. To avoid contamination, one glove must always be removed to handle doorknobs etc.

·         Corridors and room exits should be kept clear at all times. Clothes and belongings should be kept in cloakrooms, lockers or designated areas in the laboratory/ workshops areas where applicable.

·         Do not run in corridors.

·         Trolleys or appropriate carriers should be used to convey equipment, materials and chemicals.

·         Care should be taken when using glassware, in particular when fitting rubber/plastic connections and using pipettes.

·         Do not work with flammable solvents near a naked flame, or place them in refrigerators or freezers unless these are spark-proofed.

·         Mobile phones must be turned off particularly when working with flammable solvents.

·         The presence of children in laboratories is not permitted. If it is necessary for a child to enter the building, this is permitted if the child is at all times supervised by a responsible adult and is not left unattended. All responsibility for accidents caused will be that of the parent or person in charge of the child.

·         Pets must not be brought into the School’s premises.

·         Vaccination against tetanus is strongly recommended (available from your GP).

Permits to work

For both safety and insurance purposes, service engineers and members of the Buildings and Estates Division must obtain a permit to work before commencing work in any laboratory, and must be warned of any hazards associated with the area. These permits also ensure that the workers are covered by the University insurance. Equipment for repair should be clean and free from hazards before they commence work. The University Asbestos Register is available from Buildings and Estates.

Access to roof areas

The person responsible for issuing work permits for work within the building is the School Safety Officer. Responsibility for issuing permits for work outside the building including work on the tower block roof and/or slab block roof rests with Buildings and Estates. However, responsibility for control of personnel to these roof areas rests with the School Safety Officer who is to ensure that risk assessments have been completed, and safe systems of work are established. This remains true for access to the observatory on the slab block roof by authorised staff and students.

Observatory safety

Working at night in proximity to moving equipment is potentially hazardous, and safety is the primary concern when observing. Each observing session is overseen by a member of academic staff or a postgraduate demonstrator, who is designated as the Night Officer, and students may never observe on their own. Specific rules apply to ensure observatory safety.

Students working in Research Laboratories

No Undergraduate or Postgraduate student may carry out experimental work in a research laboratory or student workshops until (s)he has received appropriate induction safety briefing, read the relevant risk assessment(s) and signed to that effect in locally held records of safety briefings.

No rapidly toxic materials may be handled by Undergraduates working in the research laboratories unless his/her supervisor or other member of staff is present.

Out of Hours Working including Lone Working Out of Hours

Lone working in laboratories out of normal University hours is not permitted for undergraduate students.

Postgraduate research students may only undertake experimental work outside normal working hours if permission has been obtained from their academic supervisor who has considered the safety aspects of their work.

Permission must be sought from the Head of School by anyone wishing to undertake practical work in laboratories involving hazardous materials or techniques outside normal working hours, or work with hand tools or machinery in the workshops outside normal working hours. Approval will only be granted when arrangements are made to ensure another responsible person is present and remains in sight of the person conducting the work, and to ensure that this person will not undertake any hazardous activity him/herself and is familiar with the safety procedures involved with the work.

Anyone working outside normal working hours must sign his or her name and times of arrival and departure on the record held in the foyer at the rear entrance to the Physics Building. This is for security reasons and to ensure that in case of fire or other emergency that a record of people in the building is readily available.

For all cases of non-hazardous lone working, it is always best practice to try to ensure that another responsible person is always within calling distance.

Recharging of Low Temperature Apparatus

If it is not possible for a research group to arrange for two research workers to be present when the topping up of refrigerants is required, the following procedure should be arranged with Patrol HQ:

Telephone Patrol HQ on internal Ext 3999 to advise:

a.       That the recharging procedure is about to take place.

b.       The approximate time before a further call will be made to confirm that the exercise has been completed.

c.       The internal extension number to be contacted if no further call is made and also two external phone numbers which can be contacted in case of emergency (e.g. Supervisor’s home phone number).

If confirmation is not received after the due period has elapsed, Patrol HQ should try to establish contact on the internal phone number given, whilst directing a patrolman to investigate. If an emergency develops the external phone numbers will be used to contact specialised help without delay.

