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Basic Department Safety Rules

This is a summary of the general safety rules of the Laboratory. More detailed information and guidance is available for most of the topic areas. These are linked where appropriate.

1. Basic Information for Department Members
  • Joining the department
  • Reporting Close Calls and Accidents
  • Access and working Hours
  • Personal risk assessment and emergency info
  • Unattended operation of equipment
  • Travel and work away

2. Short-Term Visitors to the Department
  • Mobility and health conditions
  • Children
  • Conferences and public meetings
  • Individual visitors
  • Equipment servicing/supplier personnel and contractors

3. Building Maintenance and Alterations

4. Security Arrangements
  • Access to buildings
  • Identity badges
  • Avoidance of theft from the Department
5. Management of Hazards and Risks 

6. Specific Items of Importance
  • Fire
  • Ionising radiation
  • Chemical hazards and substances hazardous to health
  • Chemical waste disposal
  • Biological projects
  • Electrical hazards
  • Lasers
  • Cryogens
  • Compressed gases and high pressure systems
  • Vacuum systems
  • Lifting and manual handling
  • Display screen equipment
  • Personal protective equipment
  • Ladders

1. Basic Information

Joining the Department

All new entrants to the laboratory (except first year undergraduates) who are expected to stay for more than two weeks, are required to attend an Induction Briefing in the Department. These are organised by the Departmental Safety Officer (DSO) and take place twice a month. Other training may also be required for access to specific laboratories or hazardous items. Click here for details of training required and provided.The Department reserves the right to withdraw access card privileges from those who fail to undertake the required training, pending completion of the course.

New undergraduates will receive safety information when attending practicals. Those conducting projects in the department, will be asked to attend a safety briefing including advice on how to assess risks.

New Postgraduates need to attend the two-day course schedule laid on by the University Safety Office (notified to them individually). They will also need to attend the Department Graduate Induction Briefing. If there is some reason why this is not possible (e.g. arriving at another time of year) they are integrated into the normal staff induction progress.

Training is provided to ensure the Department and its users are kept safe and that legal requirements are also met. For full details visit this page.

Reporting close calls ("near misses") and accidents

Anything that caused injury or damage, or nearly did, must be reported. Please first make sure the problem is put right - call (01223 3)37499 if it is an emergency, or contact the person responsible for the area. THEN report anything that happened or could have done, via the AssessNET incident reporting system used at the University. It will notify the Safety Team and others to investigate with the aim of preventing the incident happening again.

If you called a first aider, they will start the incident reporting process.

Go to this page for further information:

Access and working hours

The Cavendish policy and procedures relating to working hours are on this page.

The Department is "Open" from 0730 to 1930, Monday to Friday. All other times are "Closed" hours, although work is permitted during these times with some restrictions.  "Core" hours are 0830 to 1645 on week days, during which time there is someone on duty at reception, and first aiders are on the premises.

Those wishing to work during closed hours, will need to read the policy and procedure  and:

  • Sign in on the Department out of hours register
  • A person may work alone in an office, on paperwork, without special permission of any kind.
  • All those working out of hours are expected to have a good working knowledge of the emergency procedures, since they may be the first to discover something that requires action.
  • The risk assessment for any work other than office work must have taken account of the increased risk of working out of hours. ONLY those with the requisite skills may work out-of-hours. ONLY those who have secured the agreement of their Research Group may work out of hours.
  • No-one may work alone in a laboratory area - there must always be someone within hearing and vision who would know what to do in an emergency.
  • Work on experiments that could cause a high risk in an emergency, such as work with hydrofluoric acid, is FORBIDDEN
  • Follow specific requirements outlined, e.g. notify the DSO of work planned during the long Christmas closure.

Personal risk assessment and emergency information

The Department is legally required to carry out a risk assessment for pregnant workers and new mothers. Please read this page, discuss issues with your manager or supervisor and if necessary, discuss the risks with the Departmental Safety Officer.

The Department must also draw up a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) for anyone who has restricted mobility and cannot use the stairs. This applies to people who are temporarily restricted (e.g. have a broken leg). In both these cases, please contact the DSO so that a procedure can be put in place for your safe evacuation in case of emergency.

If you have a health condition that requires special first aid treatment, such as diabetes, epilepsy or haemophilia, it would help if you would notify the DSO in confidence - this information is shared confidentially with Department first aiders only.

