Last updated: 8/2020

Quick answers to your most frequently asked questions.   

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Laboratory Waste

Laboratory Waste

1. I have a large number of expired or unneeded chemicals; must I submit an individual waste request for each container?

No. Submit one Waste Request Form and indicate approximately how many containers need to be picked-up.  Someone from EHRS will contact you soon to provide additional guidance and to coordinate the pickup

2. I have some unwanted or empty compressed gas cylinders; who do I contact to have them removed?

Whenever possible, gas cylinders should be returned to the manufacturer or supplier that owns them.  Contact information can generally be found printed on the cylinder label or hang tag.

For lecture bottles, disposable propane/MAPP gas or other cylinders that cannot be returned, submit an online Waste Request Form to schedule a pickup with EHRS.

Laboratory Safety

Laboratory Safety

1. I think my fume hood is malfunctioning.  What should I do?

Close the hood sash and do not use the hood until EHRS confirms it is functioning properlyContact your building administrator to open a work order.  If the hood is not put back into service within 5 days of contacting your building administrator, contact EHRS. 

2.  Are power strips and extension cords allowed in the lab?

Yes.  Power strips and extension cords may be used in labs; however, there are some restrictions to their use.  See Fact Sheet:  Electrical Safety in Labs for information about these limitations.

3. How I do a report a safety concern or observation in my lab?

There are several avenues you can pursue for reporting a safety concern in your lab. You may fill out this webform on EHRS’s website. If you want to report the concern anonymously, you may do so using Penn’s Confidential Reporting and Help Line, P-COMPLY.  BioRAFT users can also report lab and lab-building related safety issues, anonymously or non-anonymously, directly through BioRAFT by using ObservNow (Pennkey login required).

Chemical Storage

Chemical Storage, Transport, and Labeling

1. Can all acids be stored together in the same cabinet?

Strongly oxidizing acids (e.g. Perchloric acid, nitric acid) are incompatible with organic materials, including organic acids (e.g. Glacial acetic acid).  These compounds react vigorously.  Mineral acids (ie. HCl, H2SO4) can be stored with either acid type.  If a separate cabinet is not available, use secondary containment to segregate incompatible acids.

2.  Should I wear my lab coat and gloves when transporting chemical or biological samples outside my lab?

No.  PPE (including lab coat and gloves) must not be worn in public (non-lab) spaces or outside of the building.  Instead of wearing PPE, package your materials so that everything is appropriately contained.  Use secondary containment to protect not only yourself, but also the rest of the University and the community at large.

3.  How do I get rid of empty gas cylinders?

Contact the Airgas Penn support group at 855-636-6316 to enter a ticket for the request of additional empty gas cylinders pick-ups.  Airgas is able to take most gas cylinders, but if you are unsure if your cylinder is eligible for Airgas pick-up, just ask when you call.


1. Who do I contact to have my Biosafety Cabinet serviced?

Technical Safety Services (TSS) is a new BSC vendor available on campus that provides certification and repair services.   See the BSC Certification & Repair section of the Biosafety Cabinet page on the EHRS website for more information about how to contact TSS and how to prepare your cabinet for service.

2. What’s the difference between a Biosafety Cabinet, a Clean Bench and a Chemical Fume Hood?

Biosafety Cabinets (BSCs) are used when working with infectious agents and human source material to protect the product, personnel, and environment. Clean benches provide protection for the product only. Fume hood are used for handling chemicals and protect personnel only. More information on Biosafety Cabinets can be found on our website at Biosafety Cabinets.  More information on Fume Hoods can be found our website at Fume Hood Specifications.

comparison of three equipment types

3. How do I safely conduct flame sterilization on an open bench using ethanol?

We do not recommend using ethanol and flame sterilization and encourage alternative approaches. However, if you must, EHRS recommends following the guidance for suggested PPE, work area preparation, ethanol preparation, etc. outlined on our recently created Fact Sheet: Flame Sterilization on the Open Bench

Electrical Safety

1. Are there any guidelines for electrical equipment modified or built by lab workers?

Yes! You can view guidelines for electrical equipment that is custom-built or modified here. See the Fact Sheet: Electrical Safety in Labs for more information.

