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This is a very useful discussion since it really is addressing HAZARD versus RISK. All too often, actions are cited based on the hazards not the risks. I do hope that this important distinction is always front and center as we work with our colleagues in defining the parameters to accomplish any task “safely” (that is, minimizing the risk).
I have long maintained the position that I will not say “NO” to a proposed task, but I will work to move it toward minimum risk. Often, one must use a cost-benefit approach to define the minimum risk endpoint. It is in these discussions that we as chemical safety experts really need to have close working relationships with our “customers” (the teaching and/or research staffs) so we do not come across as the “safety cops”.
I look forward to more discussion on this fundamental issue of safety management in academic institutions.
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Neal, you know I have the utmost respect for you as well.
In semiconductor production, where the potential for contact with miscellaneous organics is already relatively low, I will agree with you and David that the risk is manageable. But this is not the situation I was was addressing, and I should have made that more clear. It's one thing to clean a few atomic layers off a couple of glass or metal substrates, but it's another thing to clean buckets of flasks and frits encrusted with myriad organic and metallic contaminants (catalysts).
In almost any routine academic chemistry laboratory where organics are used and where the accident rates are *dozens* of times higher than in production facilities, it is sadly clear that despite everyone's best efforts, risk management of hazards fails on a frighteningly routine basis. In most universities I have been at, the PI enters the lab rarely, if at all, except for their first few years of tenure. I had colleagues at MIT who saw their advisor once every several months, and that was during scheduled meetings in his office. Housekeeping is generally quite poor, and lab procedures are handed down in a game of Telephone while wonderfully thoughtful SOP's gather dust. I have seen professors nod their heads in faculty meetings about the need for safety, professors whose own labs were filled with hoods cluttered with equipment and multiple bottles of unlabeled and uncapped waste.
I wish every laboratory could be the utopia in that (otherwise wonderful) video. I wish I just once had a professorial colleague that rational and safety-oriented. But in my experience, academic chemistry research labs are on the far side of the planet from that ideal. So unless a lab is specifically set up for semiconductor research and has procedures to segregate organics, I have to stand by my treatise.
You raise an interesting point about telling a PI "no". If a PI insists on using a process/method when far less hazardous and much less risky procedures are available, it is incumbent upon us to offer/explain those alternatives and have him justify the need, just as we saw after the UCLA incident with the push to raise awareness about the safer alternatives to t-Butyllithium (which some folks may still need to use, of course, which is where we really step up as you indicated). It's a fine line between being seen as the obstructionist Safety Police versus a thoughtful Safety Partner at times, indeed.
On Jan 18, 2011, at 10:44 PM, NEAL LANGERMAN wrote:
I really hate to disagree with you, but you are wrong. Piranha has been
since the 60's in both semiconductor R&D and production with very few
problems. The issue is NOT the hazard, which you are addressing, but the
risk, which must be managed.
So, if the PI makes the case for using "tetra-ethyl-death", it
help make it happen safely.
I cannot buy into telling a PI (I was one for 15 years) "you cannot do that"
Sorry, even though I tend to agree with most of your postings, you are wrong
Neal and Rob,
As a semiconductor process engineer for 40+ years, I must say I agree with
Neal on this one. The IC industry has safely used both acidic and basic
piranha at temperature of 100-150 C. with very few significant incidents in
the lab. The few times we have had problems with it were due to improper
disposal (failing to wait for it to cool properly) of the waste solution
into improper plastic waste containers with tight lids...Piranha can be
managed safely if people are properly trained to assess the risks in their
use/waste procedures and demand accountability of themselves and those
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