Set up a research space for work with hazardous materials

210 Materials Management Building (MMB)

Before beginning work at the U of A, researchers must first identify, assess and control hazardous materials, equipment and conditions.

Follow the steps below to ensure you and your team are prepared to work safely at the university:

Contact HSE at to set up an appointment to register your worksite in the HSE module of the ARISE database. You will need the following information:

  • Hazards used in the space (e.g., chemical, biological, radiological, UV, high voltage, etc.)
  • Personnel in the space
  • Equipment in the space (lasers, X-rays, scintillation counters, biological safety cabinets, autoclaves)

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2. Review shared space considerations

A shared space is one used by multiple research groups for a common purpose (e.g., a warm room, cold room, autoclave room, etc.). 

Shared spaces provide many benefits including cost savings, efficiencies and knowledge-sharing. They also pose a unique set of risks that need to be managed to ensure that the workplace is safe for everyone. Some spaces may have multiple groups working on separate projects. Others may have many disciplines collaborating on a single project. Here are three ways to increase safety in your shared space:

1. Assign responsibility

Assign a safety designate for the shared space. This person should be a member of one of the research groups in the space and may be a Chair, Director, Supervisor, Foreman or Senior Principal Investigator. A safety designate is responsible to:

  • Coordinate communication efforts
  • Organize shared tasks such as eye washing, lab inspections and equipment preventative maintenance
  • Oversee the development of a lab orientation and lab emergency procedures
2. Communicate between groups

Communicate to ensure that all members in a shared space are made aware of rules, responsibilities, hazards and controls, and other important items. Effective methods of communication include group meetings, notice boards, signage and orientations.

3. Be accountable

Health and safety is everyone’s responsibility. The safety designate and other supervisors must assign shared space responsibilities to occupants and monitor completion. Set deadlines and hold personnel accountable to those deadlines. With everyone working together towards the same goal, everyone involved will benefit.

Register a shared space in ARISE

3. Apply for permits or approvals

Work with the following types of hazardous materials at the University of Alberta may require additional permits or approvals:

You must have approvals in place before beginning work with hazardous materials.

4. Secure your space

Ensure that your space can be secured while work is underway and at the end of the day. Doors must be closed while individuals are in the space and closed and locked while the space is unoccupied for the following reasons:

1. To reduce theft and increase personal safety

A locked door is an easy way to deter property theft and prevent unwanted visitors. By locking your laboratory as you leave, you ensure that the space will be unoccupied and secure when you return.

2. To comply with regulations

The following government regulators require doors to laboratories to be closed and/or locked:

  • Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Canadian Food Inspection Agency
  • Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission
  • Government of Alberta (Fire Code)

Failure to comply with regulations may result in the suspension of research and funding.

3. As a fire barrier

Closed doors slow the spread of fire and help to protect room contents. A locked door does not impede fire response: first responders use master keys to enter a space.

4. To secure research

Laboratories house ongoing experiments, data and other proprietary information. By closing and locking your door, you are protecting your own and others' research activities.

5. To facilitate ventilation

Ventilation systems are designed to meet the needs of a laboratory; open doors may alter airflow. Close the door to the laboratory to ensure efficient air exchange and to stabilize temperature and other comfort parameters.

Before you start work, ensure that you have considered the health ramifications of the work you will be doing, and have implemented appropriate control measures. 

Health, Safety and Environment offers the following services to assist with injury and illness prevention:

  • Audiometric testing
  • Personal radiation monitoring (dosimetry)
  • Health assessments related to pregnancy or change in immune status
  • Vaccination consultation
  • Post-exposure response planning
  • Reporting and tracking laboratory-acquired infections

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6. Post hazard signage

All locations that house hazardous materials must have hazard signage on the door to the hallway. Signage illustrates what hazards are in a space and what PPE is required. In an emergency, first responders may also rely on signage for contact information and to understand the hazards in the space.

To create, print, and update hazards signs, follow the steps below:

  1. Hazard signageRegister in the HSE database.
  2. Print your hazard signage: If your group is currently in the database, you can print your own hazard signage. Follow the instructions in the applicant manual to print signage.
  3. Print signage in colour. If your group does not have access to a colour printer, contact us at and HSE will print a sign for you.
  4. Update signage as hazards change. Once you have amended the information in the database, print new signage.

Note: if you will be working with lasers or X-rays, additional signage may be required.

Learn more

7. Prepare safety documents

Remember to complete the following documentation and have it readily available for review by your research team or by HSE inspectors:

Visit the HSE document cabinet

8. Complete training

Anyone conducting university-related activities must be trained and competent to do so. Before beginning work:

  1. Do a training needs assessment.
  2. Take the training.
  3. Demonstrate competency.

Health, Safety and Environment offers eLearning and other training & competency resources.

Learn more

University research groups that generate hazardous waste should enroll in CHEMATIX, a web-based system to manage waste disposal. Based on CHEMATIX input, HSE will schedule waste pickup and transfer for the university. 

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