Right to Know

Students working in an active lab


We believe that it is important for students to be made aware of their "Right to Know" regarding the laboratory facilities, equipment, and potentially hazardous chemicals which may be used in a laboratory course.

New York State Right To Know (RTK) Laws are meant to inform people of the dangers of hazardous materials. All Right To Know Legislation is designed to help employees recognize and eliminate the potential dangers associated with the use of hazardous materials in their workplace. The Right To Know Law is administered for the State of New York, by the New York Department of Health, under their more broad based Public Employee Hazardous Chemical Protection & Right To Know Rules.

Linked below is the information you have the right to know:

Check-in and Safety Documents, including the Student Safety Quiz, can be found at Documents and Lab Safety Forms.

"Right to Know" Safety Information for Students in Undergraduate Chemistry Laboratory Courses

The Chemistry Department at SUNY Geneseo has developed a Student Safety Program and has developed policies that will minimize your exposure to hazardous situations that may occur in courses. This information is based on the Department of Chemistry Student Safety Program, and applies to CHEM 119, 209, 216, 301, 313, 331, 342, and 361.

The SUNY Geneseo and Departmental Safety Policies represent a Student’s Right to Know about any potentially hazardous situation that you may be placed in while performing an experiment. For this reason, before you begin any experiments, your faculty instructor, teaching assistant and Stockroom personnel will go over any safety precautions of which you should be aware and show you how to perform any particularly difficult or potentially dangerous procedures. Your faculty instructor will also emphasize any personal protective equipment and other safety equipment needed. All safety procedures will also be documented in writing, either as a part of the laboratory procedure, or as a handout. They may also be discussed in the lecture part of the course. You should ask your faculty instructor, if you feel that you do not fully understand the instructions or information given to you about the hazards of any experiment. Once properly instructed, it is your responsibility to follow all safety procedures.

The experiments in these laboratories have been chosen or modified to use relatively safe chemicals and procedures as much as possible. However, all chemicals have a certain level of hazard and toxicity. Therefore, the use of hazardous chemicals cannot be avoided. Your laboratory work in CHEM 119, 209, 216, 301, 313, 331, 342, and 361 will minimize the use of any chemicals listed as carcinogens or acutely toxic materials in the SUNY Geneseo Chemical Hygiene Plan. However, some of the experiments do use chemicals that are hazardous (flammability, toxicity, etc.), and special precautions are required. As part of the pre-lab for each experiment, you are expected to review and note the safety precautions and procedures for that experiment. The faculty instructor may check this part of your pre-lab before you are permitted to begin the experiment.

When using organic solvents, use the chemical fume hoods and protective gloves. If students in advanced classes or undergraduate research work with carcinogenic or acutely toxic materials, they must use gloves and lab coats in addition to goggles and use a special designated area. There is always the possibility of individual sensitivity or allergy to any substance. If you experience any unusual irritation, itching, or burning of the skin, respiratory tract or eyes, stop the experiment and report the situation to your faculty instructor and/or stockroom personnel. Anyone with any relevant physical or medical condition (pregnancy, epilepsy, history of severe allergies, etc.) that might pose difficulties with laboratory operations are strongly recommended to report these conditions to the laboratory and course instructor.

Picture of proper safety goggles

The most important personal protective equipment is EYE PROTECTION!! ALL PERSONS IN THE LABORATORY SHALL WEAR GOGGLES WITH IMPACT AND SPLASH PROTECTION whenever any chemicals or experimental equipment are in use or on the benches anywhere in the laboratory. This includes the full laboratory period except during introductory discussions by the faculty and staff or after all experiments are done and all equipment and chemicals are stored and students are only using the computers.  Full coverage splash and impact goggles (ANSI Spec. Z87.1-2003) (SUNY Geneseo PPE Program) must be worn. Have your faculty instructor or stockroom staff check them for you. You must have a pair that you can wear throughout your laboratory experiment. Ordinary plastic safety glasses or impact-only goggles are not acceptable. Impact goggles have a large number of ventilation holes around the face piece and do not offer protection from chemical splash. ***Acceptable safety goggles are available at the Campus Bookstore.***

Students must wear a protective laboratory coat during experimentation. Because of their lack of protection, shorts, capri pants, and short dresses are not allowed in academic laboratories. Open sandals, ballerina flats, crocks, and bare feet are forbidden in the laboratory. Shoes must cover the entire foot and be completely enclosed, and socks must be worn to ensure that there is no exposed skin between one's shoes and their clothing that is covering their legs.  Low-cut no-show socks are not allowed. Clothing items such as tank tops, muscle shirts, sleeveless-Ts, halter, and midriff tops are inappropriate for laboratory work even under a lab coat.  Individuals with long hair must tie it back to keep it away from fire, chemicals, and moving equipment. Bracelets, necklaces, neckties, and similar loose items of attire may create a hazardous situation and so they must be confined or not worn in the laboratory.

