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Laboratory Worker

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Synonyms: Laboratory hand/workhand/workman/workwoman

Job profile

Definition and/or description


Laboratory Worker (any industry) is a term for any worker in a laboratory performing routine or special tests or research. Classifications are made according to type of work as Biochemist (profess. and kin.); Food Tester (any industry); Laboratory Tester (any industry); Scientific Helper (profess. and kin.) (DOT). A Laboratory Tester (any industry) performs laboratory tests according to prescribed standards to determine chemical and physical characteristics or composition of solid, liquid or gaseous materials for such purposes as quality control, process control or product development. Sets up, adjusts and operates laboratory equipment and instruments, such as microscopes, centrifuge, agitators, viscosimeter, chemical balance scales, spectrophotometer, gas chromatograph, colorimeter and other equipment. Tests materials used as ingredients in adhesives, cement, propellants, lubricants, refractories, synthetic rubber, plastics, paint, paper, cloth, and other products for such qualities as purity, stability, viscosity, density, absorption, burning rate and melting or flash point. Tests solutions used in processes, such as anodizing, waterproofing, cleaning, bleaching and pickling for chemical concentration, specific gravity or other characteristics. Tests materials for presence and content of elements or substances, such as hydrocarbons, manganese, natural grease, tungsten, sulphur, cyanide, ash, dust or impurities. Tests samples of manufactured products to verify conformity to specifications. Records test results on standardized forms and writes test reports describing procedures used. Cleans and sterilizes laboratory equipment. May prepare graphs and charts. May prepare chemical solutions according to standard formulas. May add chemicals or raw materials to process solutions or product batches to correct or establish formulation required to meet specifications. May calibrate laboratory instruments. May be designated according to product or material tested (DOT).

Related and specific occupations


Laboratory aide; –/assistant; –/chief; –/clerk; –/equipment installer; –/helper; –/inspector; –/manager; –/re- searcher; –/sample carrier; –/sampler; –/supervisor; –/technician; –/tester, etc.



Adding (chemicals to solution, etc.); adjusting (equipment); agitating; analysing; anaesthetizing; applying; appraising; asphyxiating; aspirating; assembling (systems); assisting; assuring (quality, consistency, etc.); attaching (tubing); attending; balancing (scales); bleaching; blending; boiling; burning; calculating; calibrating (instruments); carrying; centrifuging; classifying; cleaning; climbing; coating (metals, etc.); collecting (samples); comparing (to standards, etc.); computing; condensing; conducting (tests); connecting and disconnecting; controlling; cooling; counting; crushing; cutting (tissues); describing; determining (test parameters, etc.); diluting; dipping; dis- infecting; dispensing (aliquots); disposing; distilling; documenting; drying; elevating; ensuring; evaluating; examining; feeding; filtering; fitting; flaming; flushing; freezing (tissues); glass-blowing; grinding; handling; heating; holding (instruments, etc.); humidifying; identifying; immersing; incubating; inflating; injecting; inoculating; inspecting; installing; instructing; investigating; labelling; lifting; loading and unloading; maintaining; managing; manipulating; marking; measuring; metering; mixing; monitoring; moving; notifying; observing; operating; ordering (chemicals, etc.); performing (tests); pipetting; placing; polishing; pouring; preparing (samples, etc.); processing, pulverizing; pumping; purchasing; raising; reading; recording; record-keeping; refrigerating; regulating (flows, etc.); removing; repairing; reporting; researching; sampling; screwing; sealing; securing; selecting; separating; setting; setting-up; sieving; soldering; sterilizing; storing; straining; studying; sucking; supervising; tagging; testing; training; transferring; transporting; using; ventilating; verifying (conformity to standards, etc.); washing; wearing (personal protection equipment, etc.); weighing; writing (reports).

Primary equipment used


Disposable glass and plastic equipment (flasks, jars, pipettes, micropipettes; burettes, beakers, dishes, cocks, rigid and flexible tubing, etc.); handling and securing devices (pincers, tweezers, manipulators, jacks, pliers, stands, screw drivers, etc.); automatic dispensing equipment (e.g., automatic pipettes); scales and balances; sieves, filters, pumps, mixers and blenders; gas-, liquid- and solid-sampling instruments; particle counting instruments; heating, cooling and tempera- ture measuring or maintaining equipment (plates, jackets, ovens, gas burners, infrared heaters, immersion heaters, refrigerators, Peltier-effect cold plates, pyrometers, thermometers, thermostats, etc.); vacuum pumps, flasks, gauges, etc.; calculators, recorders, computers and peripherals; personal protective equipment; etc.; specialized equipment for specific purposes (e.g., optical and electron microscopes); pH meters; ion-selective electrodes; power supplies, potentiostats and galvanostats; immunoassay kits, materials testing instruments, incubators and autoclaves; humidity testers, flow meters, colorimeters and calorimeters; gas and liquid chromatographs; mass spectrometers, IR and Raman spectroscopes; x-ray diffraction and fluorescence analysers, lasers; radiation sources, probes, dosimeters and monitors; glove boxes; hoods; microtomes; etc.

Industries in which this occupation is common


Chemical, petroleum and petrochemical, food, rubber, polymer, metallurgical and metal finishing, paper and other industries; universities, schools, research institutes; hospitals and medical clinics; standards institutions; public and private testing, inspection and quality assurance laboratories.