Unattended operation of equipment / emergency contact information

Much equipment in the laboratory runs continuously, and there is always the possibility of something going wrong with it while the owner is away. Each laboratory that contains equipment or items that could pose a serious risk to a person going in to investigate, must have a notice fixed to the door outlining the risks, and what should be done if a fault develops. Typical information would include the presence of:

  • Gas bottles in the room
  • High magnetic fields
  • Alarms in the room, and what should be done about them (especially if there is a reasonably foreseeable risk of asphyxiation); and
  • The location of the main electricity switch in the room
  • The location of any other services that may need to be shut down (e.g. gas lines, water)
  • A contact name and telephone number of someone with detailed understanding of the equipment in the room, who can be called in an emergency.

A template for the door labels is available here.

If your equipment is running outside of normal hours, fix a label to the apparatus with emergency out of hours contact names and phone numbers, so that security personnel and others can contact you if the system visibly fails.

Travel and work away

If you supervise students or staff, you must ensure a suitable risk assessment is in place for what they plan to do - the lower the risk, the simpler the risk assessment should be.There are University and Department requirements about travel or working away from Cambridge. Please refer to your Hub Admin team for details of risk assessment, insurance and other requirements. If you are a student, the Safeguarding Policy applies to you - full details of risk assessment requirements are here.

If you plan to work away for long period, you will need to follow the work away policy on the HR webpages.

Department procedures for implementing simple travel risk assessments for low risk travel, are being drawn up.


2. Short-term Visitors to the Department

Mobility and health conditions

If you have restricted mobility or a health condition that requires specific treatment, please notify the DSO - see above.


The buildings were not designed with children in mind, and therefore even the stairs and landings are dangerous in most of our older buildings. Obviously laboratory areas are even more dangerous. For this reason, children are allowed into only a few areas of the Department. Please see the children policy on the parent and family page here.

Conferences and public meetings

Those organising conferences, public meetings and larger scale visits should do a risk assessment relating to the safety and welfare of their guests. This risk assessment will determine the arrangements to be made and the information that the guests should be given about access, first aid, safety, fire and other arrangements related to their welfare. It will also define the means for delivery of the information. Further advice is available in the Department Code of Practice for Ensuring the Safety of Visitors. See 'visitors and events'.

Individual visitors

Longer term formal visitors are protected by the Department Visitor Policy, which has some health and safety aspects. Please see this page.

Equipment servicing/supplier personnel and contractors

Please ask your service personnel or contractors to report to the Maintenance Team on arrival, so they can receive a short induction briefing - this provides them with information about lab hazards to avoid, and helps us fulfil our legal duty to provide suitable information. Failure to do so has resulted in injuries to suppliers and contractors in the past. They will be asked to sign in and will be issued with a badge.

If installation of new equipment requires work on the building or its plant, please contact the facilities team before making arrangements with the supplier/contractor (

Contractors are legally required to have risk assessments for their work - we should ask to see their risk assessment for work on our site, to see how they will protect themselves and us from the risks of their work or their equipment.


3. Building Maintenance and Alterations

Estate Management (EM) is responsible for the care and maintenance of all University sites, buildings and grounds. However, in the Physics Department we carry out a large part of general and specialist lab maintenance using our own in-house Maintenance Team. All requests relating to premises maintenance or alternations of labs are to be directed to this team using or the intranet ticketing system here.

Note that, due to the presence of asbestos throughout much of the site, even simple operations such as drilling holes in walls will require explicit authorisation from the Maintenance Manager.


4. Security Arrangements

Access to Buildings

For reasons of safety and security outside doors to the buildings are locked at night and at weekends. Doors are normally open from 0730 to 1745 hours on Monday to Friday, and locked on weekends and bank holidays. The University Security Service carries out a limited patrol outside normal working hours.

Staff members, research associates and research students are issued with programmed cards to external doors on application to their Hub admin team. Cards are issued only after necessary health and safety training has been completed (see above). Those with cards must not allow others to follow them into the building unless that person can be positively identified and is known to have permission to enter the building out of hours. Abuse may result in the withdrawal of cards.

Entry to the Mullard Radio Astronomy Observatory, Barton Road (Lord's Bridge) is only by prior arrangement via the Astrophysics research Group. Casual visits are NOT permitted.

