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Health and Safety Services

Department of Biological Sciences
Policy on laboratory coats and protective gloves

Birkbeck, as an employer, requires its staff to exercise a duty of care to themselves and to others.  This is also an obligation placed on staff by the UK’s Health and Safety at Work Act.  The same requirement extends to students engaged in project work in laboratories and occasional (e.g. collaborative) workers, hosted in the College and also to visitors in areas where special care is required, such as laboratories.

For general good laboratory practice to protect lab workers and also to comply with COSHH & GM regulations, the following rules have been drawn up for the wearing of lab coats and gloves within the various areas of Biological Sciences.  For similar reasons and also to prevent concern among colleagues and visitors, rules for where lab coats and gloves must not be worn are also set out below.  A very few specific exceptions to the general rules on where lab coats must not be worn have been included since it is neither possible to have all lab facilities self-contained nor thought practical to require changes of coat for very brief periods.

This policy has been endorsed by the Head of Department, the College Biological Hazards Adviser, the College GM Adviser, the College Health and Safety Officer and key laboratory managers in Biological Sciences.

1. Where staff are required to wear lab coats as part of their duties they must be provided with a suitable lab coat free of charge.  In Category 2 Biohazard and GM labs, lab coats must be available for visitors, such as service engineers, to borrow as a condition of entry to the lab.  Areas not able to supply free lab coats to students may develop their own charging policy for this. However, the HSE views postgraduate students as ‘workers’ entitled to free coats.  

2. Category 2 Biohazard labs - suitable lab coats must be worn at all times. Additionally, gloves must be worn if the risk assessment requires this measure. Suitable lab coats must be available for visitors to borrow for use while in the area as a condition of entry to the lab.  Upon leaving the lab both gloves and lab coats must be removed and hands washed in the wash hand basin provided.  Coats used in Category 2 Biohazard labs may not be worn or taken outside the laboratory except for autoclaving and cleaning and the safety procedures in place for this must be followed. 

3. Genetic Modification labs - suitable lab coats must be worn at all times. Gloves may also be worn, but this is not conditional for GM work to be undertaken.  Suitable lab coats must be available for visitors to borrow as a condition of entry to the lab. Lab coats will normally be confined to the GM areas except for autoclaving and cleaning  and the safety procedures in place for this must be followed.  Upon leaving the area both gloves (if worn) and lab coats should be removed and hands washed in the wash hand basin provided.  For specific exceptions to these requirements see section (5) below.

4. All other laboratories - suitable lab coats must be worn when staff, students or visitors are engaged in any bench work or other general lab work task.  Lab coats must be worn in the sample preparation areas for Confocal and Electron Microscope rooms but need not necessarily be worn at the microscopes themselves unless the risk assessment dictates otherwise.  Suitable arrangements must be made for cleaning all laboratory coats on a regular basis.  Lab coats should not normally be worn outside laboratories - for specific exceptions to this rule see section (5) below.

5. After an assessment of the potential risk to health and considering the need for a practical solution to ensure good compliance, the following specific exceptions will be allowed subject to regular reviews of how the policy is working in practice.

5.1  For the Rayne Wolfson laboratory workers may, by the shortest route, move between the lab and the adjacent cold room areas in their lab coat but gloves must be removed.

5.2  For the 3rd Floor laboratories workers may, by the shortest route, move between labs (except biohazard cat 2 labs) in their lab coat to access the fridges and freezers in the central corridor but gloves must be removed.

5.3 Clean lab coats can and must be worn when staff are engaged in exceptional work in non-lab areas such as transporting 25 litre drums of waste solvent through the building. 

6.  Staff wearing a lab coat outside a lab under the variations in (5) above must pay due regard to others using the corridors, etc., and make their safety and concerns paramount.  Note:- Lab coats must not be worn when transporting samples and cultures etc through corridors and between labs. This is unnecessary as the transported materials should be double-contained and would therefore not pose a risk to staff or the general public from a spill.

7.  Protective gloves for laboratory use must never be worn outside of any laboratory.  Gloves are inexpensive and can easily be taken off, disposed of and replaced by fresh ones.  Gloves can spread contamination or cause concern that they might be spreading contamination.  They are not necessary for the transportation of samples, etc., as these should be double-contained for safe transportation anyway.   

March 2010.                                                                                                  

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Health & Safety Services, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX. Tel: 020 7631 6218, email: