Berkeley Lab

Fundamentals, Finer Points, and Philosophies

This page is especially recommended for new employees and participating guests and students, including those who are also new to California. It supplements the formal orientation programs that you went through when you first arrived at the Lab, and explains not only what we should do (and avoid doing) but the philosophical basis of why.

Many things you would do for yourself at home or at some institutions with hardly a second thought are subject to special rules here at LBNL. They may be forbidden; approached in different ways; or restricted to trained crafts people who plan their work, get it authorized, and perform it to professional standards. Sometimes leaving a paper trail to prove that we did things properly is important as well.

These restrictions flow down from our responsibility to fellow employees and the community, as well as our high public profile.

cityonthehill_550 Metaphorically as well as literally a “city on the hill,” we must be above reproach in safety and environmental responsibility.

If in doubt, ask your supervisor or safety coordinator how best to proceed.


Sign Up for Alerts

Lab Alert iconPrompt, meaningful information is a precious thing in an emergency and its aftermath. You can opt in for text messages to your mobile phone at
You can call, toll free, 1.800.445.5830 (1-800-HILL-830) or check for information about the status of LBNL.

Disposal and Recycling

˚ Hazardous chemicals must never be disposed of by putting them down drains, in the trash, onto the ground, or otherwise into the environment; they have to go through proper waste storage, documentation, and disposal procedures. So does anything biohazardous, though this affects our division relatively little.

˚ Items from a radiological area likely have to be monitored before being moved.

˚ Electronic waste (to first order, anything with solder) must be diverted from the ordinary waste stream.

˚ “Sharps” (anything that could cut or puncture someone) must be wrapped securely before disposal, or put into a designated sharps container.

The division’s Safety People can tell you more. They also have advice on what and how to recycle. See also the Waste Guide at for a quick guide to what goes where.

DOEtag_250x81yItems with a DOE property number (look for a white barcode tag) must be accounted for, using an Equipment Movement Record, when they are moved, transferred to another employee, declared excess to our needs, or disposed of. This is not, strictly speaking, an EH&S issue, but it often borders upon those matters; contact ATAP property representative Wes Tabler for further information.

The Facilities Transportation Group offers courtesy pick-up of many items no longer needed in your lab or office. To learn more about this service, see the Courtesy Salvage Pickup Fact Sheet link on the Facilities Division website.

Electrical Safety: Don’t Take — Or Be — The Path of Least Resistance

elecsafetylogo_110 Prevention of electrical-work injuries is a top priority here at LBNL. Cultivate these six habits to keep yourself and those around you safe.

  1. If you are not a Qualified Electrical Worker, do not perform electrical work.
  2. If equipment appears to be unsafe or you are not sure whether it is safe, don’t use it. Report unsafe equipment to your supervisor.
  3. Plan your work. Identify the hazards and ensure the controls are in place.
  4. Take care of each other. Help your co-workers identify and correct unsafe behavior or conditions.
  5. For Qualified Electrical Workers, practice Lockout/Tagout and Test Before Touch.
  6. For Qualified Electrical Workers, determine approach boundaries and control access to the area to prevent exposure of other people to electrical hazards.

To help both Qualified Electrical Workers and their customers, LBNL has an Electrical Safety website. If in doubt about the risks of the work you have in mind and whether a Qualified Electrical Worker must perform it, consult your division’s Electrical Safety Advocates. In ATAP, the Electrical Safety Advocate is, x6098.

Working Alone: Two is a Magic Number

LBNL has a policy that prohibits working alone in situations, including shops and laboratories, where an accident might leave you unable to self-rescue or activate emergency services. This policy is not meant to refer to ordinary activities, like those commonly performed by the general public, in relatively benign environments.

Wall Penetrations (and do-it-yourselfing generally)

The walls of buildings at the Lab contain electrical conduit and pipes. Do-it-yourself wall, floor, and ceiling penetrations are forbidden — drilling or cutting or driving nails into walls is the exclusive province of crafts workers. They check drawings and perform tests to make sure they aren’t drilling into anything hazardous and are drilling into something that will support the weight involved. Contact your building manager or ATAP central and program-specific safety people, or the Work Request Center of the Facilities Department, for more information.

Entry into Labs and Shops

Laboratories and shops are designed and maintained to be safe for those who usually work there, and who have had appropriate training regarding the hazards, and orientation on the “house rules.” If you don’t have familiarity — make that recent familiarity; things change — with someone else’s lab or shop, the safest approach is to get a locally knowledgeable escort.

Actually working in labs or shops requires qualifications and hazard-specific training appropriate to the job and the area. Closed-toed shoes (leather or similar, not sneakers), long pants, and safety glasses are required for entering shops and most labs, even for just a few moments. Visitor safety glasses are available near the entrance. There is a sign near the door to each lab or shop that tells you about the types of hazards in the room, any special protective equipment required for entry, and the people to contact for further information.

Most fabrication is done from engineered designs by the central shops, or outsourced to the private sector. However, a Researcher Shop is available to qualified and authorized users for official business.

People with a UC-Berkeley affiliation may also have access to student shops on campus, and to laboratories there. Policies, procedures, and training requirements there are established by campus departments and are outside our purview. Protect yourself at all times by following the more conservative of LBNL and campus practices, along with the house rules and local customs of a shop or laboratory. And please watch out for the safety and well-being of others in the facility wherever it may be. A habit of “Workers Observing Workers” enhances safety always and everywhere.