Identity Badges

All staff and research students are issued with identity badges bearing their name and photograph, which double as their access card. If you see any person on site without a badge, and about whom you have suspicions, ask politely 'How can I help you?' The response will generally enable you to decide whether they are a legitimate visitor or not. Do not put yourself in danger, but if you are suspicious about the credentials of anyone, call 37499 to alert the Emergency Team, and attempt to keep the person under observation. Out of normal working hours, the University Security Service will remove from the site any person who is unable to prove their identity. Security can be contacted by calling 37499.

Avoidance of Theft from the Department

It is the responsibility of all working in the Department to reduce to a minimum the likelihood of theft, and reduce to a practical minimum the loss should a break-in occur. By making the department less attractive to criminals or by making their 'job' more difficult, the risk to department and person can be minimised. This can be done by:

  • Ensuring that all doors and windows are locked securely whenever rooms are unoccupied, and especially out of normal working hours.
  • Marking all expensive items such as computers, printers, etc. in an indelible way to reduce their saleable value.
  • Keeping valuables out of sight and locked away whenever possible. Don't hang coats and jackets, place handbags near doors where wallets, etc. can be easily seen. Personal property is NOT covered by University insurance, and there have sadly been cases of people losing very large sums of money in this way.
  • Reporting sightings of any stranger/furtive behaviour/suspicious activities to the Lab Superintendent or Deputy Lab Superintendent via reception (37499) during normal working hours, or to the university security control out of hours (37499), immediately.

5. Management of Hazards and Risks

Click here for a simple guide to risk assessment, provided by the University Safety Office.

Click here for the index of pages that cover the main hazards in the department and how to manage risks from them.

Risk assessment is:

  • the responsibility of Principal investigators, supervisors and managers
  • primarily aimed at identifying problems and establishing a safe system of work
  • an essential part of design and set up of equipment, as well as use of hazardous substances and other work
  • required by law and by the University of Cambridge as well as the Department of Physics
  • integral to ensuring good experimental design
  • part of good management, and can save costs caused by accidents

People doing the work (postgraduate students, staff) can carry out the risk assessment for their work, but it must be agreed and signed off by their supervisor/manager.

Anyone doing work with significant risks, must have sufficient health and safety competence to do it safely - this will be determined by their supervisor or manager checking they have had appropriate training, instruction, and experience and they have appropriate capability to do the work.

Specific risk assessments are needed to consider risks to people potentially at higher risk, i.e. pregnant or new mothers (staff and graduate students), young workers (e.g. apprentices) and people with specific conditions or needs, e.g. with mobility restrictions. Please consult the Risk Management pages for more details.


6. Specific Items of Importance

The specific hazards mentioned below could give rise to severe risks resulting in permanent ill health, long term sickness or even death. They are common in scientific departments and must be dealt with carefully to keep people safe.


Fire is the largest risk at Physics and precautions are managed by the Facilities and Safety teams, based on advice from Estate Management and regular Fire Risk Assessments by their specialist consultant. Members of Physics are responsible for ensuring that waste materials from lab or other work do not build up and act as fuel in a fire, and that they do not block fire doors or fire exit routes. If you find any issues, please report these as soon as possible to the Facilities team or the DSO.

If you must keep fire doors open for a good reason, please ask the Facilities team to fit a "Dorgard" to your door. All fire doors must be kept shut when there is noone in the room.

Ionising Radiation

Your responsibilities as a member of Physics are on the Ionising Radiation page here. Some important points:

  • If you wish to work with X-ray generators or radioactive sources, you will need to become a "Registered User", even if you are a PI. This is a University requirement - links to their guidance are on the Ionising Radiaiton page. Some of the training takes place in-house - see this page.
  • Radioactive sources and X-ray machines must be registered with the departmental Radiation Protection Supervisors (RPSs), who will check the risk assessment and the local rules for the use of the equipment/sources.
  • Buying or moving X-ray generators will require a "Critical Examination" before the equipment can be legally used
  • Bringing a radioactive source on site without ensuring that the legal requirements have been met can result in action from the Health and Safety Executive, and may result in part of the Department being shut or in action in the courts. Please avoid this eventuality by keeping the RPSs well informed.
  • The RPSs are available for advice, and must be consulted before purchasing, using or disposing of any radioactive material or x-ray generating equipment.

