Posts Tagged → Safety
Tweet of the week:
“In discrepancy is discovery” – Lesson learnt from scientific research.
— Curious Wavefunction (@curiouswavefn) May 20, 2013
To the network:
Artful Science: Was antiquity really so tacky?
Cleantech Chemistry: Never Mind All That: Solar on the upswing
The Safety Zone: Dow launches Lab Safety Academy website
The Watch Glass: Teflon: Newcomer to heat exchange and What’s That Stuff? Chicken Eggs and Texas City: Portrait of a Chemical Town and C&EN Talks With Mae Jemison and Chemist tried in Chicago riot case
CENtral Science was a cornucopia of Nobel commentary this week:
Just Another Electron Pusher: Awarding nontraditional chemistry
Terra Sigillata: HHMI and Duke Celebrate the Lefkowitz Chemistry Nobel, Lefkowitz and Kobilka win 2012 Chemistry Nobel for GPCRs, Gurdon and Yamanaka share Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2012, and Lefkowitz Nobel: “There’s a lot of love here.” (video goodness!)
Plus, an update and some perspective on the Sheri Sangji case:
And the usuals:
Newscripts: Amusing News Aliquots
The Safety Zone: Friday chemical safety round-up
The ACS mole mascot put in an appearance at last weekend’s National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade in Washington, D.C.
Doug Dollemore, a senior science writer in the ACS Office of Public Affairs, manned the mole suit. Would-be moles need to be 5’7″ to 5’11″ to fit in the suit, which has a fan in its head to keep the “mole”nteer cool.
The mole was part of the USA Science & Engineering Festival delegation, which also included the Math Tree, Thomas Edison, Benjamin Franklin, a robotics club from Rockville, and a large mechanical spider from Vancouver, B.C.
The six columns of letters in this week’s print edition of C&EN and several more columns in this week’s edition of C&EN Online all pertain to the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, a 23-year-old research assistant in a chemistry laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, and C&EN’s coverage of the accident that led to her death.
Associate Editor Jyllian Kemsley has written extensively about the accident, culminating in a major investigative article that appeared in the Aug. 3 issue (page 29). To recap, on Dec. 29, 2008, Sangji was scaling up a reaction she had carried out at least once before to produce 4-hydroxy-4-vinyldecane from either 4-undecanone or 4-decanone. The first step of the reaction was to generate vinyllithium by reacting vinylbromide with tert-butyllithium, a pyrophoric chemical.
The experiment went terribly wrong when the tert-butyllithium spilled and ignited a spilled flask of hexane. Sangji suffered extensive burns on her upper body. She died on Jan. 16.
The letters C&EN has received on the accident focus on several themes. Continue reading →
C&EN has put out a lot of information this week on the UCLA lab fire that led to the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, with the magazine story and accompanying investigation reports, as well as the posts here on the blog. I have a few more thoughts before we wrap up.
First, it’s important to keep in mind that the only reason C&EN was able to get as much information as it did about what happened to Sangji was because the incident occurred at a public university that is subject to public records laws. Most of the reports belonged to UCLA’s fire marshals, fire department, police department, and environmental health & safety office. The notes and reports of people in similar positions at a private school would be unattainable if the school chose not to release them.
Cal/OSHA collected complementary information, but the agency would not have been involved had Sangji been a student. Undergraduate and graduate students, and sometimes even postdocs, are typically not considered to be university employees, even if they’re paid a stipend. Cal/OSHA and similar agencies only have jurisdiction over employees. (On a separate but related note, students also may not be eligible for worker’s compensation.)
In my story Learning from UCLA, about the laboratory fire that led to the death of Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji, one of the things that Rick Danheiser, a chemistry professor and chair of his department’s safety committee at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, cautions against is trying to improve laboratory safety in such a way that that you wind up with an adversarial relationship between researchers and environmental health & safety personnel.
Others have warned against being too punitive, since that just encourages people to hide what goes wrong. And as I’ve written before, if you don’t know what happened then you can’t learn from it.
