Philadelphia University + Thomas Jefferson University

Research Volunteer Education

In accordance with the policies and procedures of Thomas Jefferson University, volunteers are to receive training in laboratory safety.  The information in this training module is meant to provide a general overview of the topics.  For more complete information, you will need to attend a Lab Safety training class.  These classes are held monthly, and a listing of the dates and times of the classes can be found at Office of Research Administration.  Your Principle Investigator can assist you in finding this information.

Bloodborne Pathogen Standard

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) administers the Bloodborne Pathogen Standard.  It is a standard that requires that all material originating from humans be treated as potentially infectious no matter the perceived low risk of where that material comes from.  This includes blood, body fluids, semen, vaginal secretions, saliva, human organs, human tissues, and human cells, even if these cells come from a commercial source, such as ATCC.

Bloodborne pathogens are organisms that use blood or body fluids to spread.  Currently, there are three known viruses of particular concern.  These are HIV, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus)

HIV is a disease of the immune system that makes it difficult to fight disease and infections.  Once infected, it can take months to years for symptoms to develop.  Common symptoms include fevers and night sweats, swollen lymph glands, rapid weight loss, fatigue, rashes, white spots in the mouth (thrush).  Infection with the virus is still often fatal in time.  While medications can control symptoms and prevent secondary infections, there is currently no vaccination or cure for HIV.  Infection is spread through direct contact with blood, body fluids, or human tissues/cells.

In the research setting, the highest risk comes from working directly with the virus, from a scratch with a pipette tip while working in cell culture or an accidental needlestick while inoculating animals.  It is also possible to become HIV positive through an accidental injection of a lentiviral construct during a research project.  In this case, while showing positive on an HIV test, the symptoms of the disease would not occur.

To protect yourself, always wear gloves when working in the lab, use safety needles for injections, and make sure animals are well anesthetized during the injection procedure.

Hepatitis B Virus (HBV)


Hepatitis C is also a risk to healthcare workers.  Like HBV, HCV also attacks the liver, but the symptoms are a milder version of those found in Hepatitis B.  It can take from 2 to 26 weeks for an infection to develop following exposure.  Also like HBV, the infection can become chronic and lead to cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.  There is no vaccination available for HCV.

In the research setting, the highest risk comes from working directly with the virus, from a scratch with a pipette tip while working in cell culture or an accidental needlestick while inoculating animals.

To prevent infection by any of these viruses or other bloodborne pathogens, always wear gloves while working in the lab.  When not working in the biosafety cabinet (BSC), wear eye protection, i.e. for moving cell cultures between the biosafety Cabinet (BSC) and the incubator.  After removing your gloves, make sure to wash your hands before leaving the work area or donning another pair of gloves.  If an exposure does occur, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water or flush your eyes out at an eye wash station, report the incident to your supervisor, complete an accident report, and report to Occupational Health Network (OHN).  If the incident occurs before or after OHN’s regular business hours (7:30am-4:00pm), then report to TJU’s emergency room.


Fire Safety

Fires require fuel, oxygen, and heat.  These are the components of the fire triangle. A fire will break out whenever these items come together in the right amounts.  By the same token, if you remove any one of these items from the equation, you can prevent a fire from happening.

If a fire should occur, you need to follow the steps below.  The first letter of each step spells the word RACE; the acronym you should ALWAYS remember no matter where a fire occurs.

  • Rescue-anyone in immediate danger.  Also be aware of your fellow lab personnel that may need some assistance leaving the area: the co-worker who is 7-8 months pregnant, a co-worker just back from surgery, someone who has a broken leg and is wearing a boot, etc…
  • Alarm-activate the pull station closest to your area and dial “811” from a campus phone.  You can also use your cell phone to dial 215-955-8888.  This is equivalent to using the local number for your police station or dialing “911.”  “811” will bring assistance quicker but if you feel uncomfortable with stopping long enough to use a Jefferson phone, then use the local number.
  • Confine-close the door behind you
  • Evacuate.  Leave the building using the fire tower stairs.  If you feel that the fire is small enough to be extinguished with a single extinguisher AND you feel comfortable using one, then attempt to extinguish the fire.  MAKE SURE you have left yourself an escape path.  NEVER allow the fire to get between you and your exit!

To use a fire extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS.

  • Pull the pin.  (Some fire extinguishers may require releasing a lock latch or pressing a puncture lever.)
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.  You should be standing six to ten feet away from the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle in five-second bursts.  Do not move towards the fire too soon.  If you do, you may push the fire backward where it can flare up.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side across the base of the fire.

Hazard Communication

OSHA has another standard called the “Hazard Communication Standard.”  It requires employers to ensure the safety of their employees who work with hazardous materials.  Since many of these materials are chemical in nature, that is what the standard focuses on.

A chemical is considered hazardous if it is likely to cause harm.  Chemicals can have two types of hazards: physical and health

  • Physical hazards are related to the way that a chemical interacts with other substances or the environment.  A chemical that is physically hazardous can harm you by exploding, igniting, or reacting violently with other substances.
  • Health hazards are related to the way that a chemical interacts with your body.  If you are exposed to a chemical hazardous to your health, you could suffer short term injury or illness, long term damage, or even death.

In order for a chemical to harm you, you must be exposed to it.  You can suffer a chemical exposure by any one of the following means.


  • Eyes - Many chemicals can burn or irritate the eyes.  In some cases, chemicals may be absorbed through the eyes and enter the bloodstream.
  • Skin - Some chemicals can burn the skin.  Other chemicals may pass through the skin unnoticed and enter the bloodstream.