Chemical Hazards and Substances Hazardous to Health

For information on this topic, please go to this page. Some important points:

  • At the University, you are required to attend the Safety Office chemical safety lecture if you plan to work in chemistry labs or make chemical preparations - see Physics training page for details.
  • A specific Hazardous Substance Risk Assessment is needed before using hazardous chemicals, chemical preparations, or processes that give off hazardous materials (e.g. metal fumes).
  • Chemicals should be stored and used only in areas that are suitable, e.g. flammable liquids must be stored in the designated cabinets.
  • The Department has a Chemical Safety Officer who can provide specialist advice - see this page.
  • Certain hazardous substances, notably nanoparticles, or those which are known to be sensitizers, carcinogens, mutagens or  toxic to reproduction, are subject to strict requirements for control of exposure. The University requires users to also fill in a 'COSHH Health Record Form' annually in October. This helps protect them in case of future issues.
  • Maintenance of the hardware for the fume cupboards, i.e. fans and filters, is undertaken by the Cavendish Maintenance team. The performance checks, such as measurements of face velocity, are undertaken by the Chemical Safety Officer. Faults in fume cupboards should be reported immediately to Maintenance, the Chemical Safety Officer or the Safety Officer.

Chemical Waste Disposal

For details on disposal of hazardous materials see this page. Some important points:

  • Chemical waste must not be poured down the sink unless it is with the explicit approval of the Chemical Safety Officer.
  • Solid hazardous waste must not be placed in the normal skip.
  • The Department has a facility for the storage of waste chemicals awaiting disposal by the specialist company. This facility is managed by the Department Chemical Officer. Details of what to do are here.

In the event of an emergency contact the Chemical Safety Officer and/or the Department Safety Officer.

Biological Projects

Work with plants (including algae) animal or human tissue and blood, or with unsterilised water and soil, all count as biological projects. To protect researchers and other from infection, and comply with legal requirements, it is essential to assess risks from these projects before they start. The right level of containment and correct handling protocols will need to be in place. Certain projects will require prior notice (minimum one month lead time) to be given to the Health and Safety Executive, and it is essential to plan for the disposal of any wastes.

  • Contact the Departmental Biological Safety Officer at the earliest opportunity if you are planning biological projects.
  • Special training is required if you plan to work with genetically modified organisms or materials.
  • The Biological safety page is here.
  • Biological wastes need special disposal arrangements - see this page.

Electrical Hazards

All work in the department involving electrical systems shall be conducted in accordance with the Electricity at Work Regulations 1989, and with the Department Electical Safety page . Faults that become apparent in the Laboratory supply network must be reported as soon as possible to the Facilities team. Noone, other than the authorised persons in Maintenance, is permitted to work on the mains supply to the Laboratory.

Some important points:

  • Maintain clear access at all times to the 'off' switch of the apparatus and the emergency power off - this is essential for rescuing people in case of electric shocks/electrocution
  • Place electric leads carefully to avoid them becoming trip hazards, or being damaged on the floor by abrasion, liquid nitrogen, water, etc.
  • Electrical apparatus built in-house, or commercial equipment adapted in-house, must be designed and constructed in accordance with regulations and standards, and built by a competent person. Refer to this page.
  • The Electronics Workshop can provide guidance on safety of designs incorporating hazardous voltages
  • Portable appliances (with plugs) that are not double insulated, will require an in-service inspection (AKA 'PAT' test) by our electrical safety test contractor or other qualified person
  • Only qualified persons may do work on live electrical equipment (including removing cables), under a permit to work
  • Electrical installation (building wiring) is managed by the Facilities team.


If you plan to or already work with lasers, your responsibilities are listed on the Laser Safety page here.

Some important points:

  • To work with lasers at the University of Cambridge, you must be an "Authorised User" - details of how to become one are on the laser safety page. Training takes place in-house- see this page.
  • Notify the Department's Laser Safety Officer (LSO) BEFORE installing or altering laser experiment, and when planning significant change in laser use
  • Notify the LSO of all new lasers of classes 3 or 4 lasers, and laser safety contacts for each room, and changes to people authorised to use lasers

Cryogens/piped nitrogen supplies

The Department guide is here. Cryogenic gases can cause death or severe burns that kills tissues.

