This is a recurring issue that comes to the attention of the Committee on Chemical Safety and the Division of Chemical Health and Safety. Over the years the respective chairs have sent letters to the editor, C&EN yet there seems to be little reform. Ken Fivizzani, past division and committee chair, wrote a C&EN article discussing the benefits of having images with proper safety practices. Almost one year ago as Chair of the Committee on Chemical Safety I wrote the C&EN Board of Editors, and the C&EN advertiser regarding a photograph in an advertisement. The advertiser subsequently changed the content of the photograph but there was no response from the ACS. This is not to say that the C&EN editors are not concerned about laboratory and chemical health and safety. Mr. Baum has written about health and safety and his publication publishes frequently outstanding health and safety articles.
I thought for sometime how to respond to David Finster’s email hoping to say something more than: “been there done that.” So rather than just a single letter from say a chair I suggest a different approach since the periodic single letters seem to receive no real response. I propose that the people on this list serve, since they are members of the division and possibly the ACS, each participate in a letter writing campaign to have the editors of C&EN carefully review the content for health and safety concerns.
Chemical safety folks,
My understanding is that most safety professionals who are related to chemistry labs hold the position that the only adequate eye protection in labs that use “chemicals” (as reagents, not in the sense that a screwdriver is ultimately a “chemical”) is the chemical splash goggle. In particular, safety glasses, even with side shields, are not appropriate since they do not adequately protect against splashes. At my college, the rule is “splash goggles all of the time” (except when we are in a lab that has no chemicals presents, such as when we do computational chemistry experiments using the computers in a lab). So, I’m starting this discussion with this assumption.
However, I would say that 90% of the images that I see in publications (such as C&ENews, a recent ACS CPT report, and MANY websites of chemistry departments at colleges and universities) students and faculty in lab settings are not wearing splash goggles, but usually safety glasses of some design. As I scrutinize the images, the exact nature of the lab is sometimes unclear although often it is very clearly a “chemistry lab”. I often find myself yelling at the image about the inappropriate nature of the eye protection. (This does not usually elicit a productive response. I also sometime yell at TV commercials, with the same result.)
I’ll add two more comments before posing my questions to the DCHAS group.
First, I believe that the appropriate eye protection in any situation should be the eye protection that is necessary to prevent exposure in that situation. There are surely many circumstances in labs (but perhaps not chemistry labs) where safety glasses are appropriate. I can imagine that in many physics and biology labs, there is no reasonable need for splash goggles. Or, on a given day for a particular experiment, the splash hazard may be so minimal that safety glasses (which are presumably designed to protect against shrapnel of some sort) are adequate and appropriate. I can also imagine that in some lab circumstances there is no reasonable need for eye protection at all. If I’m running an FT-IR of a Nujol mull of a solid sample between NaCl plates, what is the eye exposure risk? Do I need PPE when sitting at the console of an NMR? However, the danger of this line of argument in chemistry labs is that it is unreasonable to expect chemists to constantly be changing their “level” of eye protection as they move from one lab to another lab, or one bench to another bench, or from day to day, depending upon the local situation and what experiment is being performed. Thus, we take the position described in paragraph one above.
Second, safety glasses are more comfortable to wear. However, the degree of difference in comfort level between goggles and glasses has dropped dramatically in recent years, it seems to me. Fogging is still a problem for some folks (students) but the actual level of comfort of wearing goggles is quite high these days. I assume, though, that the main reasons glasses are worn (preferred) more often is due to comfort.
So, finally, to my questions.
What the heck is going on? If goggles are the standard level of eye protection, why do we still see so many images of chemists wearing safety glasses? The ancillary comment to this question is: since “ a picture is worth a thousand words” don’t these images regularly contradict our admonitions about eye protection? What is the effect of the picture of a chemist, obviously in a chemistry lab, wearing safety glasses in (almost?, well, at least “commonly”) every issue of C&ENews. Should CHAS write a letter to Rudy Baum in capital (screaming) letters saying “STOP THIS PRACTICE OF PUBLISHING THESE INAPPROPRIATE IMAGES?” And, if there are lots of chemistry labs (in academia and industry) where the CHP calls for only safety glasses, at what risk is the CHO and the institution if there is an incident and they are asked: “Why does your CHP not require the ‘accepted standard’ of PPE practice?”
Finally, as devil’s advocate for safety glasses, do we safety professionals have a database of accidents or episodes where we can show that instances have occurred where safety glasses were not adequate eye protection? There are surely incidents where NO eye protection was the critical lapse in PPE that led to eye damage, but do we know of examples where safety glasses (only) led to eye damage?
C. Finster <
Professor of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Department of Chemistry
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