Talking about safety culture at #ACSDenver

While we certainly missed our friends who were unable to make it to Denver because of the hurricane on the East Coast, I’d still say it has been an excellent meeting for both the Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) and the Division of Chemical Health & Safety (CHAS).

Safety culture in academic laboratories has become a popular topic. Efforts by CCS to raise the issue’s profile within ACS will result in today’s Council discussion on the discussion. Both CHAS & CCS meetings included presentations from the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board on their investigation of academic safety incidents and causes. I also saw several National Academies senior staff members in Denver; they continue to work on raising the necessary money to follow through on their initial meeting on the topic.  It looks like this will continue to move forward on multiple levels. Hopefully there will be a consolidated effort to advance this important cause.

On another subject, several former ACS Presidents have approached me about CHAS developing an online laboratory safety certificate program for graduate students. The objective is to give graduate students a “leg up” on preparing for life after academia. As many of you know, a major complaint by industry is that students don’t have the safety experience they need to succeed when they’re hired. By developing a comprehensive course with testing and a certificate, these graduates could add something helpful to their resumes. I’ll throw a disclaimer right here that hands-on experience in using safety equipment and PPE is also necessary, but a well-designed program could be a strong basis. I’ll be talking soon with both ACS staff and outside providers to determine the best approach. Feel free to chime in if you have ideas!

Last but not least, thanks to the C&EN staff, particularly Jyllian and Amanda Yarnell, for including me in their get-together this weekend. I had a great time and would say they are not only professional and hard-working in their efforts to keep C&EN’s high profile, they’re also fun people!

Author: Russ Phifer

Russ is a professional volunteer, active in ACS since 1982. He is the only History major (College of Wooster, 1974) to Chair an ACS Committee (Chemical Safety), Technical Division (CHAS), and Task Force (Laboratory Chemical & Waste Management). In his spare time he is Executive Director of the National Registry of Certified Chemists (NRCC), EH&S Manager for a printing plant (Chiyoda America, Morgantown, PA), and run his own environmental health & safety consulting and training firm (WC Environmental, LLC). Also active in local politics, he nonetheless enjoys spending time with his wife Molly and their five children.

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  1. ACS Council discusses “academic laboratory safety culture”. Nancy Jackson, current President of ACS opened a discussion of safety in the academic research laboratory at the Council meeting in Denver. Others will provide more commentary on the content of her presentation. For me, as an interested observer, I noted that the audience was not only highly receptive to the need for ACS to provide real leadership but they made many practical suggestions as to how to improve safety awareness throughout the academic community. Part of the discussion got repetitive on training graduate students, and the thorny issue of making PI responsibility part of the working dynamic of every academic science department was generally avoided.

    The discussion was ended due to time, but the audience seemed to want to continue for an extended period. Many cogent comments were over-heard as the audience left he room for coffee.

    At this point, CHAS and CCS really own the task of continuing the momentum imposed on ACS by Nancy Jackson. Various projects related to this topic are underway, and the leaders of those projects, many of whom are frequent contributors to this blog, need to stay focused on the task.