Health and Safety

Picture of a safety hazard symbol

Time to spend on this section: 4 hours

This section intends to raise awareness of key issues relating to health and safety when starting your research; it is NOT meant to be a replacement for proper health and safety training.


Adherence to appropriate health and safety procedures should inform and underpin all good practice in research. Institutions and departments should have clear, readily accessible and known guidance policies and procedures for health and safety. You should be aware that the law requires all members (including students) of the University to ensure the health and safety of themselves and any others who may be affected by their actions. All members of the University – staff and students - are required to work in accordance with this policy and in accordance with the assessments made of activities.

University employees/students who have a disability (however slight) can obtain detailed information about health and safety issues that may affect them from the University web site. It is the individual’s responsibility to inform their School of any disability they may have which might affect their work or study. This is not a requirement but is strongly advised. For students, this information should be supplied prior to (or at) registration.

The University of Southampton’s Central Health and Safety Group Website: has lots of valuable information, including policy documents, safety guides and risk assessment forms. It is accessible via the Sussed portal.

Responsibility for Health and Safety

A supervisor is defined in the student context as the academic (or academic-related) member of staff responsible for the research project work of a student (undergraduate or postgraduate). The Academic Supervisor is normally responsible for risk assessments of research activities (unless they are covered by agreed generic risk assessments). However, it is good practice for a student to conduct a risk assessment in collaboration with the Academic Supervisor.

Risk assessments must be available for inspection at all times. When an Academic Supervisor is to be absent from the University for more than ten working days they must arrange for an appropriate member of staff to maintain supervision. A record of this must be sent to the Head of School.

It is the responsibility of your Academic Supervisor to assist you with any special needs you may require. If you feel that this is not being dealt with in a satisfactory manner, you should contact the School or University Safety Officer who will be able to offer you confidential advice.

Risk Assessment

All research activities must be assessed for hazards and evaluated for risk. This includes laboratory and field-work, out of hours working and field trips. A hazard is anything that can cause harm (e.g. chemicals, electricity). Risk is the chance of harm being done. Items may be a high hazard but a low risk (e.g. electrocution in an office). This would be considered an acceptable risk. A low hazard but high risk (e.g. tripping, falling) may affect several people and would therefore be an unacceptable risk. The requirement for First Aid cover must also be considered. In certain areas of research you may also be required to have a CRB check (i.e. if working with children or vulnerable adults). If you may need to work out of hours or on your own during your project then you need to check with your school what their policy is for this (it does vary across schools).

Responsibility for undertaking the assessment follows normal managerial lines. The assessment must be carried out by a competent person (one with the relevant technical expertise, training and experience). If the person in charge of the area or activity is not classed as a competent person for making the assessment, then they must ensure the assessment is carried out by a suitable person. This is in addition to (not a substitute for) an individual’s legal responsibilities. Risk assessment forms are available for download from the Central Health and Safety Group Website. The Hazard Identification and Risk Assessment (HIRA) form is used in Activity 20 below.

In cases where a risk assessment identifies a substance which has potential to be hazardous to health then a COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) assessment must also be made. A COSHH form can be downloaded from the forms section of the Central Health and Safety Group Website.

Note that it is a legal requirement to maintain a central record of all Risk Assessments.

Examples of a Personal Risk and COSSH Assessment forms

The links below will open an example of the type of Risk and COSSH Assessment forms you might have to complete (They have been slightly altered from the centrally available templates to suit the needs of the relevant School at the University of Southampton.). The forms have been completed for 'The evaluation of metallothionein concentration in organisms' tissue by spectrophotometric method'.

  • Completed Risk Assessment form: Evaluation of metallothionein concentration in organisms' tissue by spectrophotometric method
  • Completed COSSH Assessment form: Evaluation of metallothionein concentration in organisms' tissue by spectrophotometric method. (Associated Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) have not been included on this link, but are required.)
IDevice Icon Activity 22: Risk Assessment

Activity 22 allows you to investigate the official processes in place within your School of study to complete a Risk Assessment form, while considering the information you may have to provide about your research project within each section. Now open your log book and complete this activity.