Date: Tue, 28 Jun 2011 23:24:58 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: ILPI <info**At_Symbol_Here**ILPI.COM>
Subject: Re: Boston College incident follow up
In-Reply-To: <01d001cc35f3$2560fce0$0201a8c0**At_Symbol_Here**ZavonHP>

I concur that realistic, repetitive training can go a long way to ameliorating panic reactions in emergency situations.  Alas, the resources and institutional commitment for this sort of thing are lacking in most academic situations, and for some folks it just won't ever sink in.

One low-cost method that may be effective is to place a site-specific poster-size emergency checklist in the most visible common area of the laboratory/suite.   Focus on the most important response issue (fire/explosion, for example) only.  Hopefully, the workers in the area will better retain their key emergency response skills (or eventually learn them through osmosis) or perhaps they may even turn to the poster in an emergency (911 called, fire alarm pulled, evacuation, personnel accounted for etc. etc.).   As a small example of what I mean, see the fire checklist I have posted at 

I have never personally seen laboratory safety training materials discuss that the trainee or his/her coworkers may freeze, panic, or do something completely wrong in an emergency situation.  A coworker's inappropriate reaction can not only be distracting or disorienting, it can compound an already bad situation.   I encourage everyone to include this topic in their training courses.

Recent events (UCLA, Yale etc.) aside, I have never personally seen serious academic institutional/departmental followup response with Lessons Learned from minor accidents, major incidents, or near misses.   Having a protocol for a formal analysis (What happened?  Facts instead of departmental gossip.  What went wrong? How could this be avoided? What SOP's should change?  etc.), ensuring that the analysis is distributed to all possible stakeholders, and archiving it on an easily accessible web site is a great way of making sure that history does not repeat itself.   I have the impression that this kind of analysis is the norm at places like DuPont, but, sadly, in my own personal experience, academic institutions often fail to do so either out of liability/publicity concerns, leadership inertia/vacuum, or both.     Formal accident followups should be SOP and the importance of these should be stressed in academic safety training courses.

Finally, those archived incidents make great case studies that should be utilized in laboratory training.  After giving the full spiel, take the time to pull out a couple of case studies and ask the trainees what should have been done, what could have been improved etc.  Interactive training forces the trainees to think about the issues and the instructor achieves instant feedback on how effective the training has been.  This makes training a much more interesting experience for both parties.   If you are fortunate enough not to have any site-specific cases to use, a wealth of them are available at eergroups/labHandScommittee/Pages/LaboratorySafetyIncidents.aspx  The unexpected dangers reported at /safety/index.html also afford additional scenarios.

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

On Jun 28, 2011, at 8:26 PM, Peter Zavon wrote:

On Tuesday, June 28, 2011 David C. Finster said to the DCHAS-L Discussion
List in part:

I would "second" Brad's comments about the need for training
and education that exposes students to simulated events and
that is heavily based on repetition.  Truth is:  people panic
when confronted with unexpected events and, in knowing this,
it's almost laughable that one of first "rules" we teach in a
panic-inducing situation is "not to panic." Yeah, right.  So,
I tell students to go ahead and "panic" (for a BRIEF moment!)
to get that out of the way and then "go back to your

Since panic is a visceral reaction that prevents reason and logical
thinking, it seems to me that telling people "not to panic," either in
training or at the time of a frightening event, is one of the most useless
instructional activities imaginable. Repetitive simulated practice that
other have endorsed is the way to go. That is likely to prevent panic by
reducing the novelty of the situation.

"Don't panic" as an instructional step is on a par with "Be more careful" in
counseling someone whose apparent lack of attention is thought to have
caused an "accident." Both phrases make the speaker fell better, but neither
conveys actionable guidance.

Peter Zavon, CIH
Penfield, NY


Previous post   |  Top of Page   |   Next post

The content of this page reflects the personal opinion(s) of the author(s) only, not the American Chemical Society, ILPI, Safety Emporium, or any other party. Use of any information on this page is at the reader's own risk. Unauthorized reproduction of these materials is prohibited. Send questions/comments about the archive to
The maintenance and hosting of the DCHAS-L archive is provided through the generous support of Safety Emporium.