** Students will not be allowed to enter the laboratory if not properly clothed and may receive a ‘zero’ for that day’s experiment and may not be allowed to make up the experiment. **

Accidents in the Laboratory

Image of a Chemical Spill

In the case of personal injury or exposure to chemicals, the highest priority is that you be treated in an appropriate and timely fashion. For all accidents, no matter how insignificant the injury seems, you will be advised to seek further medical attention. In the case of ingested chemicals, chemicals in the eyes, or other serious injuries, you will be required to seek further medical attention.


Be careful when dealing with glass tubing and glassware in general. The most common laboratory injury involves cuts by the misuse of glass tubing. In case of minor cuts, prudent policy dictates that you immediately rinse the area in flowing cold tap water for several minutes to permit a controlled loss of blood that might contain infectious material. After rinsing and washing, immediately report the cut to your faculty instructor or the stockroom staff, who will give you further instructions. Be advised that use of a Band-Aid is only temporary. Any cut must be kept under observation and further medical assistance must be obtained. You will be advised to seek further medical attention for all cuts. In case of more serious cuts or injuries that result in bleeding, consult your faculty instructor or stockroom staff immediately for instructions. Prudent practices dictate that all human blood be considered potentially contaminated with blood borne pathogens. Make every reasonable effort to avoid transfer of your blood to another individual.

All accidents in the laboratory, no matter how minor, must be reported to the laboratory instructor and/or a stockroom professional, who must initiate the accident reporting process via informing campus police. Campus police will complete and review the accident report form with the affected student(s).  If chemical exposure is involved, a printed Safety Data Sheet(s) will be provided to you at this time so you can take it to your medical caregiver at your discretion.

You should keep in mind that you bear some of the responsibility for preventing accidents in the laboratories by following the directions given to you by your instructor. For example, an eye injury occurring because you neglected to wear eye protection after initial instruction and reminders to do so would be considered primarily your fault and the college may determine that you could bear the responsibility of the cost of treatment.

The other pieces of safety equipment and protective equipment that you must know how to use are:

  • Eyewashes are located in every teaching laboratory. Take the time to locate the nearest eyewash before the laboratory begins. In case of any chemical in the EYES, wash with water at the eye wash station for at least 15 minutes. ASK FOR HELP. DAMAGE TO EYES TAKES PLACE IN SECONDS! The eye wash may also be used if you get any chemicals in your mouth or nose.
  • The showers are located just above the eyewash in the entrance way in rooms ISC 314, 315, 318, and 319. If you should spill corrosive material over a large region of your clothing or body, USE THE SHOWER! The showers may also be used if your clothing catches on fire. HOWEVER, DO NOT pull the shower valve unless the shower is needed. When turned on, the shower will remain on until the handle is pushed back.
  • The closest telephone for the general teaching laboratories is in the hall near the stairwells. This telephone is for the students to use ONLY IN CASE OF EMERGENCIES.   There is also a telephone in the stockroom.  Each of these telephones has signs with posted contact emergency information in close proximity.
  • The fire alarms are at either end of the hall by each stairwell. Please make sure that you can locate these before entering the lab. In case of a fire on your bench, leave the vicinity, alert your faculty instructor and let the faculty instructor extinguish the fire or determine if evacuation is necessary. If your clothing catches fire, you need to stop, drop and roll to smother the flames or use the shower to extinguish the flames.
  • Chemical Fume Hoods: There are several experiments that will require you to work in the fume hoods. The hoods cannot protect you from noxious chemicals unless you use them properly. Be sure the exhaust fan timers are turned on and that the hood flow sensors indicate that the hood is functioning properly. Never turn off the hood flow sensor. If it is in an alarm state, the hood is not functioning properly. For proper ventilation, the sash (the front door that slides either vertically or horizontally) must be pulled down or placed past the red arrow on the sticker on the front. If you are unsure of these arrows or lines, ask your faculty advisor to show you how to properly use the hoods.Chemical fume hood
  • WASTE CONTAINERS: There are many hazardous wastes generated in the teaching laboratories. ABSOLUTELY NO WASTE CHEMICALS, FILTER PAPERS, OR GLASS ARE TO BE PUT IN LANDFILL TRASH BASKETS OR POURED DOWN THE DRAIN. Broken and waste glassware must be placed in glass disposal boxes. There will be waste containers provided for every type of waste generated from your experiments and/or a Waste Log/Personal Waste Sheet for you to enter the identity and quantity of waste each time you use the container.  Chemical incompatibility can result in explosion and fire, so chemical waste must only be disposed of in the container designated for that waste. If you are not sure where to dispose of your waste, ask your faculty instructor to help you. If a waste container is full, tell your faculty instructor so they can provide another one. Clean or soapy rinse water should be poured down the drain. Do not unnecessarily increase the volume of chemical waste by dilution.
Safety Data Sheets (SDSs)

