5.1 Experiment Planning

Prior to opening a research lab, receiving any hazardous materials, accepting lab workers or beginning an experiment Pre-Planning needs to occur. Prudent Planning of experiments is discussed in Chapter 2 of the 1995 version of Prudent Practices in the lab and in Chapter 6.B Working with Chemicals of the 2011 version. The goals of pre-planning are to identify hidden hazards, minimize all chemical exposures and risks, ensure compliance, and the safety and effectiveness of subsequent work.

Pre-planning involves:

  • A review and identification of potential hazards and regulatory requirements
  • An evaluation of the applicable hazards
  • Verification that the Hierarchy of Controls has been followed correctly
  • Documentation of the necessary controls and warning about potential hazards in SOPs

The mnemonic used in Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students and endorsed by the ACS to describe this is RAMP — Recognize, Assess, Minimize, Prepare.


By first evaluating the work area, materials, equipment, and procedures in depth, hidden hazards may be identified and addressed. The pre-experiment review process can also help to ensure that every experiment and laboratory operation complies with all applicable laws, regulations, and other policies. Moreover, by addressing all relevant health, safety, and environmental issues when an experiment is first conceived, further research, scale-up, or development based on it can be made safer and more effective.” Prudent Practices Chapter 2 Prudent Planning of Experiments

Pre-planning should be incorporated into the experienced lab workers thought process and might not require formal documentation.

For a new lab worker, a project scale-up or when working with a particularly hazardous substance, writing out the steps prevents a serious omission. Written documentation only needs to occur once unless a change to the process is made.

Levels of formality:

  1. Mental evaluation of hazards
  2. Discussion with experienced peers
  3. Formal written documentation of the proposed procedures - reviewed by PI
  4. Formal written documentation of the proposed procedures - review and approval by HSRM, the Departmental Safety Committee, or other Institutional Committee
  5. Formal documentation of the procedure, plus checklist prior to each time it is performed

Procedures often requiring institutional review:

  • Work with radioactive materials & lasers, radiation producing equipment
  • Work with infectious agents, recombinant DNA, plant and animal pathogens, and biological toxins requires review by the University’s Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)
  • Work with animals (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee)
  • Work with human subjects or medical records (Office of the Vice President for Research)
  • Chemicals of Interest
  • Controlled substances
  • DOD/ DOE grants (DOD/DOE Safety and Environmental Compliance)
  • Work involving minors & volunteers in lab (see Minors in Lab section

Procedures often requiring PI or Departmental review and approval:

  • Materials identified by the department or supervisor as requiring prior approval
  • High-and low-pressure & temperature work
  • Research involving especially hazardous materials
  • Scale-up reactions
  • Novel reactions
  • Experiments utilizing “lab-made” equipment (NOT manufacturer produced or used in manner equipment was designed for)
  • Unattended, overnight, or continuously running procedures
  • Materials requiring special equipment or antidotes e.g., wash-down hoods, calcium gluconate

General Steps of Pre-Planning:

  1. List of steps of the experiment, and the materials and equipment to be used.
  2. Identify the Hazards
  3. Determine and obtain a formal review if required (see list above)
  4. Determine controls needed for work
  5. Determine how hazardous materials/equipment will be:
    1. obtained
    2. stored
    3. handled
    4. who will have access
    5. how spills or other emergency scenarios should be handled
    6. how waste will be decontaminated & disposed
  6. Document SOPs and train users