I read Rudy Baum’s editorial “Educating Ph.D. Chemists” with interest, especially the discussion about safety culture in academia versus that in industry and government laboratories (C&EN, March 28, page 3). We continue to hear about a weak safety culture in academia. After many years’ experience working as a research chemist and as a health and safety manager in government, I believe the gap in the knowledge of chemistry graduates is a result of the inadequacy of the safety education process for chemistry un der graduates.
Building a safety-conscious culture requires constant reinforcement of safety in all laboratory processes. If academic institutions would incorporate safety throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum, bringing up safety at each and every laboratory session over the four years of study, then they would begin to build stronger safety cultures. This in turn requires that faculty and staff become strong leaders and proponents of safety, not just in words but by their actions, demonstrating that safety is a critical and important component of all chemistry.
Realizing that many would not know what an undergraduate student should learn about safety, Dave Finster and I wrote an undergraduate textbook, “Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students.” [Jyllian notes: C&EN previewed the book a year ago.] Using this or some other resource to provide lessons in safety for each laboratory session will over time build the kind of safety culture that is needed in academia. This not only serves undergraduates who go on with their undergraduate degrees to become secondary school teachers and chemists working in industry, but it can also prepare graduate students to safely carry out their research in academic labs.
Skills in laboratory safety should be essential and critical elements in the undergraduate process. The reason that safety is a critical skill is that if you don’t follow safety principles and practices, you or others can be injured or even killed. This cannot be said of other areas of chemistry study. Current educational efforts do not adequately teach the knowledge needed to develop strong laboratory safety skills. There are many ways to incorporate safety throughout the curriculum, including prelab assignments, lectures, homework assignments, etc. Academia needs to develop a strategy to teach strong laboratory safety skills to its undergraduate students.
Robert H. Hill Jr.
Stone Mountain, Ga.
I’ve covered several schools’ approaches to undergraduate laboratory safety training over the last year. Anyone else doing something interesting with their lab curricula? Who’s tried using Hill & Finster’s book and how did it go?