Teenagers in Laboratories

There have been several questions recently concerning teenagers in the labs, whether as employees, student helpers or interns, volunteers, or working on their own school science projects. The Institute has used the following as a general guideline for the past few years. (see the table of guidelines)

No person under the age of 16 years may work in a laboratory under any circumstances. 16 and 17 year old persons may work in most laboratories but only under the DIRECT and CONSTANT supervision of an adult competent to evaluate the safety of the work being performed. Persons under the age of 18 years may not work with radioisotopes. "Laboratory" means a (bio-) chemical laboratory wherein chemicals, solvents, etc. are used or stored. Computer and map laboratories are not included in this definition. As with all other persons on campus, every adolescent worker must attend a general Safety Orientation - Right to Know training session before beginning work, and anyone working in a radioisotope laboratory, whether or not they use radioisotopes, must attend a Radioactive Materials Awareness class. Persons under 18 who work in radioisotope laboratories also must have a separate, signed parental permission form on file with the Radiation Safety Officer.

Please note that Virginia's labor laws and regulations, which are stricter than the federal, state "No child under eighteen years of age shall be employed, permitted or suffered to work: ... In any capacity in preparing any composition in which dangerous or poisonous chemicals are used," "No person shall employ, suffer, or permit a child to work in any gainful occupation that exposes such child to a recognized hazard capable of causing serious physical harm or death to such child," and "Any work is prohibited which ... involves exposure to ionizing radiation."

Additionally, we strongly suggest that a faculty member or senior classified staff member serve as the adolescent's supervisor. In general, a Graduate Assistant or, as has happened in the past, a Summer Aide, should not serve as the official supervisor, but the faculty member may delegate some, general supervisory responsibility to Graduate Assistants or other adult employees..

In order to assure that all adolescent persons on campus have the same degree of protection, we require the same standard of safety for volunteers and unpaid students as for employees.

The intent of these requirements is not to place prohibitive burdens on faculty and scientifically curious teens, but to protect the teenagers from potential harm and to teach them good laboratory practice while protecting the Institute, its administrators, and the persons supervising the teens and the labs from the potential consequences of an incident or of a violation of the laws and regulations.

December 7, 1999

Guidelines for Minors on VIMS Campus

VIMS safety guidelines for minors on campus are based on the state Code of Virginia.

 14-15 Years Old  


Not Permissible


  • Laboratory helper or worker
  • Exposure/access to hazardous 
  • Filleting fish/sharp tools
  • Power machinery/grinders/choppers/cutters
  • Cooking
  • Ladders, scaffolds or substitutes
  • Work on vessels (considered a hazardous environment under the general duty clause)
  • Use of heavy overboard equipment
  • Field work
  • Work near, in or on water
  • "Bona-fide office rooms"
  • Administrative work
  • Computer labs


16-18 Years Old 


Not Permissible


  • Exposure to radiation
  • Exposure to dangerous/poisonous chemicals/pathogens/radioisotopes


  • Work in chemical labs 
  • Field work (including vessels)