Safe laboratory environment


In the laboratories chemicals, microorganisms or biological agents are widely used. In addition, work in the laboratory often include handling of electric equipment, pressurized equipment, equipment with laser, gases or sources of radiation. There are a number of regulations from different government agencies that regulate how to work safely in the laboratory.

Laboratory work may involve a number of hazards to consider. A requirement, in all laws and regulations, is that risk assessments must be done before all work in the laboratory. Under the heading Safe laboratory environment, information on work environment and safety in the lab from an organizational and regulatory perspective is available.

General regulations 

Regulations on occupational exposure limit values, AFS 2018:1, from the Swedish work environment authority (in Swedish)

Regulations on working alone, AFS 1982:3, from the Swedish work environment authority (in Swedish)

Regulations on pregnant and breastfeeding workers, AFS 2007:5, from the Swedish work environment authority (in Swedish)

Regulations on risks of infection, AFS 2018:4, from the Swedish work environment authority (in Swedish)

Radiation protection act, 2018:396, from the Riksdag


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Responsibility and organisation

The Work Environment Act states that the employer (i.e. Linköping University and Region Östergötland) is to take all necessary measures to achieve a positive and healthy work environment, and to prevent employees and students being exposed to ill-health and accidents.

Every manager, co-worker and student is expected to take a personal responsibility for the common work and study environment, and to contribute to a positive work climate.

One precondition for the achievement of a safe laboratory environment is the clear allocation of responsibilities and tasks for everyone spending time in the lab. It must be known who has the employer's responsibility (manager with allocated work environment tasks) and, in cases where different operations share premises, it must be decided who has the coordination responsibility for the work environment.

To facilitate the process of allocating responsibilities and tasks, LiU has developed two forms (in Swedish):

  • Allocation of Tasks for Laboratory/Workshop (Fördelning av arbetsuppgifter för laboratorium/verkstad, in Swedish). On the form, the employees and employer together list the tasks that need to be performed for the laboratory/workshop. In other words, it is a distribution of tasks that are necessary for a functioning work environment in the laboratory/workshop. The document is dated and signed by both parties and registered.
  • Compilation of Allocated Tasks for a Laboratory/Workshop (Sammanställning över fördelade arbetsuppgifter för ett laboratorium/en verkstad, in Swedish). This form is filled out in laboratories/workshops where multiple individuals share different tasks, and the form is kept clearly displayed in the laboratory/workshop (where other colleagues can easily access the information). Remember that the allocated tasks should be signed by the employee on the top form "Allocation of Tasks for Laboratory/Workshop".

Laws, regulatory requirements and legal compliance

Region Östergötland and Linköping University have a multifaceted business that is affected by legislation and regulatory requirements in many different areas, such as fire protection, chemical management and radiation protection. More about regulations and rules for different areas can be found at the subject pages

Sanction fees

Within work environment legislation, several regulations from the Swedish Work Environment Authority contain a number of rules and requirements that are subject to sanction fees.

During an inspection, the inspector from the Swedish Work Environment Authority check compliance with the regulations and identify any deficiencies that need to be corrected. If a deficiency is subject to a sanction fee, the Swedish Work Environment Authority investigates and then decides whether a sanction fee should be paid.

The size of the sanction fee is calculated according to the number of employees in the same organization number – not just those who work at the inspected workplace, division etc. Employers with 500 or more employees always pay the maximum fee, this means that both LiU and Region Östergötland would have to pay the maximum fee.

Linköping University

LiU has procured a system that monitors and collects legislation in the fields of environment, work environment and security. The purpose of the system for legislation monitoring is to ensure that Linköping University fulfills currently valid legislation within the fields of the work environment, environment and safety. The system also makes it possible to become aware of new and changed legislation and take appropriate measures. It also provides a means of demonstrating to various regulatory authorities and others how the university works to ensure that existing legislation is identified and complied with.

To make it easier for LiU's operations to comply with current legislation, there are a number of so-called super users at LiU who, through the law monitoring system, monitor and enter new or changed legislation and changes in LiU's list of legislation and who, if necessary, update LiU's procedures, instructions forms, etc, and spread information through contact routes.

Legal compliance at LiU

By following the procedures or information given in the Laboratory Safety Manual, using available forms and templates, etc it means that the requirements are complied with. However, for some special legislation that only affects individual operations, each operation needs to establish routines or make the necessary adjustments.

The supplier of the Legislation monitoring system

The supplier of the legislation monitoring system is Ramboll.

All LiU employees can access the monitoring system.

Region Östergötland

Miljöguiden and Arbetsmiljöguiden are web-based services that help to keep track of legislation and other requirements within the fields of environmental protection and the work environment. Miljöguiden and Arbetsmiljöguiden are updated by the Do IT Right AB company when legislation is changed and when new ordinances come into force. The guides can be accessed from the Region Östergötland intranet.

Occupational exposure limit values

Chemical substances/products may be subject to exposure limit values. This is the case for dust, smoke, mist, gas and vapours, and these limit values must be adhered to.

The exposure limit value for a substance is the highest level of the substance that is allowed in the workplace. Some chemical substances can be absorbed by the body both through the lungs and through the skin. This is the case mainly for substances that are liquids or gases. Substances that have exposure limit values are listed in Swedish in a publication issued by the Swedish Work Environment Authority, Occupational exposure limit values. 

Working alone

Working alone is defined as work performed in physical or social isolation from other people, without being able to come into contact with others, according to the Swedish Work Environment Authority.