Accident hazards


– Slips and falls on wet floors; falls from ladders;

– Cuts and stabs from sharp edges, broken glass;

– Fire and explosions in work with flammable gases, liquids and solids;

– Fires and explosions from uncontrolled chemical reactions;

– Implosions of vacuum equipment;

– Falls of heavy objects on head (from overhead storage shelves) and feet;

– Entanglement of dressing, hair, fingers and arms in rotating and other moving equipment, in particular centrifuges, mixers, blenders, etc.;

– Explosion of elevated-pressure equipment;

– Electrocution and electric shock;

– Burns and scalds from flames, hot surfaces, hot gases and liquids;

– Chemical burns from corrosive fluids;

– Flying particles from the bursting of centrifuges and autoclaves;

– Acute poisoning by a wide variety of poisonous gases, liquids and solids used as starting materials or released in chemical reactions;

– Damage to eyes from laser beams, splashes of chemicals, corrosive gases and flying particles;

– “Freeze burns”, or frostbite, from skin contact with very cold surfaces or fluids (e.g., liquefied gases).

Physical hazards


– Ionizing and ultraviolet radiation;

– High noise, subsonic or ultrasonic levels from vibrating or rotating equipment.

Chemical hazards


Exposure to an extremely wide variety of chemical substances (chemical laboratory workers may be exposed to any known chemical agents or combinations thereof), including corrosive, irritating, toxic, neurotoxic, asphyxiating, allergenic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic, foetotoxic, enzyme inhibiting, radioactive and similar substances, by way of inhalation, ingestion, skin, eye contact, etc. (see Appendix).

Biological hazards


Exposure to an extremely wide variety of biological agents (biological laboratory workers may be exposed to any known biological agents or combinations thereof) including viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., by way of inhalation, ingestion, skin, eye contact, transmission by laboratory animal bites or stings, accidental injection, etc.

Ergonomic and social factors


– Eye strain from work with optical and electron microscopes, telescopic manipulators, computer terminals, work in dark or semi-dark rooms, etc.;

– Musculoskeletal effects from routine work in a fixed position;

– Hand stress and strain from repetitive manual operations (e.g., in pipetting, non-automated counting, manual polishing, etc.).




A special hazard exists when working with new chemical substances (NCSs) whose physical, chemical, biological and other effects have not been adequately investigated. NCSs may be explosive or highly flammable or form explosive mixtures with air or other substances. NCSs may be highly poisonous, corrosive to the skin, eyes or respiratory system, carcinogenic, teratogenic, mutagenic, etc., or have a synergistic effect with other substances.


Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 1984. Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical laboratories. DHHS (CDC) Publication No. 84-8395. Atlanta, GA: CDC.

Mahn, JW. 1991. Fundamentals of laboratory Safety: Physical Hazards in the Academic Laboratory. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Stricoff, RS and DB Walters. 1996. Handbook of Laboratory Health and Safety, 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Interscience.

World Health Organization (WHO). 1983. Laboratory Safety Manual. Geneva: WHO.


United Nations classification of hazardous substances:

Class 1: Explosives

1.1. Substances and articles which have a mass explosion hazard.

1.2. Substances and articles which have a projection hazard but not a mass explosion hazard.

1.3. Substances and articles which have a fire hazard and either a minor blast hazard or a minor projection hazard or both, but not a mass explosion hazard.

1.4. Substances and articles which present no significant hazard.

1.5. Very insensitive substances which have a mass explosion hazard.

1.6. Extremely insensitive substances which do not have a mass explosion hazard.

Class 2: Gases

Compressed, liquefied, dissolved under pressure or deeply refrigerated.

Class 3: Flammable Liquids

Class 4: Flammable Solids

4.1. Flammable solids.

4.2. Substances liable to spontaneous combustion.

4.3. Substances which, in contact with water, emit flammable gases.

Class 5: Oxidizing Solids

Class 6: Toxic and Infectious Substances

Class 7: Radioactive Material

Class 8: Corrosive Substances

Class 9: Miscellaneous Dangerous Substances and Articles



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Guide to Occupations References

Brandt, AD. 1946. Industrial Health Engineering. New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Commission of the European Communities (CEC). 1991-93. International Chemical Safety Cards. 10 vols. Luxembourg: CEC.

—. 1993. Compiler’s Guide for the Preparation of International Chemical Safety Cards (First Revision). Luxembourg: CEC International Programme on Chemical Safety (UNEP/ILO/WHO).

Donagi, AE et al. 1983. Potential Hazards in Various Occupations, a Preliminary List [card file]. Tel-Aviv: Tel-Aviv University School of Medicine, Research Institute of Environmental Health.

Donagi, AE (ed.). 1993. A Guide to Health and Safety Hazards in Various Occupations: The Health System. 2 vols. Tel-Aviv: Israel Institute for Occupational Safety and Hygiene.

Haddon, W, EA Suchman, and D Klein. 1964. Accident Research: Methods and Approaches. New York: Harpers and Row.

International Labour Organization (ILO). 1978. International Standard Classification of Occupations, revised edition. Geneva: ILO.

—. 1990. International Standard Classification of Occupations: ISCO-88. Geneva: ILO.

International Occupational Safety and Health Information Centre (CIS). 1995. International Safety Datasheets on Occupations. Steering Committee meeting, 9-10 March. Geneva: International Labour Organization.

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). 1977. Occupational Diseases: A Guide to Their Recognition. DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 77-181. Cincinnati, OH: NIOSH.

Stellman, JM and SM Daum. 1973. Work Is Dangerous to Your Health. New York: Vintage Books.

United Nations. 1971. Indexes to the International Standard Classification of All Economic Activities. UN Publication No. WW.71.XVII, 8. New York: United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

US Department of Labor (DOL). 1991. Dictionary of Occupational Titles, 4th (revised) edition. Washington, DC: DOL.

—. 1991. The Revised Handbook for Analyzing Jobs. Washington, DC: DOL.