Date: Tue, 23 Jun 2009 08:21:40 -0700
Reply-To: Michael Hojjatie <mhojjatie**At_Symbol_Here**TKINET.COM>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: Michael Hojjatie <mhojjatie**At_Symbol_Here**TKINET.COM>
Subject: Re: Serious Lab Incidents
Comments: To: "fred.simmons**At_Symbol_Here**SRS.GOV"
In-Reply-To: <OF0BA82ADF.D96182EE-ON852575DE.00442C20-852575DE.00450EE1**At_Symbol_Here**>

The implementation of the safety in th e Lab comes from the top. How is it that a chemist in the academic environmen t is less concern about safety rules in the Lab while the same chemist in an industrial laboratory setting is very vigilant about the safety rules? I ha ve had the privilege of working at both environments and seeing first hand how the culture differs from one to the other. During my academic years the laborat ory safety rules rarely was brought up during weekly research meetings while at the industrial setting there is a mandatory safety meeting once a month in addi tion to the research meetings. If the implementation of the safety rules is not demanded and reviewed frequently one tends to push them aside until it is t oo late.

Michael Hojjatie, Ph.D.


From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**] On Behalf Of Fred Simmons
Sent: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 5:34 AM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Serio us Lab Incidents

Rob makes several good points.  

A paper recently published on the subject looked at incidents in both industr y and laboratories and found that there is a significant gap in the type of training that both chemists and safety processionals are given in this area .  

The article, "Chemical Safety: Asking the Right Questions" is in the Journal of Chemical Health & Safety May/June 2009 issue.  The cita tion is volume 16, number 3, pp.34-39.  

Similar article in the same publication is "Laboratory Safety?" column by Neal Langerman, pp.49-50. He addresses the UCLA laboratory fatality inciden t.

Fred Simmons
Department of Energy
Savannah R iver Nuclear Solutions

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06/23/2009 07:36 AM

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Re: [DCHAS-L] Serious Lab Incidents

On Jun 22, 2009, at 7:37 PM, NEAL LANGERMAN wrote:
> 1. Has anyone got any statistics on res earch lab accidents in  
> industry or academia, or alternative suggestions for how to  
> benchmark an individual or lab group sa fety record?

I can tell you that any statistics out of ac ademia would be even more  
unreliable than those out of the Congression al Budget Office.

During my years as an undergrad, grad studen t, postdoc, and professor,  
I was first and second-hand witness to numer ous accidents and  
incidents that nobody ever even *thought* of reporting.  Sink fires,  
hood fires, spills, waste disposal "events", safety shower activations  
and more.   Most of the time the superv isor was not even told/aware.

In my personal experience, the only incident s that ever got recorded  
were those that required a 911 call.  O r the time the EPA showed up  
for an inspection and found ten 5-gallon met al cans being used as  
waste containers, one of which was forming a puddle in the middle of  
the analytical laboratory.
> 3. Does anyone know of a situation in w hich a faculty member was  
> sanctioned as a result of a lab safety incident?

Never once heard of that, although the EPA d id fine $25K for the waste  
violation - just the sort of penalty that re ally makes faculty members  
Not Like bureaucrats (for some fixed percent age of folks, the campus  
safety office(rs) fall into that category, a las).    And let's view  
that $25K fine in the context of the (regula tory feeble) OSHA fines  
for the UCLA about disproportionate response!

I have never heard of safety being a regular agenda item at faculty  
meetings or research group meetings at any o f the four major  
universities I have had experience with, but there would be occasional  
discussions in the context of incidents or responses that were  
reported.   Once in a while, some sort of "initiative" would start,  
and that would peter out after a few weeks/m onths.  It's a lot like  
having home exercise equipment - one starts off with a good ideas and  
resolve and then after 3 months, it's unused and forgotten.

No faculty member I have ever known has thou ght he/she was endangering  
their students, and if you asked all of them , they would tell you and  
genuinely believe that safety was a high pri ority in their labs.   But  
the fact of the matter is that there are sma ll subsets of folks who  
are religious about safety as well as those who are complete slobs  
(completely cluttered hoods, no protocols... you know the ones).   The  
vast majority of faculty fall somewhere in t he middle ground.  And  
never do you see a mechanism to do something about the tail end of  
that curve.

It has been LONG overdue for chemistry curri cula to start *teaching*  
safety the way that industry handles it (and expects/desires students  
to be trained).   I am not aware of any department that has tried to  
instill a "culture of safety" thro ughout their curriculum, although  
there are some excellent individual attempts at doing so.   The core  
problem here is that safety is not directly a research or funding-
generating activity, and (junior faculty, in particular) are  actively  
discouraged from doing anything that does no t bring in the bucks,  
generate papers, or count towards P&T (promotion and tenure).  The  
problem is obviously greater at graduate-lev el schools and those  
departments with a lot of "dead wood&qu ot; who are like a black hole for  
new ideas - they get the safety proposal and then the light never  

So, where/how do we even *begin* to change t he academic attitude?  I'd  
say it has to start with the ACS and the accreditation process.  
Specifically, ACS-certified undergraduate pr ograms should explicitly  
be required to  teach industrial best s afety practices in their  
curriculum.  Students need to learn the expectations and ramifications  
("No PPE, newbie?  You're fired.&q uot;) they will encounter in the "real"  
world outside academia.  Eventually, fa culty teaching courses with  
this approach might start seeing The Light o n the matter, and we can  
get the culture of safety to filter up to th e graduate level.

Rob Toreki

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