Date: Tue, 23 Jun 2009 16:07:57 -0400
Reply-To: Ed Miller <millerej**At_Symbol_Here**PLATTSBURGH.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: Ed Miller <millerej**At_Symbol_Here**PLATTSBURGH.EDU>
Subject: Re: Serious Lab Incidents
In-Reply-To: <2E8A893FCA813C4B93E6A29977FEE03D2A2FEFD53C**At_Symbol_Here**>


To the List: I read with interest the postings about these issues. I have been in academics for roughly about 35 years and completely concur with Rob Toreki's comments as well as the comments of others that have been made. I have been a proponent of safety since I was a graduate student: having experienced first hand some lithium fires as well as a situation in which I broke a gallon of chrome merge on myself. The fact that I had protective clothing on, including a heavy rubber apron saved most of me from damage by the merge except for my lower legs and feet. By a nearby shower took care of that. It is true, at least in my limited experience, that safety does not seem to be as high a priority in the academic world as it is in industry. Faculty members are provided with virtually unfettered freedom to do research and teach. They are expected to be creative and produce new ideas, publications and grants. Teaching is also a responsibility whose importance varies with institution. Rules for faculty are there as “guides” to be challenged and not necessarily to be followed. Many times my better half tells me she just doesn't understand how academics work. I’m not sure how it does either but it has provided great advances even if it works in a different way than industry. However, faculty members do not get tenure for safety consideration. As long as nothing happens, everything is assumed to be okay. If they did have accidents as I did when a graduate student, they probably cleaned it up and went on with their work. The ethos to change the situation was just not there. I would guess that this lack of a safety ethos across the board of scientific endeavors at universities and colleges still exists today. So we graduate scientists with probably little to no education in risk reduction and they reproduce lab cultures akin to what they have been taught or have seen. Even when you want to do the right thing, it is always not clear what that might be considering the micro- and macro- reactions that are the norm in academics. We get lost in the forest: how do we to proceed with safety on the level and scale that we usually deal with. I am not making excuses here, just describing what I have seen and experienced. Administrators, who often are not scientists, run from problem to problem putting out fires (no pun intended). They also spend a great deal of their time fighting to keep the share of higher education funding from state budgets coming to their campuses. If you are at a small school like I am, the money to move the culture is tough to come by. This is not to say that it isn't possible, but it is difficult to carve it out in the multitude of competiting needs that are found. I’m sure that this is a problem in any environment. I think that there are several processes that might move the mountain: 1) Rules or regulations that clearly relate to the scale and types of things that occur in colleges needs to be more available. Funding to support the education of the practitioners in these regulations needs to be made available to help colleges advance. I know that industry has bitten the bullet and has placed funding for this in place at the cost of profits or they have raised their prices to cover the needs. Colleges, like mine, have no control over funding or even the pricing of our product, namely an education. Maybe NSF could help in this endeavor. 2) Make safety considerations a prerequisite for federal and state funding – this could be achieved in different ways too long to describe here. 3) The ethical issues involved with safety need to be emphasized within the culture of colleges. This will move many faculty members to take action. Perhaps an effort by OSHA in this direction might help get it going. 4) Safety behavior needs to be made a part of evaluation, conferral of tenure, promotion, and salary increases. Money moves those note necessarily moved by ethical considerations. 5) Administrators need not be timid in forcing senior tenured faculty to make the changes needed to improve safety. This means at times, taking care to document problems, provide appropriate counseling following whatever agreements, steps, or processes that are in place and, if the situation warrants, removing tenure and terminating the faculty member. It has been a struggle to move issues here but we have been making slow progress. Perhaps a national focus on this might be just the thing to get all of us in academics moving faster. Ed Miller On Tue, June 23, 2009 11:21 am, Michael Hojjatie wrote: > The implementation of the safety in the Lab comes from the top. How is it > that a chemist in the academic environment 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 have 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 laboratory > 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 addition 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 too late. > > > Michael Hojjatie, Ph.D. > TKI > > ________________________________ > 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] Serious Lab Incidents > > > Rob makes several good points. > > A paper recently published on the subject looked at incidents in both > industry 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 citation 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 > incident. > > Fred Simmons > Department of Energy > Savannah River Nuclear Solutions > > > ILPI > Sent by: DCHAS-L Discussion List > > 06/23/2009 07:36 AM > Please respond to > ILPI > > > To > > DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU > > cc > > > > Subject > > Re: [DCHAS-L] Serious Lab Incidents > > > > > > > > > > > On Jun 22, 2009, at 7:37 PM, NEAL LANGERMAN wrote: >> 1. Has anyone got any statistics on research lab accidents in >> industry or academia, or alternative suggestions for how to >> benchmark an individual or lab group safety record? >> > > I can tell you that any statistics out of academia would be even more > unreliable than those out of the Congressional Budget Office. > > During my years as an undergrad, grad student, postdoc, and professor, > I was first and second-hand witness to numerous 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 supervisor was not even told/aware. > > In my personal experience, the only incidents that ever got recorded > were those that required a 911 call. Or the time the EPA showed up > for an inspection and found ten 5-gallon metal 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 which a faculty member was >> sanctioned as a result of a lab safety incident? >> > > Never once heard of that, although the EPA did fine $25K for the waste > violation - just the sort of penalty that really makes faculty members > Not Like bureaucrats (for some fixed percentage of folks, the campus > safety office(rs) fall into that category, alas). And let's view > that $25K fine in the context of the (regulatory 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 of 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/months. 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 thought 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 priority in their labs. But > the fact of the matter is that there are small subsets of folks who > are religious about safety as well as those who are complete slobs > (completely cluttered hoods, no know the ones). The > vast majority of faculty fall somewhere in the 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 curricula 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" throughout 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 not bring in the bucks, > generate papers, or count towards P&T (promotion and tenure). The > problem is obviously greater at graduate-level schools and those > departments with a lot of "dead wood" who are like a black hole for > new ideas - they get the safety proposal and then the light never > escapes. > > So, where/how do we even *begin* to change the academic attitude? I'd > say it has to start with the ACS and the accreditation process. > Specifically, ACS-certified undergraduate programs should explicitly > be required to teach industrial best safety practices in their > curriculum. Students need to learn the expectations and ramifications > ("No PPE, newbie? You're fired.") they will encounter in the "real" > world outside academia. Eventually, faculty teaching courses with > this approach might start seeing The Light on the matter, and we can > get the culture of safety to filter up to the graduate level. > > 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: (856) 553-6154, PO Box 1003, Blackwood, NJ 08012 > > Edward J. Miller, Ph.D. Chairperson and Professor of Chemistry SUNY Plattsburgh

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