image of an sdsThe SDS is a set of data prepared by the manufacturer of a chemical that gives important physical, chemical, health, and safety information for users of all chemicals. SDS must be sent the first time anyone purchases a chemical from a particular firm. Subsequent purchases from the same firm do not need a SDS unless changes have been made. Federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations require that employers make these available to any employees in the work-place. SDSs are similar to MSDSs, but are standardized and uniform, whereas MSDSs are not.  SDS became the new standard beginning and 2013. 

More information about this can be found on Stockroom SDS Webpage. SDS associated with Chemistry academic laboratory chemicals and some archival MSDSs for legacy chemicals are available in the Chemistry Stockroom (ISC 329) and at the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) office (585-245-5512). Many SDSs are also available on the internet.

You are required by the SUNY Geneseo Safety Program and the Chemical Hygiene Plan to be informed of the following about SDSs:

There is a specific list of 16 parts of information that must be on a SDS in a uniform format. This is explained further on the Chemistry Stockroom SDS Page. There are SDS available from various industrial safety firms. For pure materials the available SDS does not have to be from the company that makes the actual chemical that is in use. No one outside of the company preparing the SDS is required to check it for accuracy. SDSs have been known to contain erroneous, incomplete, or outdated information. SDSs from different sources may contain conflicting information. Companies obviously make an effort to have SDSs as accurate as possible, but always will include a statement such as:

*Note: Since other Agencies regulate this information, OSHA will not be enforcing Sections 12 through 15. 

(29 CFR 1910.1200(g)(2))

In the Hazard Section, SDSs often use some common terms or phrases. Generalized meanings of these terms and the corresponding precautions that should be taken are listed below. These terms also often appear on labels.

Section 4, First-aid measures includes important symptoms/ effects, acute, delayed; required treatment. Section 5, Fire-fighting measures lists suitable extinguishing techniques, equipment; chemical hazards from fire. Section 6, Accidental release measures lists emergency procedures; protective equipment; proper methods of containment and cleanup. Section 7, Handling and storage lists precautions for safe handling and storage, including incompatibilities. Section 8, Exposure controls/personal protection lists OSHA's Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs); Threshold Limit Values (TLVs); appropriate engineering controls; personal protective equipment (PPE). Section 9, Physical and chemical properties lists the chemical's characteristics. Section 10, Stability and reactivity lists chemical stability and possibility of hazardous reactions. Section 11, Toxicological information includes routes of exposure; related symptoms, acute and chronic effects; numerical measures of toxicity. Section 12, Ecological information* Section 13, Disposal considerations* Section 14, Transport information* Section 15, Regulatory information* Section 16, Other information, includes the date of preparation or last revision.


These topics or types of information must be covered in the SDS:

Section 1, Identification includes product identifier; manufacturer or distributor name, address, phone number; emergency phone number; recommended use; restrictions on use. Section 2, Hazard(s) identification includes all hazards regarding the chemical; required label elements. Section 3, Composition/information on ingredients includes information on chemical ingredients; trade secret claims.

Hazards Associated With Handling Chemicals

NFPA Diamond Symbol.  There will be numbers in the blue, red, and yellow diamonds ranging from 1 to 4.  The higher the number, the more imminent the danger.  In other words, be more cautious.Consider all chemicals potentially toxic unless you have specific information to the contrary. If you should get any chemical in your eyes or mouth, rinse quickly with clean, cold water. Avoid breathing the vapors of any chemicals and any contact with skin or clothing.

Some experiments require that you work with many different chemicals. Read the label on the chemical you use carefully. Many unexpected and dangerous reactions have occurred due to using the wrong reagent. Report any unlabeled containers to your faculty instructor or stockroom staff.

In order for you to understand the hazards of the chemicals, a list of definitions commonly used to describe chemicals is provided. Please read over this list so that you fully understand what each term means. (This list is adapted from “Safety in Chemistry Laboratories”, published by the American Chemical Society).  The following list DOES NOT imply that you will have contact with chemicals exhibiting the described terms and definitions.  Each individual lab course uses a variety of chemicals, and the chemicals may differ from lab to lab.  This list is only informational, in order to inform you of the definitions and potential hazards therein.


