University leaders should be responsible for lab safety, report says
Apr14

University leaders should be responsible for lab safety, report says

From Andrea Widener’s story in C&EN: Presidents and chancellors of U.S. universities must take personal responsibility for changing the lab safety culture in academia, a new report says. The document, published by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU), challenges top university officials to create high-level committees responsible for lab safety, to modify tenure and promotion requirements to include safety, and to promote open commutation about accidents and near-misses on campuses. Although the report contains other recommendations, the ones putting emphasis on university officials’ accountability are being viewed as most important by the report’s authors and other safety experts. Read Andrea’s story for more, or check out the report...

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Applying the “new view” safety philosophy to laboratories
Feb17

Applying the “new view” safety philosophy to laboratories

Coming up on March 2 is a free webinar on “The New View: Tools for Engineering a Stronger Lab Safety Culture,” sponsored by BioRaft. What is the new view? I’m still trying to figure that out. Here’s one summary from J. Safe. Res. 2002, DOI: 10.1016/S0022-4375(02)00032-4: One view, recently dubbed ‘‘the old view’’ (AMA, 1998; Reason, 2000), sees human error as a cause of failure. In the old view of human error: Human error is the cause of most accidents. The engineered systems in which people work are made to be basically safe; their success is intrinsic. The chief threat to safety comes from the inherent unreliability of people. Progress in safety can be made by protecting these systems from unreliable humans through selection, proceduralization, automation, training, and discipline. The other view, also called ‘‘the new view,’’ sees human error not as a cause, but as a symptom of failure (AMA, 1998; Hoffman & Woods, 2000; Rasmussen & Batstone, 1989; Reason, 2000; Woods, Johannesen, Cook, & Sarter, 1994). In the new view of human error: Human error is a symptom of trouble deeper inside the system. Safety is not inherent in systems. The systems themselves are contradictions between multiple goals that people must pursue simultaneously. People have to create safety. Human error is systematically connected to features of people tools, tasks, and operating environment. Progress on safety comes from understanding and influencing these connections. Here’s a more recent blog post exploring what “new view” means. The “new view” is also related to a perspective called Safety II, which is described in this whitepaper by the European Organisation for the Safety of Air Navigation. As for the webinar itself, BioRaft says it will cover: Safety professionals in diverse industries around the world use the New View to improve communication and safety in their organizations, so why not bring this methodology to lab safety? In this free webinar, speakers Dave Christenson and Ron Gantt will teach you the philosophy behind the New View, what it is capable of accomplishing, and how you can go out and begin to make it work for you. After completing this webinar, you will: – Understand what the New View is and how it improves communication and safety. – Learn why industries like nuclear power rely on the New View. – Be able to use the New View to assess your safety culture. – Have the tools to build trust in your organization. – Receive practical suggestions on how to start using this methodology in your...

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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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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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AAAS rescinds election of Patrick Harran as a fellow
Dec23

AAAS rescinds election of Patrick Harran as a fellow

Yesterday, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced that it would rescind its election of University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick Harran as a AAAS fellow. The AAAS statement says: The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today announced that its Section on Chemistry has voted not to move forward with the nomination of Patrick Harran as a Fellow, following re-review of his nomination. On December 18, the AAAS Council approved the Chemistry Section steering group’s request to conduct a complete re-evaluation of Dr. Harran’s nomination after it became apparent that an initial review of nomination materials had not included all relevant information. Members of the nomination reviewing committee recently became aware of a 2008 case involving the death of a technician in the UCLA laboratory of Dr. Harran. The AAAS Council Subcommittee on Fellows, which is empowered to review the nomination and election process, is also considering changes to the Fellow review process for subsequent nominations. The statement is confusing, because in AAAS’s Nov. 16 fellows election announcement, it said that the fellows–including Harran–had already been elected. Now it’s saying that it won’t move forward with the nomination. If Harran was already elected, wouldn’t AAAS have to revoke that, not just put a halt to the nomination? I asked AAAS director of news and information Gavin Stern to clarify, but I haven’t heard back yet. Update with a clarification from Stern: Dr. Harran’s case is unprecedented under AAAS bylaws and the history of AAAS elected Fellowship, which dates back to 1874. Dr. Harran was nominated independently by three existing AAAS Fellows and then ratified by elected members of the AAAS Council. Under our bylaws, this process is member-driven without interference or influence by AAAS staff. On December 18, the Chemistry Section steering group received approval from the Council for a complete re-evaluation of Dr. Harran’s nomination. They decided not to move forward — therefore Dr. Harran will not be installed as a...

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