Fact Sheet
Laboratory Security

Universities are recognized as places that use a wide assortment of highly hazardous materials. When working with these materials every day, it is easy to forget about the harm these materials can cause if they are stolen. Also, it easy to overlook the risk of highly hazardous materials that are used very infrequently. Following the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the "anthrax letters" sent the same month, much attention has been directed to practical measures that will keep hazardous materials out of the hands of terrorists and criminals.

Principal investigators need to take specific actions to prevent unauthorized entry to labs, secure highly hazardous materials against theft, and ensure compliance with new security regulations. Environmental Health & Safety urges principal investigators to implement procedures necessary to provide security of all hazardous materials in their areas of responsibility. One objective is to minimize the risk of theft, especially during that five-minute window when the lab is left unattended. One easy way to increase security is to make sure that your laboratory door is locked whenever the lab is left unattended, even for a few minutes.

Many laboratories already implement various security measures, including locking up controlled substances and syringes and needles. Principal investigators should review and assess the security of their highly hazardous materials, such as infectious agents, toxins, radioactive materials, acutely toxic chemicals, carcinogens, teratogens, explosive or reactive chemicals, and compressed gases. The following guidelines were adapted from Appendix F of the CDC/NIH publication, Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories. The guidelines are intended to reduce the risk for unauthorized removal of hazardous materials from your laboratory:

  1. Recognize that laboratory security is related to but different from laboratory safety and develop a site-specific security policy. Security, as used in this discussion, refers to measures used to control access to the laboratory in order to prevent theft of materials or equipment from the lab.
    • Assess your laboratory for hazardous materials and particular security risks.
    • Develop and implement lab security procedures for your lab group.
    • Train your lab group on these security procedures and assign responsibilities.
  2. Control access to areas where hazardous materials are used and stored.
    • Close and lock laboratory doors when no one is present. Consider the use of card-keys or similar devices when the risk warrants.
    • Do not leave hazardous materials unattended or unsecured at any time.
    • Lock freezers, refrigerators, storage cabinets, and other equipment where biological agents, hazardous chemicals, or radioactive materials are stored when they are not in use.
  3. Know who is in your laboratory area.
    • Consider using a logbook for staff to sign in and out of the lab each day or using carded access devices for this purpose.
    • Limit laboratory access to those individuals who need to be in the lab.
    • All lab workers (including students, visiting scientists and other short-term workers) should wear identification badges.
    • Restrict off-hours access to individuals authorized by the principal investigator.
    • Guests should be issued badges and escorted to and from the lab. Approach people you don't recognize who appear to be wandering in laboratory areas and ask if you can help direct them.
  4. Know what materials are being brought into your lab.
    • Know what hazardous materials are being ordered and shipped to your lab.
    • Get rid of unneeded hazardous materials.
    • Use a log to sign highly hazardous materials in and out of secure storage.
    • Take periodic inventory of all highly hazardous chemicals, biological agents/toxins, radioactive materials, and controlled substances.
  5. Know what materials are being removed from your lab.
    • Track the use and disposal of hazardous materials.
    • Require written permission prior to removal of highly hazardous materials from the lab.
    • Report any missing inventory to the UK Police (257-5770).
  6. Have an emergency plan.
    • Recognize that controlling access can make emergency response more difficult.
    • Evaluate emergency plans with administrators, safety and security officials and, if necessary, outside experts.
    • Review emergency plans with lab personnel.
    • Provide emergency responders with information on serious hazards.
  7. Have a protocol for reporting security incidents.
    • Principal investigators, in cooperation with facility safety and security officials, should have policies and procedures in place for the reporting and investigation of incidents or possible incidents, such as undocumented visitors, missing hazardous materials, or unusual or threatening phone calls.
    • Train laboratory staff on procedures.
New anti-bioterrorism legislation mandates federal regulations to control access to biological agents; rules are due out later this year. Specific guidance will distributed as soon as it becomes available. If you need assistance evaluating security risks or developing security measures for your laboratory, call our lab safety specialist, Lee Poore, at 257-2924.

Last Modified 08-21-2002
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