A general rule for all chemicals, even if they are considered non-hazardous.


Substances which are suspected or known to cause cancer. Some have threshold limits of exposure. The use of these chemicals is avoided in the general chemistry laboratories.


Living tissue as well as equipment is destroyed on contact with these chemicals. PRECAUTIONS: Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing.


Substances that have known harmful effects or which may have harmful effects, but have no available literature citing such effects. PRECAUTIONS: Treat as if these are the most dangerous chemicals that exist. There may or may not be serious hazards associated with these chemicals.


Substances known to explode under some conditions. PRECAUTIONS: Avoid shock (dropping), friction, sparks, and heat. Isolate from other chemicals which become hazardous when spilled.


Substances which give off vapors that readily ignite under usual working conditions. PRECAUTIONS: Keep away from heat, sparks, or open flame. Use in hood or other well ventilated area whenever possible.


Substances that have an irritant effect on skin, eyes, respiratory tract, etc. PRECAUTIONS: Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin and eyes.


Substances that have an irritant or burning effect on skin, eyes, or respiratory tract. These are dangerous in very small quantities (opening the cap has an immediate effect on eyes). PRECAUTIONS: Only open in hood! Do not breathe vapors. Avoid contact with skin, eyes. Avoid heating.


Chemical or physical agents that cause genetic alterations. PRECAUTIONS: Handle with extreme care! Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin, eyes, or clothing.


Substances which form peroxides or hydroperoxides upon standing or when in contact with air. PRECAUTIONS: Many peroxides are explosive! Do not open the bottle if a residue is present on the outside of the cap or inside the bottle.


Substances that have very serious and often irreversible effects on the body. Hazardous when breathed, swallowed, or in contact with the skin, and in sufficient quantity lead to death. PRECAUTIONS: Avoid all contact with the body. When handling use suitable protective equipment.


Substances which have or generate bad smelling odors. PRECAUTIONS: Open only in the hood!


Substances that cause the production of physical defects in a developing fetus or embryo. PRECAUTIONS: Handle with extreme care! Do not breathe vapors and avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing. Use suitable protective equipment when handling.


Substances which are hazardous to health when breathed, swallowed or are in contact with the skin. There is danger of serious damage to health by short or prolonged exposure. PRECAUTIONS: Avoid all contact with body. When handling use suitable protective equipment.

Training of SUNY Geneseo Personnel

According to federal OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations, all employees that use or may be exposed to hazardous chemicals in the workplace must be provided with certain safety training by their employer. Your faculty instructors, teaching assistants, stockroom professionals, and stockroom students have received safety training which includes general chemistry safety, eye protection policies, use of hoods, management of hazardous waste, spill control, use of SDSs, certain emergency procedures, and departmental student safety policies. The document that directs this training is the SUNY Geneseo Chemical Hygiene Plan Program. All employers are required by OSHA regulations to have a chemical hygiene plan. OSHA regulations do not apply to students directly, but the SUNY Geneseo Chemical Hygiene Plan does apply to all employees, including academic and professional faculty and employed stockroom and research students. SUNY Geneseo safety policies that apply to students include the Laboratory Safety and Stockroom Rules and the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) policy (which includes the Eye Protection Policy). These policies are available for you to read.

Authority of Faculty, Stockroom Staff, LIs, TAs and Other Personnel

Academic Faculty, Professional Faculty, and Teaching Assistants (TAs) in charge of laboratory courses are authorized to enforce college and departmental safety and teaching policies. If necessary they reserve the right to dismiss a student from a laboratory under their supervision.

Supervision of Chemistry Students in Laboratory

Image of an active advanced chemistry laboratory courseAn important provision of the SUNY Geneseo Student Safety Policy states that students using hazardous chemicals, or certain hazardous procedures, shall be constantly supervised by a properly trained faculty instructor or laboratory coordinator in charge of the course. If for any reason constant supervision cannot be maintained, the use of the chemical or procedure must cease until supervision can be reestablished. Faculty should ensure students are supervised. Faculty are usually constantly moving about the laboratory, giving help if necessary, and watching out for problems. If some emergency occurs that requires the faculty’s attention, it is the students’ responsibility to stop the experiment as soon as safely possible and also alert the faculty supervisor.

Additional Information

For more laboratory safety information please visit the SUNY Geneseo EHS home page.

Next steps:

Read the Emergency Evacuation Form and complete it if necessary.
Go to safety questions: Student Safety Questions