Clearly, this is an area of real and important concern. Having the opportunity to share and think about various points of view is what makes this discussion list so valuable …
After the institution has taken all reasonable and prudent precautions, do we still need to use waivers?
1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane causes irreversible sterility in males. What other lab chemicals may do the same? Do mutated sperm cause birth defects?
Should we ask all the males to sign a waiver and talk with their doctor about whether it is safe enough to take chemistry?
Do college athletic departments ask their students to sign waivers? Ask me sometime about a student injured playing HS football in Connecticut.
James A. Kaufman, Ph.D.
The Laboratory Safety Institute (LSI)
A Nonprofit Educational Organization for
Safety in Science, Industry, and Education
192 Worcester Street, Natick, MA 01760-2252
508-647-1900 Fax: 508-647-0062
Cell: 508-574-6264 Res: 781-237-1335
Skype: labsafe; 508-319-1225
Chair, ICASE Committee on Safety in Science Education
International Council for Associations of Science Education
P We thank you for printing this e-mail only if it is necessary
The problem of waiver forms has long been of interest to me. I will admit that I hold a minority opinion, at least at my school. Nonetheless, I would like to offer my opinion for consideration and only ask that those who disagree please refrain from excessively harsh responses.
I think that Dr. Wood is correct that it is the schools responsibility to do due diligence and I think that such due diligence is illustrated in Dr. Edwards’ response.
While Dr. Kaufman’s suggestion, “adequate protection,” is the ideal, I feel it is not truly practical. While I am not a fan of the ALARA principle of the nuclear industry, I feel that represents a compromise to which universities must aspire. The reason for this is that it is impossible to know all of the as-yet-undiscovered properties of laboratory materials (individually, let alone, in combination) will be. [Please, forgive the tautology.] The best example that comes to mind is 1,3-butadiene, which was long thought to be relatively harmless, is now believed to be a mutagen and carcinogen. One might also consider aspirin. I don’t know when it was discovered that taking aspirin taken in the third trimester of pregnancy could lead to birth defects, but I suspect that it was a long, long time after aspirin came on the market. All of the due diligence in the world cannot prevent careless or inappropriate behavior on the part of classmates. (Do Federal prohibitions of discrimination against the mentally ill, prevent their exclusion from a laboratory class? I don’t know, but a person with imperfect impulse control or grasp on reality could certainly represent a problem.) While the problem of adequate protection is challenging for general chemistry laboratories, it becomes much more so in advanced laboratories where meaningful content may require newer or more exotic materials, equipment, and procedures. Adding to the challenge is that, of necessity, laboratories must often be taught by graduate students (and sometimes, even undergraduates) whose command of proper procedures, despite the best efforts of faculty and safety officers, may be imperfect. Even if the instructor’s knowledge were perfect, that is no guarantee of successful transmission of that knowledge to the uninterested and inattentive students. In summary, there are too many things that a school cannot control to insure “adequate protection” if wet chemistry is to be done.
I would go further in regard to pregnant students. Should the student’s offspring exhibit birth defects after the student’s taking a laboratory, relatives (other than the student) can still sue on the child’s behalf. I, therefore, suggest that instead of signing a waiver that merely absolves the university, staff and faculty of responsibility, said waiver should specify that the student takes upon herself full responsibility (for consulting a physician and) for any and all consequences of participation in the laboratory. [Note to the politically correct: the pronoun, she, was used because the vast majority of pregnant people are female.] A similar assumption of responsibility should be taken by persons with medical conditions that might be exacerbated by (or, as in the case of epilepsy, result in) chemical exposure.
Perhaps my most radical opinion in the matter of pregnancy is that, while taking care of a healthy child is a burden, the significantly greater burden of caring for an unhealthy child would justify (to me, at least, were I pregnant) delaying taking a chemistry lab until the child was born. The school should make every effort to accommodate this option so that the student is in no way penalized.
Thank you very much,
Previous post | Top of Page | Next post