So, if people want to improve the safety culture in their departments, what are positive ways to do it? Anna Davis, a researcher just wrapping up her first year at Dow Chemical, thinks that academic departments could benefit from collaborating with industrial labs on good safety practices. Rohm & Haas, which was recently acquired by Dow, was actually working on a project with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers to develop a safety certification program for academic departments, says Susan Dallessandro, a senior research & development director at Dow. Dow is evaluating how to develop that program within its existing outreach efforts, Dallessandro says.
James Kaufman, director of the Laboratory Safety Institute, suggests that colleges and universities get creative with rewards. “We have lots of ways of telling people they’re doing a bad job but relatively few ways of saying thank you for a good job,” he says. One idea that he has for larger institutions is to have EH&S officers nominate labs they inspect every month for a “safety excellence” award that includes a thank you from top-level administration. Once a year the school’s president could then invite those labs to a lunch at which he or she could personally thank them.
In a report issued last month (pdf), UCLA’s new laboratory safety committee also encouraged the university to develop a reward system to encourage safety compliance in labs. Does your school or workplace make a point of rewarding safe research practices? What positive ways would you suggest to promote lab safety?
Photo credit: Dow Chemical
One of the allegations that has been printed in other media accounts of the lab fire and its aftermath at the University of California, Los Angeles, is that members of Patrick Harran‘s lab tampered with the incident scene. Based on documents C&EN obtained through a California Public Records Act request, this seems to be what happened:
When Sheri Sangji was injured in a laboratory fire at the University of California, Los Angeles, the extent of her injuries—second and third degree burns to 43% of her body, as well as heat damage to her eyes—perhaps could have been reduced had she been wearing appropriate personal protective equipment. “Cal/OSHA said the lack of a lab coat was the single most significant factor in the severity of the burns that led to Sangji’s death,” according to a UCLA press release.
But a standard cotton lab coat does not provide much protection from fire, at least not unless the coat can be removed quickly enough to prevent the fire from spreading to the wearer’s clothing, says David Greenhalgh, a professor and chief of burn surgery in the UC Davis Health System and chief of staff for the burn center at Shriners Hospitals for Children Northern California.
Cotton and silk are very flammable, Greenhalgh says, while rayon burns easily but not as intensely, wool is difficult to ignite, and polyesters and nylon tend to melt and limit the spread of flames. He advises that researchers handling flammable materials use special flame-resistant lab coats.
When asked whether Sangji’s injuries could also have been lessened if the laboratory shower had been used to put out the flames rather than a lab coat, Greenhalgh says that the important thing is not how a fire is put out, but how quickly. “Stop, drop, and roll” is still the best approach if a shower or fire blanket isn’t nearby, he says, since running across a room will fan the flames.
Greenhalgh adds that showers are actually not recommended for extensive burns under typical circumstances, because the skin normally provides a thermal barrier and a cold shower can lead to hypothermia in a badly burned victim. In a lab incident, however, a shower may still be necessary for decontamination purposes.
Lab coats, of course, don’t protect your hands. There isn’t an adequate solution for hand protection, says Neal Langerman, the founder of the company Advanced Chemical Safety and a consultant to the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Committee on Chemical Safety. Truly flame-resistant gloves are bulky, so a wearer loses dexterity and thereby introduces risk of another sort. Many of the people Langerman works with choose to wear lightweight gloves that offer minimal fire protection, accepting that their hands are at risk of getting burned, he says, adding that “I don’t like it but I don’t have a good workaround.” A tight-weave Nomex, Kevlar, or leather-Nomex pilot’s glove will give about 3-5 seconds of skin protection from flames, as well as some protection from flying glass, Langerman says.
Langerman and Harry J. Elston, editor of the Journal of Chemical Health & Safety, will be conducting the ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety‘s “Ask Dr. Safety” session on preventing laboratory explosions at the upcoming ACS National Meeting in DC. Also at the meeting will be a preview of the National Academies’ revisions to Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Safe Handling and Disposal of Chemicals, presented by William F. Carroll Jr., a co-chair of the Prudent Practices update committee, an ACS past-president, and vice president for chlorovinyl issues at Occidental Chemical.
Photo credit: Shutterstock