Inhalation - The most common type of exposure occurs when chemicals are inhaled into the lungs.  Inhaled chemicals may irritate your nose and throat, damage your lungs, or enter your bloodstream through your lungs.

Ingestion - You may ingest hazardous chemicals while smoking, eating (this includes chewing gum), or drinking.  This is why NONE of these activities are permitted within the laboratory.  After finishing with a hazardous chemical, remove your gloves and wash your hands.  And, remember to ALWAYS wash your hands before leaving the lab to smoke, eat/drink, or use the restrooms.

Injection - Injection occurs if you are cut by a tool, instrument, or needle that has been contaminated with a chemical.

Exposures can result in either local and/or systemic effects.  A local effect occurs when the chemical causes damage at the point where it first contacts the body, such as a burn caused by hydrochloric acid.  A systemic effect occurs when the chemical enters the bloodstream and travels throughout the body, such as the cancer effects caused by benzene.  The organs most commonly harmed include the liver, kidneys, heart, brain, and reproductive organs.

Every hazardous chemical has a Safety Data Sheet, or SDS, formerly known as a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS).  These sheets outline key information about the chemical and are organized into 16 sections.  The 16 sections are identification, hazard(s) identification, composition, first-aid measures, fire-fighting measures, accident release measures, handling and storage, personal protection, physical and chemical properties, stability and reactivity, toxicology information, ecological information, disposal considerations, transport information, regulatory information, and other information.  It is YOUR responsibility to read these sheets BEFORE using the chemical and asking questions of your supervisor or Environmental Health and Safety if you do not understand something contained within the SDS.

The standard also requires that a list of hazardous chemicals be present in the lab and that the SDS for each chemical be available to the personnel working in that area at all times.  These are often kept together in a binder alphabetically.  OSHA also permits them to be saved on a computer, as long as that computer is accessible to all employees, including volunteers, at all times.

Lastly, the Hazard Communication Standard requires that all containers be labeled with

  • product identifier-the product identifier on the label should match the one used on the SDS
  • signal word- indicates the relative level of the hazard, i.e. “Danger” for more severe categories and “Warning” for less severe
  • hazard statement(s)-are assigned to a hazard class and category to describe the nature and degree of the hazard  For example,
    • Fatal if swallowed
    • Toxic if swallowed
    • Harmful if swallowed
    • May be harmful if swallowed
  • pictogram(s)-there are nine  Some are used for more than one class of hazard, and a label may contain more than one pictogram
  • precautionary statement(s)-A phrase that describes recommended measures to be taken to minimize or prevent adverse effects resulting from exposure to a hazardous chemical or improper storage or handling of a hazardous chemical.  Some examples are:  1) First Aid information, 2) “Keep away from heat,” or 3) the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to wear.
  • the name, address, telephone number of the manufacturer.

Stock bottles that come from the manufacturer will be labeled correctly.  However, it is up to YOU to label any secondary containers used in the lab appropriately.  For example, if you pour 100mls of alcohol into a 250ml bottle from the original stock bottle, it is now your responsibility to label the 250ml bottle to match the stock bottle.

Emergency Management

Please refer to Thomas Jefferson University’s Internal Disaster Plan (Policy #199.40) located on the TJU Intranet for detailed information.

Bomb Threat - if you receive a call or letter indicating that there is a bomb on campus, STAY CALM.  For a phone call, listen carefully and obtain as much information as you can (bomb location, when will it go off? bomb type?).  Note the time of the call, caller’s sex, voice characteristics, any background noises, and whether the call is internal or external.  Proceed to call “811” and follow the instructions you will be provided.

Suspicious Package - If you receive a suspicious package, call “811” from a Jefferson phone.  Do NOT use your cell phone to make this call, as that act could actually detonate the package.  A suspicious package is defined as a package that contains an address label with missing or incorrect information and/or no return address, is lopsided, has a strange odor, is stained on the exterior, or has wires protruding from it (indicating a possible explosive device).

Internal/External Disasters - Remain calm and await instructions from Emergency personnel.

Spills - It is expected that you can handle small spills of biological and chemical materials.  For large spills, cordon off and restrict access to the area, and call “811.”  Provide as much information as you can: what spilled, how much, was any one hurt, etc… Please don’t leave the general area, so that the Emergency response personnel can talk to you prior to entering the area to clean up.

Accident Reporting

If you have any type of accident (a chemical or biological exposure or an overexertion injury as a result of moving a box) while on Jefferson’s campus, notify your supervisor immediately.  Your supervisor will complete an accident report and send you either to UHS if you have suffered a biological or chemical exposure or to HealthMark for a physical injury, such as an overexertion injury.  If the accident or exposure occurs before or after regular business hours, please report to Jefferson’s emergency room.  After treatment has been provided, you will be asked to report to UHS or HealthMark the following business day. 

Other Policies

There are many other policies that affect you as a volunteer on Jefferson’s research team.  Some of these policies are listed below.  It is strongly suggested you read them before beginning your project at Jefferson as a volunteer.  They can all be found by signing onto Pulse and choosing “University Policies” from the left hand menu.  They are listed in alphabetical order or you can search for them by title, policy #, or keyword.

Policy #110.16


Policy for Volunteers and External Employee Participation in Research Laboratories

Policy #119.36

Disposal of Biohazardous Material from Research/Teaching Laboratories

Policy #119.48

Bloodborne Pathogens-Exposure Control Plan

Policy #200.11

Drug and Alcohol Policy