Your Right (And Responsibility) to Speak Up

We strive for a workplace where concerns will be received attentively and evaluated thoughtfully. There ought to be no risk to the employee who raises them through normal channels such as a supervisor, local EH&S coordinator, or building manager.

This article gives more details on the Laboratory’s policy on reporting improper conduct of any kind (not just environment, health, and safety), including protection of “whistleblowers.”

In extreme cases of “imminent danger” — defined as any condition or behavior that could reasonably be expected to cause death or serious injury, or environmental harm — you have the authority and responsibility to invoke LBNL’s Stop-Work Policy.

If you see something, say something. Our 4000-plus employees, with their eyes, ears, and minds engaged, are the first line of protection for each other and the public.

Construction Around the Lab

The Laboratory is fortunate to be in a busy period of growth and improvement. This entails bearing with some temporary inconvenience, and requires us to drive more carefully and be aware of newly restricted areas and other potential hazards (hmm, would public transit and the shuttle bus work for you?). For an update, see the Construction and Parking Update website and the News tab of If we keep our heads up and our speed down near construction zones we’ll all be safer.


Photo of helicopter with water bucket attacking wildlands fire

Wildlands Fire: Are You At Risk?* Are You Ready?

LBNL Fire Marshal Todd LaBerge, PE, and Senior Fire Protection Engineer Nick Bartlett, PE, of the Lab’s Protective Services Department offered seminar on wildlands fire in summer 2018; video is available.

Northern California’s fire season, traditionally at its worst in summer through fall, has lengthened and worsened and is really best thought of as a year-round danger now. We must remain aware of fire safety, and report any fires or smokes that we see, at any time of year.

Prepare to Protect and Survive

homewildfire_150x143yIf you live in a vulnerable area, clear defensible space and remove light fuels.

Cal Fire’s Ready, Set Go program is an excellent resource, as is the National Fire Protection Associations Firewise USA. The University of California has peer-reviewed advice on how to prepare your home and landscape for greater fire safety.

See also the Association of Bay Area Governments website and the Diablo FireSafe Council.

* “Are you at risk” is a trick question . . .
The LBNL site is in a vulnerable area (in 1923, a conflagration moved down what was then an empty hillside where the Lab now stands, and was stopped just short of the campus — not by the puny hand of man so much as by the Diablo winds’ giving way to onshore flow). Many of us also commute through areas that can be affected by wildfires. When fire danger reaches red-flag levels, “hot work” is likely to be suspended, and other bulletins will be issued and precautions put in place as appropriate.

Those who lived and worked in these hills in 1991 — or 1970 — need little reminder…

Earthquake Preparedness: Not If — When

ECA_80x81The Hayward Fault runs between LBNL and the adjacent University of California campus and is capable of producing powerful earthquakes. The Lab takes extensive quake-preparedness measures, and prudent employees keep individual supplies in their work areas and cars.

In the event of a quake, drop, cover, and hold on. When the shaking stops, grab essential personal items and find a safe route to the evacuation area outside your building. Do not re-enter the building until cleared to do so by safety officials. Hazardous conditions might exist, and there could be aftershocks.

Earthquake preparedness also explains a lot about our furniture choices (bookshelves with lips or retention chains, file cabinets bolted to the walls, etc.) and office-housekeeping standards (don’t store heavy objects on high shelves; keep the area under your desk clear so you can take shelter there; and avoid storing anything in a way that would block your escape route).

To help you be prepared at work, at home, and in the car, resources are available from the Earthquake Country Alliance (a suggested first thing to read is Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country), which they repost from the US Geological Survey). Another useful source of readiness tips for all kinds of disasters and setbacks is 72 Hours (named after the minimum amount of time you should be prepared to survive any form of widespread disaster, anywhere, before help arrives).

Co-Existing with Creatures

Picture of doe and fawn
Californians rightfully take pride in the environmental consciousness that allows wildlife to flourish close to urban areas. The LBNL site is an attractive home for animals, and also is near or adjacent to large areas of open space with various degrees of wildness.

Deer, turkey, skunks, opossums, raccoons, and even a rattlesnake or two are found here… and with all that prey, at least one mountain lion has been known to drop by for dinner. Keep an eye out for them when on foot (especially around dawn or dusk) and when driving.

One of our smaller wild creatures — the tick — is yet another reason (besides falling and the risk of causing erosion in the rainy season) to stay on the walkways rather than taking hillside shortcuts.

Picture of a mountain lion Wait… mountain lion?
It’s a fact, not a scare story nor an urban-wildlands-interface legend, that at least one mountain lion (cougar, puma) prowls these hills and sometimes hunts on the Lab site.

Here is information on how to minimize the chance of encountering the big cat and what to do if it happens anyway.


We encourage all employees to explore the ATAP EH&S pages, particularly the Integrated Safety Management Plan. The ISM Plan is arranged topically so that you can easily see which parts you need to read, depending on your job, worksite, and level in the organization.

The Environment, Health, and Safety Division has an extensive website full of training courses, informational materials, and contacts.

Ergonomics: Work Shouldn’t Hurt
What does the LBNL ergonomics team do, and how can it help you? Find out from the Ergonomics website.

Labwide Ethical Standards
LBNL’s Research and Institutional Integrity Office communicates Standards of Ethical Conduct for ourselves and the University. On a related topic, explore the Lab’s Stewardship Values.