Hazardous work must not be performed alone, as there may be a particular risk of ill health. This is particularly important if the work takes place outside regular working hours or during field work, for example. When working at night, the risk of assault should also be considered.

Much of the work in laboratories and workshops involves hazards or risks, for example when working with dangerous chemical products, flammable goods and gases. Work in laboratories and workshops may also involve work with high pressure, high current devices or working with dangerous tools or machines with moving parts.

Even during normal working hours with colleagues/students in neighbouring rooms and corridors there are operations which are too dangerous and may not be carried out by a person alone in a lab, for example when using poisonous gas or extremely corrosive chemicals.

Do not forget that labs may become very empty around lunchtime!

Pregnant and breast-feeding women

In association with a pregnancy, it is very important to review the employee’s work situation and revise the risk assessments, or draw up new ones. Information about how this is to be carried out and details of the risk factors that should be considered, are described in Swedish in the Swedish Work Environment Authority provision regulations concerning pregnant and breast-feeding employees (in Swedish). More information is also available at the website of the Swedish Work Environment Authority. It is the responsibility of the employer (at LiU this often means manager, PI or head of division) that this risk assessment is reviewed/revised.

Certain work causes exposure that may be more dangerous to the foetus than to woman carrying the child. Consequently some work are prohibited for pregnant women.

It is forbidden to work with:

  • Lead
  • Rubella and toxoplasma

In addition there are dose limits for operations using ionized radiation according to the Radiation protection act. Pregnant employees are entitled to redeployment within the organisation in order to avoid ionized radiation during their pregnancy.

Checklists and rounds

Regularly investigating and addressing work environment and environmental issues is an important part of systematic work environment management. This is done, among other things, through work environment rounds (safety rounds) and the so-called checklists are a tool and aid in the work of investigating, following up and improving work environment conditions. Both LiU and Region Östergötland use checklists to monitor and assess risks in operations, for example in laboratories.

Checklists, rounds at LiU

Checklist - psychosocial and physical work environment

At least once a year, workplace rounds should be conducted with questions concerning the general work environment (covering both psychosocial and physical work environment).

Checklist - Laboratory and Workshop Safety

At LiU, there is a specific checklist for laboratory activities, the Laboratory and Workshop Safety Checklist. The questions in the checklist should reflect current legal requirements but are not exhaustive, meaning there may be legal requirements not included in the checklist.

How should we use the "Laboratory and Workshop Safety Checklist"?

  • The checklist's questions should be answered once per year.
  • The "Laboratory and Workshop Safety Checklist" is designed as a Word form that can be filled out electronically and saved. There is also an option to provide comments directly within the checklist.
  • Completed checklists and any action plans for each department or unit should be handled according to the institution's procedures.
  • The completed checklist should be registered. Depending on the organization of the institution or unit, a checklist for each department, group, or equivalent may be submitted to the registrar. Alternatively, a collective checklist that consolidates the questions for the entire institution can be registered. In the latter case, the comments/actions field in the checklist can be used to comment on different departments/groups responding differently (e.g., that a particular procedure is implemented in three out of seven departments).
Examples of other checklists, recurring inspections
  • Regular structured fire safety inspections, where storage of flammable goods is checked, should be conducted in operations (2 times/year).
  • Radiation protection rounds, read more on subject pages for radiation protection.
Checklist - things to consider before and during periods of lower activity and fewer employees present

During for example the summer months there may be periods of low activity in laboratories and workshops. Before such periods of lower activity and fewer employees present, there are some important things to consider:

  • In general, opening hours at LiU are more limited during the summer, therefore it is important to always have your LiU card on you. It is also important to check in advance that you have access and authorisation to the premises where you will perform work tasks.
  • Keep in mind that doors are kept closed, not to let anyone in who you do not know is authorised to enter the premises and to make sure that doors are closed when you leave. More tips on general safety and security can be found at the liunet pages Things to think about before and during the summer.
  • Be sure to close the doors to the laboratories to reduce the risk of fire spreading.
  • If lab activity is expected to be low, for both safety and energy saving reasons, review which equipment can be completely shut down or put in some type of power saving mode. For example, equipment that depend on cooling systems/cooling water or gas supply, where it may be safer to shut down completely during a period when few employees are in place in the lab. Also, equipment that consumes a lot of energy should be shut down if they will not be used for a period.
  • Labs that have fume hoods can save energy by ensuring that the sash/window on a fume hood is completely pulled down when there are no experiments in progress.
  • For those who have tools or other equipment with rechargeable batteries, charging stations and the like should be completely disconnected.
  • Ensure that future deliveries will be taken care of regardless of whether the person that placed the order is on site or not. If possible, appoint someone who is responsible for ensuring that incoming goods will be taken care of. This is especially important for sensitive or dangerous goods.

More tips can be found in Swedish in the table of measures in Checklista - inför distansläge, nedstängning eller återgång till mer normal verksamhet (.docx) This checklist was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic as a support in how lab activities can be prioritised and how to prepare and conduct activities with different types of measures in remote mode (with few employees in the lab) and in the event of a possible closure of LiU (very few, specially designated employees would stay in the lab).

The checklist can also be used as a support to identify measures needed for longer breaks or closure of activities, for example during the summer months. The checklist has been published in an editable format, with the idea that it can be downloaded and adjusted to suit the needs of different local organisations.

Region Östergötland

Information about the “RH-check” is available in the safety portal under the button “Verktyg och metoder”. You must be logged in to gain access to this information.