“Safety is always in season”
Oct13

“Safety is always in season”

When I reflect on my department’s safety training, I realize that too often we send a message to students that we need to behave safely to avoid getting into trouble. “Wear your goggles so you don’t get yelled at.” “Dispose of your waste properly so we don’t get fined.” “No food or drink in the lab so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t shut us down.” Those perspectives cater to the idea that chemists and chemistry make problems, and they instill a culture of compliance rather than a culture of safety. In reality, many of us went into chemistry to solve problems, and being safe is an important component of creating that problem-solution environment. Safety should be a positive identity issue. I am a chemist, so of course I strive to be as safe as I can be. Being safe chemists requires that every one of us own the responsibility for safety. Safety should not be delegated to a set of rules made by a designated safety officer; it should be the concern and responsibility of every person who works in a lab or is part of a process. For example, in the semester when my co-instructor for an advanced lab class was pregnant, I impressed on the students that it was everyone’s responsibility, not just hers, to make sure that she was not accidentally exposed to hazardous chemicals. We should not only be safe as individuals, but we should each contribute energetically and enthusiastically to the safety of the entire community. So writes Laura Pence, a chemistry professor at the University of Hartford and the director of the American Chemical Society’s District I, in a comment in C&EN this week. Read the full piece to see what else she has to say. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t link to the resources she mentions, but they’re all available on the Committee on Chemical Safety’s...

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University of Hawaii fine lowered 40% for lab explosion
Oct12

University of Hawaii fine lowered 40% for lab explosion

From my story at C&EN: The University of Hawaii last week settled its case with the Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division (HIOSH) regarding a laboratory explosion in March. The settlement reduces the number of violations from 15 to nine and the fine from $115,500 to $69,300. … The settlement agreement combines similar violations, including two regarding laboratory exits and, separately, four centering on an inadequate chemical hygiene plan. The reduction in overall number of violations, which were assessed the maximum state penalty of $7,700 each, resulted in the reduced fine. The agreement also revised some wording in the violation descriptions. Go read the story for more, including a list of the violations identified by HIOSH. The settlement agreement is posted here, and a copy of the original citation document with changes marked is...

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Students suffered burns, eye injuries at Donghua University
Sep28

Students suffered burns, eye injuries at Donghua University

Three Donghua University graduate students in the School of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, & Bioengineering were injured in an incident involving potassium permanganate, according to the university and local news reports. The university says in a Sept. 23 post on the microblogging site Weibo that the incident is still being investigated. Two of the students were taken to the hospital, where they were treated for facial burns and eye injuries, the Sept. 23 post says. One of the two hospitalized students required eye surgery and further treatment. The third injured student received abrasions and was not hospitalized, the University posted on Sept. 21. The Sigma-Aldrich Safety Data Sheet for potassium permanganate notes that it is an oxidizer that can cause skin corrosion and serious eye damage. It is also toxic if consumed orally by humans. I’ve e-mailed the dean of the Donghua School Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, & Bioengineering to find out more about the incident, but so far he has not responded to me. If anyone who reads Chinese would like to go through the 44 pages of comments of Weibo and let me know if there’s any more information there, I’d welcome...

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University of Hawaii faces $115,500 fine for lab explosion
Sep27

University of Hawaii faces $115,500 fine for lab explosion

From my story at C&EN: The University of Hawaii faces a total $115,500 fine for 15 workplace safety violations after a laboratory explosion in March on the university’s Manoa campus. Postdoctoral researcher Thea Ekins-Coward, who worked for the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute, lost one of her arms in the explosion. You can read the rest here, including a full list of the citations. All of the citations were labeled as “serious” and given the maximum state penalty of $7,700 each. Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) watchers will look at that $7,700 number and wonder why it’s so low. Earlier this year, OSHA increased its maximum penalty for a serious violation to $12,471. States that operate their own occupational safety and health plans are required to match or meet the federal civil penalties. Hawaii has not yet updated its civil penalties because the federal guidance was issued too late in the Hawaii legislative session this year, Hawaii Occupational Safety & Health Division spokesman William G. Kuntsman says. For more about the OSHA fine increases and other ways the agency is looking to strengthen consequences for companies that endanger workers, see my story from earlier this year, “Chemical employers to face tougher worker safety...

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Hazard assessment tool released
Sep01

Hazard assessment tool released

The ACS Committee on Chemical Safety has developed a website with a collection of methods and tools for assessing hazards in research laboratories. The tool is based on the committee’s publication “Identifying & Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories.” From the website: Safety in the laboratory requires a full team effort to be successful. When everyone in the laboratory understands how to identify hazards, assess risk, and select the appropriate control measures to eliminate a hazard or minimize risk, accidents, injuries and near misses can be reduced. THE FOLLOWING INFORMATION WILL: Familiarize you with the fundamentals of hazard assessment; Guide you through preparation practices such as scoping and assembling your team; Offer a number of ways to conduct hazard assessments; Provide tools (e.g., templates, examples, etc.) that can be shared with your team and used...

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Gas cylinder storage at the University of Hawaii
Jul13

Gas cylinder storage at the University of Hawaii

When C&EN published my story about the fire department investigation into the explosion at the University of Hawaii (UH) that cost postdoc Thea Ekins-Coward one of her arms, we got many comments about whether or how the gas cylinders were secured. The fire department report and photos had little information about that issue. The University of California Center for Laboratory Safety (UCCLS) report released on July 1, however, devotes a section of its recommendations to how gas cylinder safety could be improved at UH. Note that Honolulu is not at high risk for earthquakes–according to the U.S. Geological Survey, it’s roughly equivalent to Sacramento or Las Vegas. Consequently, things that Coastal California scientists might need to do, such as double-strapping cylinders, are not required. That said, there was still room to do better. This group of ten cylinders, for example, which included hydrogen, carbon dioxide, helium, and carbon monoxide: Was secured as: Comments UCCLS: The typical gas cylinder clamp with cloth strap is only designed to support a single cylinder. Thus, a cluster of ten cylinders should be in a dedicated gas rack. Second, only cylinders of similar size should be secured together. Securing large and small cylinders together results in one cylinder size being secured at the wrong height. (Technical report, page 9) As for the two oxygen cylinders: UCCLS says: ● Both oxygen cylinders were strapped to the biosafety cabinet with a safety strap as required by OSHA and CGA P-1. However, the safety straps of both cylinders loosened as a result of the force of the explosion. Although not required by HIOSH, chaining gas cylinders presents a safer option. ● One of the oxygen cylinders was open when the explosion occurred and vented its gas content into the laboratory. However, it did not cause an oxygen enriched fire which would have led to more damage and possibly cause the adjacent oxygen cylinder that was closed to vent through the CG-1 (Rupture disk) pressure relief device. (Technical report, page 30) In another lab, UCCLS found this one, captioned “Gas cylinder attached to an adjustable shelf in a bookcase.” I don’t know which lab this was in, but judging from the mess on the floor and exposed insulation at the back, I’m guessing it was one of the labs adjacent to the one in which the explosion happened. The report notes that for two adjacent labs, cabinets were blown off the walls. UCCLS’s overall guidance on gas cylinder storage and use (Recommendations report, pages 7 to 10): Gas cylinders should be restrained by chains secured to a wall with Unistrut steel bars. In earthquake areas there should be...

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