Some important points:

  • Liquid nitrogen and Helium do not support life. Small volumes of liquid will evaporate into large volumes of gas that displaces oxygen, and death can result without warning.
  • Before bringing a cylinder or Dewar into a room, or connecting up gas lines, carry out a calculation of the risk in case of leaks. Use the gas calculator.
  • If there is a reasonably foreseeable risk that a room may become depleted of oxygen, a fixed oxygen monitor or at least two portable monitors must be place in the affected area. Another monitor must be available outside in case those in the room go off. Monitors must be turned on, maintained and checked they are running correctly. Make sure everyone knows what to do if an alarm goes off.
  • Cryogenic equipment under pressure must have up to date pressure reliefs, safety valves and vent lines maintained to prevent the build up of pressure and possible explosion or uncontrolled gas release.
  • Liquefied cryogenic gases can cause severe cold burns and death of tissues if allowed to come into contact with the skin or other delicate tissues such as eyes.
  • Wear the correct protective clothing (face protection, gloves with closed cuffs) if there is a risk of splashing cryogens onto skin or into eyes


Compressed Gases and High Pressure Systems

The code of practice is here, relating to compressed gases. The code for pressure vessels is here.

Gas bottles are pressure vessels, as are Dewars, and it is essential that people intending to use them, fit regulators, transport them, etc. are given training in the correct methods.

At the Cavendish, we have an agreement with BOC to not only supply gases, but to deliver them to the bench within a short time frame. Full details of BOC arrangements are here.

Regulations exist to guard against the unintended release of stored energy, and the very serious injuries that may arise from high pressure systems. Systems must be properly designed, constructed, tested and protected. Refer to the department code of practice, linked above. Competence in this area is fromm attending the University Safetey Office training and in-lab training by BOC on handling cylinders.

All pressure systems which contain steam, and those which contain gases or liquid gases and have a product of pressure and volume that exceeds 250 bar litres must be notified to the Department Safety Officer. These will require formal inspection by the insurers, and include some coffee machines, as well as compressor air receivers and chillers.

Vacuum Systems

Containers maintained at reduced pressure and made from brittle materials, such as glass, pose a significant risk of injury if they should implode. Suitable guarding should be fitted to items such as desiccators and glass cryostats.

It is not uncommon for vacuum systems to be connected to compressed gases, and the possibility that the gas supply can pressurise the vacuum system must be assessed and prevented.

Lifting and Manual Handling

Manual handling includes lifting, pushing, pulling and otherwise using bodily force to move heavy items. The Facilities team can assist in using their handling equipment to move most heavy items. For smaller items, trolleys and carrying aids are available to use.

All manual handling tasks that have the potential to cause injury need to have a risk assessment, and some guidance on both manual handling and the use of lifting equipment is given in the department code of practice.

Mechanical lifting aids, such as lifting bars, chains, cranes and slings are preferred where the load is heavy and/or awkward to handle. The choice of lifting aid should be the subject of risk assessment and the person(s) using it should be given adequate training.

Please ensure any lifting equipment such as genie lifts, hoists, slings, chains you have are on the department register, kept by the Safety Officer, so that it is insured and regularly checked by our insurer in compliance with the law. ALL new lifting equipment, shackles, chains, slings, etc. MUST be accompanied by a manufacturer's test certificate, which must be passed on to the Department Safety Officer on delivery. Any lifting tackle failing our insurer's inspections must be replaced, or repaired promptly as specified by the Inspector.

Passenger lifts are managed by the University Estates Management service. Any faults noticed by lift users must be reported to the Facilities team.

Display Screen Equipment

Display Screen Equipment (DSE - which includes desktops, laptops, tablets) carries a risk of injury to the upper limbs and the back, mainly from poor work station layout or work practices. This has resulted in the past in staff and students having many weeks off work. Please read and follow the instructions on the Computer Safety webpage.

All staff must complete a DSE workstation self-assessment and discuss this with their manager. If there are serious issues, please discuss with the DSO.

Personal Protective Equipment

Personal Protective Equipment (face masks, goggles, glove) is the last resort for controlling risks, because it only protects the wearer, is easy to use incorrectly, and does not fit everyone well. Its use, where appropriate, will be specified by the Risk Assessment for the activity. Consult the Department Code of Practice for the choice of suitable equipment.


All ladders and steps must be notified to the Maintenance section, where a list is kept and annual inspection is arranged. Please report any defects to Facilieis asap and take the ladder or steps out of use (label as "Faulty - do not use") until repaired or replaced.

Purchasers are reminded of the need to buy of approved quality (BS EN 131 or BS2307, Light Trade minimum, or Class 1 or 2). Steps that are of 'Domestic' grade will fail their inspection and will have to be disposed of.