Culture of compliance versus culture of safety
Feb04

Culture of compliance versus culture of safety

Quote fom a New York Times story about the collapse of a construction waste dump in China that killed at least 69 people. How many U.S. workplaces does it also describe? “It’s quite often that the goal is to get approval, rather than be truly in compliance with the spirit, whether it’s the environmental impact assessment or safety,” said Dali L. Yang, a professor at the University of Chicago who has studied China’s efforts to strengthen safety regulation. “They think, ‘I can get away with this, so why bother?’...

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Safety training at ACS meetings in San Diego and Philadelphia
Feb03

Safety training at ACS meetings in San Diego and Philadelphia

As it always does, the American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Health & Safety is offering workshops on the Friday and Saturday prior to this year’s national meetings in San Diego and Philadelphia. The courses include: Laboratory Waste Management Lab Safety How to be a More Effective Chemical Hygiene Officer Reactive Chemical Management for Laboratories & Pilot Plants Meeting Chemical Safety Expectations in Instructional Laboratories Cannabis Extraction and Analysis If you register early, the fees are $300 for CHAS members, $350 for non-CHAS members, and $99 for K-12 science teachers who are members of the American Association of Chemistry Teachers. (Why might a teacher need safety training? Read this.) Click here for more information on the workshops and to...

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CSB approves final report on West Fertilizer explosion
Feb02

CSB approves final report on West Fertilizer explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) on Jan. 28 approved its final report on the 2013 ammonium nitrate fertilizer explosion in West, Texas, that killed fifteen people and injured hundreds of others. CSB found that key factors that led to the severity of the accident were: Poor hazard awareness Proximity of the facility to nearby homes and businesses Inadequate emergency planning Limited regulatory oversight Here’s CSB’s video about the incident: CSB issued a total of 19 recommendations relating to the explosion, to the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupational Safety & Health Administration, International Code Council (responsible for the International Fire Code), Federal Emergency Management Agency, Texas Commission on Fire Protection, State Firefighters’ and Fire Marshals’ Association of Texas, Texas A&M Engineering Extension Services, Texas Department of Insurance, West Volunteer Fire Department, and El Dorado Chemical...

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Comparing safety culture in industry to academia
Jan21

Comparing safety culture in industry to academia

Chemjobber had a guest post last week by Alex Goldberg, who started working as a pharmaceutical process chemist six months ago. He says, in part: And we have regular meetings about safety: we discuss near-misses and incidents and accidents (and we learn about the differences between them in safety training) that occurred in the previous month. And absolutely everyone wears his or her labcoat and safety glasses. Reflecting back on my academic training, I think about what universities can do to make safety an ongoing conversation, not just an onboarding exercise or an annual seminar. If we take long-hours and limited resources as a given in academic Chemistry departments — a topic which merits another discussion entirely — what can be done to build a culture of safety around those constraints? What does your lab and department do to accomplish this goal? Examples,...

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Chinese university lab safety–not that different from the U.S.?
Jan20

Chinese university lab safety–not that different from the U.S.?

From Chemistry World, a look at the safety culture of Chinese university labs following the death of postdoctoral researcher Xiangjian Meng from a hydrogen explosion: The Tsinghua accident is not an isolated incident. On 5 April 2015, a gas explosion killed one graduate student and injured four others in a chemistry lab at the China University of Mining and Technology located in the eastern Chinese city of Xuzhou. On 22 September 2015, a Peking University chemistry building caught fire after a hydrogen tank leaked. The fire did not result in any injuries. A fire that broke out at a lab at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology last Monday was blamed on ageing equipment. I found it interesting that people interviewed for the Chemistry World story said that lab safety culture is better elsewhere–but several of the examples cited as problems in China can certainly be said about many U.S. labs as well: The fact that Meng was working alone points to a poor safety culture at the lab. There should be at least two people working in a lab in case of an accident, Luo tells Chemistry World. [Note: Chemistry World does not cite a source for Meng working alone, and I have not heard that from the university] … Yin says that awareness of lab safety and training is very weak among Chinese researchers. She notes that researchers are sometimes reluctant to wear gloves and safety glasses to allow them to work without hindrance. … Wang Xiaojun, a professor of environmental chemistry at Guangzhou-based South China University of Technology, says that the lack of funding for lab infrastructure has hampered some lab heads’ efforts to make their workplaces safer. Researchers are left sometimes having to use their own funding to install safety equipment. This can leave some lab heads having to choose between safety and their own research. … But Luo says, besides research grants, most universities in China were allotted flexible budgets for infrastructure. ‘The problem is lab safety has never been prioritised.’ … One day before the Tsinghua accident, the education ministry urged universities and schools to carry out safety inspections. After the accident, the ministry launched a nationwide lab safety examination. But Luo says that campaign-style safety examinations do no good for lab safety. ‘The most likely action during nationwide [safety] inspections is to ensure the reliability of instruments, without considering the dynamic and flexible demands of research,’ Luo says. He suggests integrating safety training with experimental demands and lab safety management....

