Neil, I'm sure you will not be alone. That's ok. The world would be much duller (and I'm not sure any safer or healthier).
I have served as an expert witness in a court case where a pregnant mother was exposed to chemicals in the lab and subsequently gave birth to a child with multiple birth defects. The settlement was $10 million.
I am much more in favor of using an informed consent form, as one part of all we do to try to protect mothers, fathers, and unborn children.
Personally, I would like the form to state that while the institution has taken all reasonable and prudent precautions to ensure that none of the chemicals being used is currently known to cause either reproductive or fetal harm, there is still the possibility that some may be discovered in the future to have these properties.
We might, in some circumstances, want to add that while some substances (A, B, and C) are known to cause reproductive or fetal injury, the lab procedures which you are required to follow are designed to prevent exposure and reduce risk of harm to an institutionally acceptable level. However, an accident or failure to follow the procedure could result in an exposure.
The individual (employee or student) acknowledges that they have been informed about this potential risk and are willing to accept it. Since safety is a judgment about the acceptability of risk, individuals may choose to not work with these substances.
Furthermore, when your CHP describes how reproductive and fetal toxins must be handled in the lab. The organization had jolly-well better ensure that employees, students, visitors, vendors, and contractors follow the rules. Unless, of course, the organization would like to find itself with an injured party and a totally indefensible legal position.
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
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From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**med.cornell.edu] On Behalf Of Neil Edwards
Sent: Friday, August 28, 2015 2:04 PM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Waiver Form - Bad Idea
Jim Kaufman, I have to disagree with you on this. I hope that none of us here would support the use of a waiver form as a substitute for diligently trying to minimize laboratory hazards. I don't think that is the point here.
For me, the pregnancy issue was the driving force behind the development of the waiver form here. I had been suggesting for years that we do something about protecting both mother and fetus in these situations. I repeatedly made the same point that Ben Reukberg made in his post on this subject. At some time in the not-too-distant future, there is going to be a lawsuit by someone acting on behalf of a young child with health issues, trying to blame it on a university that allowed the pregnant mother to be exposed to certain chemicals in a lab course. Do we have an obligation to the unborn child even if the mother is willing to take the risk? Can we prohibit the mother from taking the lab course? As Dr. Reukberg said, it is a Catch 22. The waiver is of course just a piece of paper; but taken along with other measures, I believe it has value.
I have seen pregnant women who insist on taking Organic Chem, and who should clearly be avoiding a lot of the chemicals that are typically used in the labs. They sometimes seem more concerned with getting their coursework completed and out of the way, and less concerned with the possible health implications. The waiver is just one of the weapons in our arsenal. By getting the pregnant student to read it, we are at least forcing her to think a bit more about the issues involved. That alone is worth the effort.
Now that we have reading and signing this document as part of our first-day procedures, we make sure that everyone signs it - male or female. It could apply just as well to a student with asthma or other respiratory or allergy issues. So with whatever else we are doing to make labs safer, I think the use of this form takes it a step further, even though in some cases it might not help.
Department of Chemistry
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Brookville, NY 11548-1300
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