Working Safely with Phenol - Guidelines

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1. Purpose and Objectives

The purpose of this guideline is to detail the hazards and the control measures required when working with phenol and its compounds in order to assist laboratory workers and students at The University of Queensland to work safely with phenol.

2. Definitions, Terms, Acronyms

PEG - Polyethylene Glycol

SDS - Safety Data Sheet

3. Guidelines Scope/Coverage

This guideline applies to all workers and students who work with phenol and phenol containing reagents at The University of Queensland.

4. Guidelines Statement

All workers and students at The University of Queensland have a duty under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to ensure that the risk of exposure to phenol and its compounds is eliminated or minimised as far as practicable.

5. Risk Management

5.1 Risk assessment and operating procedures

5.1.1 Risk assessment

Phenol is widely used in biological science laboratories at UQ in combination with other reagents to selectively extract biomolecules from solution. Phenol is also a reagent used in organic chemistry and has medical uses such as inhibiting nail growth when applied locally to the nail bed. Phenol causes chemical burns of the skin and is a significant hazard to the eyes. It also has moderate systemic toxicity.

Pure phenol is a white crystalline solid; it is volatile and highly corrosive. It should not be used to prepare solutions for extracting DNA and proteins. These solutions can be obtained pre-prepared, which eliminates handling phenol in concentrated form. However, extraction reagents such as TRIzol® are still 50% phenol and have significant hazards to the eyes, skin and organ systems.

Where phenols cannot be eliminated or substituted from laboratory use, a thorough risk assessment must be carried out using the UQSafe-Risk with reference to the SDS. Safe handling and spills procedures must be documented as part of Standard Operating Procedures and PPE must be appropriate to the task. Phenolic reagents are often used with centrifuges and the risk of loss of containment due to leakage or tube breakage must be taken into account. The following guidelines should be applied for working with phenol:

  • Work in a fume cupboard using the mandatory laboratory PPE of disposable rubber nitrile gloves, safety glasses, lab coat and covered shoes.
  • Additional PPE where indicated by the risk assessment: overalls, chemical safety goggles, gloves-neoprene, covered shoes, face shield and respirator mask (type A-P filter AS/NZ 1716).
  • The risk of skin contact is increased where abnormal events such as a spill or container leakage occurs. Know where the lab spill kit is located and know how to use the equipment in it. Also be aware of the first aid kit location and special treatment requirements for phenol (see first aid section 5.4)
  • Store phenolic solutions in a cool well ventilated and secure area, incompatibilities include oxidising agents, reducing agents, bases and metals (see SDS for full listing).
  • Waste disposal - Phenols are harmful to aquatic organisms and dried residues in containers still present a hazard when empty. Return all containers and liquid waste (labelled) to Chemstore for disposal.

5.2 Training and competency

All personnel working at the University are required to complete mandatory online general and fire safety training. Staff and students working in laboratories with chemicals are required to complete additional online training modules for Laboratory and Chemical Safety. These modules can be completed as part of the UQ OHS online training and assessment programs.

In addition to these online modules, workers handling phenol must be given appropriate safety training in safe handling procedures, the safe use of any plant involved in the process, correct use of PPE, safe storage procedures and in the safe disposal and cleanup of these materials by their supervisors. Further information can be found online for safe chemical storage, chemical use and chemical spill cleanup. Disposal of these materials must be carried out in accordance with legislative requirements relating to safety and environmental considerations. Information on safe and environmentally sustainable disposal of chemicals can be found online and in the SDS. UQ Staff Development also runs regular courses on the safe storage, use and disposal of hazardous chemicals – these courses are recommended as a useful practical supplement to the online modules.

5.3 Emergency procedures

5.3.1 Spills

Categorise potential spills of this chemical as part of the risk assessment. Phenol is harmful to aquatic organisms and where possible spills should be contained and prevented from entering the sewers.

Major spill

  • Clear area of personnel, move upwind and prevent workers from entering the area.
  • Contact security x 3365 5555 (or the contact displayed on the Emergency Contact Card for your area) and your local WHSC, OHS Manager and First Aid Officer (if there are casualties).
  • Wear full body protective clothing with breathing apparatus to evacuate injured workers.
  • Prevent, by any means available, spillage from entering drains or water courses.

Minor spill

  • Clean up waste regularly and spills immediately.
  • Don appropriate PPE. Avoid contact with skin and eyes and 'boost' ventilation.
  • Use dry clean up procedures and avoid generating dust.
  • Clean up all spills and seal and dispose of cloths used for cleanup through UQ Chemwaste.

5.4 First aid and emergency procedures

It is important that workers where phenol and phenolic compounds are handled should be aware of the first aid management, since the time lapse after initial body contact can be critical for minimising damage to tissues. For further details, see PPL 2.60.22 First Aid for Burns including Chemical Burns. First aid kits should contain PEG 300 or PEG 400 preparations to treat phenol burns at the scene of an incident and all exposures should be referred to a medical practitioner for immediate follow up. Send the SDS with casualties to enable appropriate treatment.

Routes of exposure

  • Inhalation of fumes- remove casualty to fresh air seek First Aid assistance.
  • Eye- irrigate the eye for at least 20 minutes. The casualty must be escorted to hospital or medical practitioner immediately for treatment. For further details, see section 6.22 of PPL 2.60.22 First Aid for Burns including Chemical Burns.
  • Skin contact- Blot the skin with inert absorbent towel and apply suitable PEG solution immediately to prevent further burning. For further details see section 6.2.1 of PPL 2.60.22 First Aid for Burns including Chemical Burns.
  • Ingestion- Send casualty to hospital immediately and do not induce vomiting.

6. Obligations

6.1 Supervisors

  • Ensure that risks are eliminated or minimised as far as reasonably practicable.
  • Provide supervision and training in the safe use of these materials.
  • Provide assistance with the risk assessment process and to ensure the assessment is comprehensive and accurate.
  • Review and approve the risk assessment, and to ensure all controls outlined in the assessment are followed by workers.
  • Ensure that all appropriate safety systems and equipment are in place, fully operational and used correctly.
  • Ensure that all incidents involving these materials are investigated as soon as possible and that corrective actions (including review and modification of risk assessment and SOPs) are implemented to prevent recurrences.

6.2 Workers and students

  • Participate in the risk assessment process to ensure the risk controls are both practical and effective.
  • Follow the standard operating procedure to ensure the risks are eliminated or minimised as far as reasonably practicable.
  • Use the required PPE and ensure it is fitted correctly and in good condition.
  • Stop work immediately and notify the supervisor if lab safety equipment is faulty, or you believe the safe work controls are not working effectively.

7. Contacts for Further Information

UQ OHS Division:

Phone: 336-52365 or email

Occupational Hygiene Advisors:

Occupational Health Nurse:


University of Queensland Chemicals Store:

Phone: 336-54437 or email

Chemical Waste Enquiry:

Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael
Director, Health, Safety and Wellness Mr Jim Carmichael