When you were considering your job options, you looked into becoming a firefighter, a police officer in the inner city, and an operator of heavy machinery. Too dangerous, you decided. So that’s why you decided to go into laboratory research.

Unfortunately, if you were looking for a safe career, you made the wrong choice.

As an experienced researcher, you know by now that working in a lab exposes you to caustic chemicals, carcinogens, and other hazardous compounds. Luckily, you can lower your risk of harm by wearing the right protective gear in the lab, and by treating the gear appropriately.

Protective Gloves

Quick quiz: Which part of your body is most susceptible to harm while working with chemicals and other hazardous substances?

That’s right – your hands!

Since your hands are constantly working in the laboratory, they’re more likely to come into contact with toxic substances. Here are several points to bear in mind:

  • Wearing the correct gloves can go a long way towards protecting your hands from burns, dermatitis, erythema, and the absorption of toxins.
  • If you are performing research on primates or rodents, the gloves you select should protect you from anything a lab animal might do. Gloves with a higher thickness will shield you from blood and other secretions, while cut-resistant gloves provide protection from biting and clawing.
  • Never reuse disposable gloves, even after washing them.
  • Double gloving may be warranted if you’re dealing with extremely dangerous materials.
  • Change gloves as soon as you suspect contamination, and wash your hands after removing them and before leaving the laboratory.

Lab Coats and Bunny Suits

As a researcher, you should also wear some sort of protection over your personal clothing while working. While some researchers prefer lab coats, which can be removed quickly in case of a chemical spill, bunny suits will cover your legs as well, giving you full-body protection.

A common mistake when it comes to lab coats and bunny suits is leaving them on when exiting the lab. Some researchers wear these types of gear into outer areas, including offices, meeting rooms, and even cafeterias! Since lab coats and bunny suits are intended to keep dangerous substances away from your body, wearing them in public areas is asking for cross-contamination.

Eye and Face Protection

In the laboratory, splashes or sprays from infectious or other hazardous substances can cause lasting harm to your face and eyes. That’s why it’s so important to invest in eye and face protection, such as goggles, a mask, a face shield, or other splash guard materials. Like other protective gear, make sure to decontaminate the splash guards before reusing them, or throw them away between uses if they’re disposable.

Think you’re off the hook when it comes to eye protection because you’re wearing contact lenses? Unfortunately, contacts do not sufficiently protect the eye. Use goggles or another splash guard to protect your eyes from damage.


The type of shoe that you’re wearing wouldn’t seem to be a factor in how safely you’re outfitting, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Wearing sandals or even sneakers can be dangerous in the case of biological or chemical spills. Your options: invest in an expensive pair of safety shoes that can protect against these dangers, or buy polyethylene shoe covers that prevent water-based liquids from penetrating to your shoe or foot.

No matter what type of laboratory you work in, keep yourself safe! Make sure you’re wearing high-quality, up-to-date protection before embarking on your research. It just isn’t worth the risk not to.

Written by Rob Brown