A "flippant" approach to health and safety by some university researchers has prompted the first ever national guidelines for institutions.
The Health and Safety Executive is due to publish guidelines on health and safety management of research in higher and further education on Wednesday. The HSE has the power to prosecute universities who fail to follow procedures. Health and safety remains the responsibility of individual institutions.
HSE inspector Annette Hall said: "There were some people in the higher education and research community who took a flippant approach to health and safety. There have been a number of prosecutions... of universities in the past couple of years."
Recent cases included the University of East Anglia, which was fined Pounds 9,500, with Pounds 14,000 costs, after an explosion at its School of Environmental Sciences. Cambridge University was ordered to pay Pounds 22,000 in costs after losing a package of radioactive material.
Ms Hall said: "The reality is that universities are probably getting safer. Thirty years ago, no one thought about health and safety. But safety standards are getting higher. Researchers can assume that because they are an expert in a particular field they can manage all aspects of health and safety. This is not necessarily the case."
Dangers can arise from many areas but lasers, glass equipment, micro-organisms, radioactivity, high voltage equipment and high pressure equipment pose particular hazards.