Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 09:39:24 -0500
Reply-To: ILPI <info**At_Symbol_Here**ILPI.COM>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: ILPI <info**At_Symbol_Here**ILPI.COM>
Subject: Re: Lab Coats for Chemistry Dept.?
In-Reply-To: <s1be9787.034**At_Symbol_Here**>

>Hello everyone!  I am trying to find out if the common practice for
>Chemistry PI's is to wear lab coats (during lab, research, and any other
>time they are working with/around chemicals), per their Hazard
>Assessments?  What about for Chemistry students?  Is it required that
>they wear lab coats for the same?  Thanks for any information you can
>Renee A. Eshcoff, CHMM
>Environmental Health & Safety Mgr.
>Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne
>office:    260-481-5744
>fax:        260-481-4169
>cellular:  260-710-6307

Haaaahaaahaaahaaaaa!  Good one!

Seriously, though, as a former research university chemistry
professor whose pedigree took him through several top 10
institutions, I can say that most chemists only use lab coats when
they are 1) TAing a lab because they need lots of pocket room (and it
identifies them as the person in charge) or 2) doing something with
acid and they don't want to get holes in their clothes.  For
everyday, routine laboratory work it's fairly rare to see chemists
using lab coats.  It's hard enough to get people to use proper eye
protection or gloves, let alone additional PPE.

I see more lab coats in use at the local mall - the people selling
perfume wear them to look clinical and scientific - than I have ever
seen in a day in a research university.

That said, I will also state that I've personally witnessed several
major lab accidents and that in at least one of them a lab coat
helped reduce the severity of the injuries received.   As luck would
have it, cleanup time is when most chemists are likely to don a lab
coat and that's also when most major lab accidents seem to occur.

At the risk of getting lengthy, let me say that  I have also seen a
lab coat used unsuccessfully as a fire extinguishing device (for a
minor incident).

True story - an MIT colleague was cleaning up his reaction and he
squirted acetone into the flask to clean it up.  The lithium alkyl
residue in the flask wasn't quite dead and it ignited.   As he
admired the small pool of  flaming acetone in his hood (probably
assuming it would burn itself out), he noticed that a hexane squirt
bottle nearby had heated up and was now spurting hexane.   So he
picked up the hexane bottle to remove it from the hood, but the fire
followed.  He threw the bottle to the concrete floor where it
proceeded to make a nice little fire. The floor was clear for several
feet in all directions (it was a big lab) so it could have simply
burned itself out harmlessly.  But with the hood and floor now on
fire, this guy decides he should do something - which is to reach for
the appropriate fire fighting equipment...a lab coat??  He threw it
on the flaming hexane squirt bottle/puddle where it proceeded to
burn.  Meanwhile, out in the hall I noticed an odd flickering from a
lab several doors down and proceeded to investigate.  I walk into the
lab and there is my colleague standing frozen and simply *watching*
the burning lab coat on the floor while his fume hood continues to
burn.   Not moving, not reacting, not saying anything to me.
Mesmerized.  Wordlessly, I picked up the fire extinguisher five feet
from him (and adjacent to the hook where the lab coat had been
hanging) and extinguished the floor and then the hood with a few
puffs from a CO2 extinguisher.

OK, besides the lab coat tie-in why do I mention it?  Because even
people you think would be smart enough to know what to do in an
emergency situation will act irrationally or freeze up when the
moment comes.  I have seen three other stunning examples similar to
this one.

You didn't mention the reason for your question to the list, but I
assume it has to do with a proposed policy regarding mandatory lab
coat use or such.

Rather than focus on requiring lab coats for the purpose of requiring
lab coats (and all its good intentions and consequences), I suggest
that folks be educated in the proper use of lab coats, PPE, and
emergency equipment in the following context .  Teach them to think
ahead to what you will do when faced with an emergency or a chemical
hazard.  Teach them how these items will prevent injury or combat the
emergency.  Teach them that they have to *prepare* for the
eventuality and the consequences.  If folks understand and plan
appropriately, compliance and safe behavior follow more readily.
And use LOTS and LOTS of examples, and make sure you present them
with hypothetical situations and ask them how they will respond. And
be sure to tell them what happened to people who responded or planned
inappropriately, the more gory horror stories the better.

No matter what you do there will always be folks that still snap when
it comes to an emergency or who don't take proper precautions.  So
make that part of your training, too - tell people that their
coworkers may not plan or respond appropriately and that they may
have to deal with that on top of everything else.

Best regards,

Dr. Rob Toreki
Safety Emporium - Lab & Safety Supplies featuring brand names
you know and trust.  Visit us at
esales**At_Symbol_Here**  or toll-free: (866) 326-5412
Fax: (859) 523-0606, 4905 Waynes Blvd, Lexington, KY 40513-1469

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