Unattended Operation of Experimental Apparatus

All personnel in the Physics Department who need to leave apparatus running unattended must discuss arrangements and relevant risk assessment with the School Safety Officer, and complete a temporary running permit. This permit may be valid for up to 14 days. A new permit is required for each new unattended experiment or renewal past 14 days.

The permit is invalid unless correctly completed and signed by the responsible supervisor. Apparatus left running unattended must have the appropriate permit displayed in a prominent position adjacent to it with a copy displayed on the laboratory door together with a notice indicating that the apparatus is running outside normal working hours. A further copy of the permit must be passed to the School Safety Officer who must maintain a record of all extant permits.

  • The description of the apparatus, gases, chemicals and/or micro-organisms in use, the name of worker and supervisor must be completed, together with emergency telephone numbers and signature of supervisor.
  • If the equipment requires running water, then all hoses must be secured and checked daily; remember that the water pressure tends to increase at night.

It is in your interest to complete these forms as the Estate Patrol or other workers may turn off equipment found without appropriate permits.

Equipment Left Running Permanently


Each laboratory must list all equipment left running permanently. A master list must be held centrally by the School Safety Officer and reviewed annually. A permanent running permit will be issued for each item.

  • Electrical equipment must have a current electrical safety test and have a plug marked orange.
  • Only essential equipment such as incubators, refrigerators etc, should be left running permanently.
  • Contact telephone numbers should be supplied for each item of equipment.


(see also Section 8)

Common solvents have a low boiling point, higher vapour pressure and low surface tension. This may lead to the risk of fire and explosion as well as being a toxic hazard (see notes on important points relating to common chemicals). Flammable liquids should not be poured from one vessel to another or heated near an open flame. The ‘no smoking’ rule must be rigidly observed at all times. Solvents will only be issued in small quantities in a labelled container. Excess solvent should be returned to stores or to special disposal containers (metal containers with screw stoppers) as soon as possible. The containers must be kept tightly stoppered and stored outside where practicable. Solvents must never be poured down the sink.

Use of Flammable Gases

(eg carbon monoxide, butane, propane, ethylene, acetylene, methane, calor gas, town gas, hydrogen).

Where any of these gases are used “No smoking or Naked flames” notices must be permanently displayed and enforced during the period of the activity/experiment. Care should always be taken to minimise electrical arcing or frictional sparks in the vicinity, and also the quantity of flammable materials. In the case of a large leakage of flammable gas/vapour, the person in charge must ensure that the area of work is ventilated thoroughly before electricity is turned on or off. Tubes used for conducting hydrocarbon gases should not be of rubber, as this is softened by them, but of PVC, neoprene, metal or polythene.

It is often required to pass flammable gases through a cold trap to remove water vapour or other contaminants. When this is done, the following rules should be observed

·         When using a system where metallic contamination is already present, a trap made of stainless steel or aluminium alloy should be used. A trap so constructed is not subject to cracking from thermal shock.

·         If high purity levels have to be maintained, a silica or glass trap may be used but only with liquid Nitrogen as coolant. The reason is that if the trap were to crack and a high leak rate ensued the liquid air or oxygen could mix with the gas and cause a dangerous explosion.

·         When using the apparatus, the whole should be thoroughly flushed through with the gas before the trap is placed in the coolant, so as to avoid condensation of residual air, an obvious hazard.

·         A cold trap is frequently the greatest single volume in a piece of apparatus, therefore representing the greatest explosive potential; it is a good point to fit a rupture bubble to the trap so that the pressure can find relief without smashing the trap, and so creating a flying gas hazard.

Room ventilation

Room ventilation systems are the responsibility of Buildings and Estates Department. Checks are made as prescribed by them. Any faults or inefficiencies that are suspected should be reported to the appropriate Laboratory Supervisor or School Safety Officer. In case of emergency, the Buildings and Estates Division should be contacted directly and the School Safety Officer advised.

Lift Breakdown Procedure

In case of lift breakdown the Porter should be contacted (ext 3933) or the Estate Patrol directly (ext 3999). A trapped person pressing the warning button inside the car informs Estate Patrol HQ in Northcote House that a lift in an identified building has broken down. On receiving this signal a Patrol Supervisor alerts lift service engineers who will take appropriate action to have the passengers released as quickly as possible.

No attempt should be made to rescue passengers yourself if any are trapped inside the car.


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