A Comprehensive Guide to Lab Safety Symbols

Get to know the different lab safety symbols, their importance, and the various regulatory mandates that must be enforced.

a chemical bottle with lab safety symbols attached on it

What are Lab Safety Symbols?

Lab safety symbols are images or visual representations conveying safety information and warnings in laboratories, research facilities, and similar environments. These are designed to be universally understood, breaking language barriers, so that everyone involved in the industry—wherever they are in the world—can identify potential hazards, handle risks, take the necessary precautions, and ensure their safety in the workplace.


Incorporating lab safety symbols into the company’s protocols is crucial in promoting a safer working environment which, in turn, drives efficient workflows. When employees’ well-being is safeguarded, they work with confidence. Listed below are more specific reasons:

  • Raised awareness and emergency preparedness – Safety symbols in labs help workers identify and understand the nature of the hazard they are working with. Coupled with professional training and education, workers know how to protect themselves.
  • Enhanced comprehension – Symbols are easily remembered compared to written or verbal instructions. When a particular visual is seen, lab personnel already know the risks they face and the precautions they must take.
  • Universally recognized – As aforementioned, these standardized graphics are consistently and uniformly used across countries, reducing confusion and misinterpretation. This feature is important in settings where individuals from diverse backgrounds collaborate as a team.

Common Lab Safety Symbols

Laboratory safety symbols cover a wide range of safety-related topics, such as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), prohibited actions, and emergency procedures. Here is a comprehensive list:


This section refers to the symbols that depict the presence of hazardous materials or equipment. All symbols under this category are black images with yellow backgrounds. The general warning for hazards is an exclamation point inside a triangle.

  • Corrosive – These are materials that can damage exposed body parts (e.g., skin, eyes, and the respiratory tract) and other substances like metals. The graphic depicts two test tubes with droplets over the hand and a bar inside a circle.
  • Toxic – This refers to poisonous chemicals like ammonia and bleach that can cause harm if inhaled, ingested, or absorbed through the skin. The sign shows a skull with crisscrossed bones within a triangle.
  • Biohazard – Shown as three interconnected circles with jagged ends that form a triangle inside a circle, this warns of infectious biological agents, like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and genetically modified organisms.
  • High Voltage – This calls attention to hazards in the area that could cause electrocution like power transformers, insulators, and switchgear. The symbol is a lightning bolt with an arrow pointing down inside a triangle.
  • Low Temperature – Often seen in cryogenic sites with liquid nitrogen and other chemicals below freezing point, this sign depicts a snowflake within a triangle.


This category of safety symbols in a laboratory assists in safety precautions and actions in case of fire emergencies. All fire-related visuals show white images inside a red square.

Some fire-related symbols (e.g. flammable and oxidizing material) can also appear under the hazard classification with the same color scheme.


As the name implies, this set of symbols warns workers about the different kinds of radiation that workers could be exposed to. The general radiation symbol is a black trefoil with a yellow circular background. The two other signages are:

  • Non-iodizing – Some examples of this type of radiation are ultraviolet, infrared, and microwave.
  • Ionizing – The most common application of this type of radiation is in medicine, particularly in eradicating or limiting the growth of cancer cells. The sign is also seen in energy production and research facilities.

Physical Safety

This lab safety symbol ensures that lab staff are reminded that they use and get access to the equipment required for the job such as breathing masks, safety glasses, and protective clothing or gear. The graphics are often inside a yellow circle.

This also prohibits items in a particular place such as food and drinks or pacemakers and medical implants. These visuals depict images with a white background inside a red circle and matching red slanting slash.

First Aid

This category leads workers to quick and efficient emergency sites for first aid services.

  • Eyewash stations for accidental chemical splashes
  • First aid station for initial medical care in case of injurious incidents
  • AED or defibrillator to help individuals who have a sudden cardiac arrest

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Various regulatory bodies all over the world provide guidance and mandates regarding the use of lab safety symbols and overall laboratory safety, recommending precautions and specific processes for resolving issues, in case they arise. These offices are also responsible for enforcing penalties when deficiencies, neglect, and outright violations occur.

  • ILO or the International Labor Organization is the umbrella agency that sets global labor standards, bringing together over 180 countries and states all over the world. They create policies about the use of safety symbols in laboratories under their Code of Practice, which other countries consider when they organize and administer their standards.
  • NIOSH or the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health is responsible for researching and making recommendations to prevent injuries and illnesses at the workplace.
  • OSHA or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the United States of America outlines safety guidelines in any laboratory setting under Standard 29 CFR 1910.1450. This is the office that enforces regulations.
  • CDC or the Center for Disease Control and Prevention helps clinical and public health facilities perform testing, ascertaining they adhere to standards and best practices.
  • HSE or the Health and Safety Executive is the United Kingdom’s version of the United States OSHA, regulating workplace health and safety. They are also responsible for ensuring all laboratories use the proper hazard pictograms and chemical labeling.
  • Safe Work Australia provides the Code of Practice for lab safety guidelines and labeling of hazardous substances in the workplace.
  • The European Union also has a manual that defines the use of labeling symbols. This is published in the Official Journal of the European Communities L 225.
  • ISO or the International Organization for Standardization is a non-government agency that provides industry standards and best practices. They have several standards for lab safety, like ISO 15189 and 17025. The specific standard for graphical symbols is ISO 7000.

Companies are advised to consult the guidelines and regulations set based on their jurisdiction and the specific nature of their activities.

Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Article by
Eunice Arcilla Caburao
Eunice is a content contributor for SafetyCulture. A registered nurse, theater stage manager, Ultimate Frisbee athlete, and mother, Eunice has written a multitude of topics for over a decade now.