Anecdotal data is interesting, but very often leads to misconceptions.
I consulted the latest data from the US Dept of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, which can be found at http://www.bls.gov/iif/.
I looked under “IIF News Releases” the “Current” section and clicked on the PDF bullet that said “Industry counts and frequency rates for Nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses from the Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses.
Table 1 of that report shows the incident rate (number of injuries/illnesses per 100 full-time workers). Selected rates are:
All industries including state and local government: 1.8
Chemical manufacturing: 1.4
Educational services: 0.8
While these are admittedly very general statistics, I don’t see any support for the fact that chemistry is a more hazardous profession than most or that academia labs are more hazardous than those in industry industry. In fact, I suspect that most of the injuries in the chemical manufacturing industry are due to physical hazards such as slips, trips, and falls rather than laboratory injuries. I know this is the case for academia because I have seen the data.
Having worked for over 30 years as a safety professional in academia and specifically in hazardous waste management in academia, I can attest to the fact that there is a heckuva lot less picric acid than there used to be. (I cannot remember a single report during that time of someone actually being injured from exposure to or use of picric acid.) There WAS a lot of picric acid in academic labs in the 1980’s; there is not near so much now. Attention to safety and safety practices have improved greatly since the 1980’s.
I am skeptical of claims that chemistry labs in academia are more hazardous than those in industry for two reasons: no one has generated any valid data on laboratory injuries/illnesses that compares the two, and there are very significant differences between industry labs and labs in academia. Are there unsafe practices in academic labs? Yes. Can we do better? Absolutely.
Peter Ashbrook, Director
Division of Research Safety
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
When I was in graduate school studying toxicology literally 50 years ago, a quote attributed to ACS was that chemists lived 10 years less than the average American. ACS long ago disputed such a quote, but I have never forgotten it, and from the chemistry labs I have monitored for safety and health practices in academia (the worst) and industry, I expect it may still be true today. We found so much dry Picric Acid in high school and college chemistry labs in 1985-90, that NJ issued an alert to all chemistry instructors in the state. One bottle in a Newark high school was so large the bomb squad estimated it would have destroyed the entire 2,000 student high school if it had been dropped on the floor in the storeroom.
George R. Thompson, PhD
President & CEO
Chemical Compliance Systems, Inc.
706 Route 15 South, Suite 207
Lake Hopatcong, NJ 07849
From: Ralph B. Stuart
Sent: Wednesday, August 06, 2014 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Historical chemical safety quote?
> >In the latest edition of Prudent Practices, page 2, it is attributed to Liebig via Kekule
Bingo! Thanks for the memory jog.
Ralph Stuart, CIH
Chemical Hygiene Officer
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