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Lessons from methanol flash fires
Jan19

Lessons from methanol flash fires

From a letter to the editor in this week’s C&EN: Yet another methanol flash fire has occurred with injuries when a high school teacher was demonstrating the “rainbow” flame test (C&EN, Nov. 9, 2015, page 6). While “rainbow” demonstrations have been conducted safely many times, they become dangerous if a large bottle of methanol is brought back to the demonstration to add more methanol. This same mistake has been repeated many times with catastrophic results. … The big lesson learned is that undergraduates (tomorrow’s teachers, graduate students, scientists) need a solid safety laboratory education—the long-term fix. Today’s undergraduates get safety training, not a safety education. Safety education teaches the “why” behind hazards so the student can understand and learn to respect the need for safety. Understanding the “why” teaches students the basis for safety measures and rules—making them more likely to use and follow them. Safety education teaches the student to think critically about safety. More than once, I have heard, “There’s not room in the curriculum” for safety education. We need to rethink our priorities, values, and ethics. Among various topics in chemistry, safety is the only one that can result in serious injuries or death if it is not taught or valued. Safety education needs to be included in the chemistry curriculum from the very beginning, teaching principle-based safety: Recognize hazards, assess the risks of hazards, minimize the risks of hazards, and prepare for emergencies. Many of our science teachers only take a few courses in chemistry, so we need to get to them early and often to give them as much of a safety education as we can before they move on to other majors—it is clear that flammable hazards need to be understood by these students. Read the full letter here. Find safety resources for demos and student experiments at...

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Trimethylaluminum explosion at Dow facility in Massachusetts
Jan08

Trimethylaluminum explosion at Dow facility in Massachusetts

On Thursday, five people were injured when a reaction between trimethylaluminum and water caused an explosion in a lab at Dow Chemical’s electronic materials facility in North Andover, Mass., Massachusetts Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan said at a press briefing. Four of the injured were taken to a local hospital, then three of them were transferred to Boston hospitals. The injuries were burns and shrapnel wounds, Coan said. The explosion occurred around 2:20 pm. Emergency responders spent the rest of the day securing the scene and ensuring it would be safe for investigators. There was significant damage to the lab where the explosion occurred–Coan said that some windows were blown out and that the HVAC system, hoods, ceiling panels, and lighting were damaged. Local news reports say that people living adjacent to the plant felt the explosion. The building, however is structurally sound and should be reoccupied once investigators are finished, Coan said. A trimethylindium explosion at the same site in 2013 resulted in the death of production operator Carlos A. Amaral, 51. Dow concluded that in that incident: • An employee sustained injuries as a result of the overpressure of a small stainless steel manufacturing vessel during an operation associated with a Trimethylindium (TMI) manufacturing batch. • An undesired and unexpected reactive chemical event occurred within the vessel as the employee was transporting the vessel from the glove box to the next manufacturing unit for further processing. • The overpressure resulted in a release of reacted and unreacted materials and a fire. The most highly probable cause of the unplanned event was the ingress of cleaning liquid from the cavity space of the ball valve into the crude TMI. Due to the nature of the event, it is impossible to completely validate this conclusion. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration initially fined Dow $28,000, then settled for $17,500. The citations included one serious one for failing “to ensure reactor pots were adequately designed and inspected to prevent or minimize chemical explosions.” Fire marshal Coan said that yesterday’s incident was “much different” from the 2013 one, although I was watching the press briefings online and couldn’t ask specifically what he thinks the difference was other than trimethylindium versus trimethylaluminum. Hopefully more information will come out once investigators can get into the lab and finish interviewing the people involved. There were two press briefings yesterday with the fire marshal, one at 6 pm and the other at 10 pm Eastern. A Boston Globe reporter tweeted these videos from that the 10 pm briefing. State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan pic.twitter.com/WbtCdsr140 — Astead Wesley (@AsteadWH) January 8, 2016 Work to be...

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Update on death at Tsinghua University
Jan07

Update on death at Tsinghua University

From my story in Monday’s issue of C&EN: “We are deeply saddened by the accident and loss of a good postdoc scientist,” Tsinghua chemistry department chair Xun Wang told C&EN. “According to the investigation of the government police department as well as our own investigation, the tragedy was caused by the accidental explosion of a hydrogen gas cylinder,” Wang said. As of Dec. 30, the blast’s cause was unclear. According to a post by the Beijing Administration of Work Safety, a Beijing vice or deputy mayor led some sort of safety inspection at Beijing University of Chemical Technology on Dec. 30. From the google translation of the post: Wang Ning, deputy mayor stressed that one should draw profound Tsinghua University “12.18” explosion lessons, school leadership to further enhance the understanding of the management of dangerous chemicals laboratory. Colleges and universities are the place to nurture talent, but also to pay attention to people’s safety, especially teaching laboratories and research laboratories using hazardous chemicals, storage security is a top priority. Second, the schools to organize the pre-holiday special inspection responsibility to the people, the use of hazardous chemical storage to conduct a comprehensive clean-up, focus on examination of system implementation, test personnel training, check targeted contingency plans and emergency response, security. Third, the City Board of Education in accordance with the requirements of the Ministry of Education on College lab safety management, strengthen safety supervision system in Universities, in close coordination with safety supervision, public security departments, from management mechanism, team building, development of the system, rating, personnel training and risk analysis, study and formulate targeted measures; summing up and promoting some good experience and practice, work together to promote the city’s university laboratory safety management of hazardous chemicals, and strive accident does not occur. So 1) colleges and universities need to pay attention to people’s safety, especially in teaching and research labs; 2) there will be lab clean-ups and inspections, and 3) education authorities are going to pay closer attention to safety. My question: Will any of the government or university responses lead to a culture that fosters working safely as opposed to a culture of compliance? h/t to C&EN’s Jean-François Tremblay for the Beijing Administration of Work Safety...

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