COVID-19 topics


April, 2020 

While most of you have suspended your laboratory operations and are isolating yourselves at home, we want you to know that EHRS is still here to support both your wellness and your research.

We’re sending this special COVID-19 edition of the Lab Safety Quick FAQs with answers to some of the questions you might have during this period of disrupted operation and working from home.  If you have any other questions or want to talk to an EHRS staff member, please feel free to email us or call our main office number: 215-898-4453.

Physical Hazards

How can I ensure that my home office is set up properly for remote work?

EHRS has recommendations for office furniture, equipment set up, workstation accessories, and exercises to help you transition to an appropriate remote work environment. Visit the Ergonomics page under Penn’s Health & Safety Resources for more information. (Tip:  Expand the “computer ergonomics” menu on the left side of the webpage to view specific topics.) Additional tips can be found in the Guide to Setting up a Safe, Healthy and Productive Home Office and in Ergonomic Considerations in Setting up a Home Office Workspace.



How do I clean my lab if there’s been an exposure to COVID-19?

EHRS has compiled a list of resources and safety information for the COVID-19 virus. See the EHRS Covid-19 Safety Information page for more information.


Lab Safety

What activities can I do remotely to make sure I’m ready to resume lab work quickly and safely upon return to campus?

We’ll be in touch again soon with special guidance for restarting your lab operations.  For now, consider these suggestions for safety and compliance tasks and learning opportunities you can catch up on remotely.



August, 2020

As you continue ramping up your research during the research resumption phase, we want you to know that EHRS is still here to support both your wellness and your research.

We’re sending this special COVID-19 edition of the Lab Safety Quick FAQs with answers to some of the questions you might have during the research resumption phase.  If you have any other questions or want to talk to an EHRS staff member, please feel free to email us or call our main office number: 215-898-4453.


Laboratory Waste

Oops!  The last time our lab disposed of chemical waste was before campus operations were suspended.  What should we do?

Hazardous chemical waste should not be stored in your lab for longer than 3 months.  Therefore, chemical waste that was generated before operations were suspended is now out of compliance with Penn’s Laboratory Chemical Waste Management Guidelines.  Check the date on your chemical waste tags and request a chemical waste pickup using this form if needed.

How do I dispose of my infectious waste?  

Penn has transitioned all infectious waste disposal to Curtis Bay RMW Services.  The procedures for removal vary according to your school or building.  Click here for disposal guidelines and other biohazardous waste disposal resources.  Still have questions?  Contact Assistant Biosafety Officer Marie-Luise Faber at


Lab Safety

Will EHRS be resuming laboratory inspections during the research resumption phase?

Yes.  Two methods will be employed: EHRS-initiated self-inspections and inspector-led building walkthrough surveys.  Self-inspections will be administered via BioRAFT and can be completed by either the PI or the Lab Safety Coordinator.   Building surveys will focus on easily observed lab-worker compliance with COVID-19 safety policies and targeted health/safety procedures.  Your lab will receive a “Lab Safety Issue Requires Your Attention” report via BioRAFT if an EHRS inspector observes compliance issues in your area during building surveys.



Where can I find Biosafety guidance for research with COVID-19 samples or SARS-CoV-2?

Visit Biosafety Guidance for COVID-19 Research Projects for information about appropriate practices, containments, and precautions that must be in place when conducting research involving COVID-19 patient samples and SARS-CoV-2.   



Does EHRS have signage depicting proper mask use that I can share with my lab?

EHRS recently created a “How to Wear a Facemask” poster with proper mask wearing protocol that will be displayed throughout campus buildings.  Click here to download a copy.

What if the nature of our research complicates our ability to comply with physical distancing guidelines? 

Some specialized activities that are critical to research progress require closer contact than that designated by PA State guidelines.  Requests for waivers from the physical distance policy must be approved by your chair and implemented only if and when risk mitigation measures are approved by EHRS.  To submit a Physical Distance Waiver Form, click here.