Is academic lab safety culture improving?

It’s hard to say, but there are still serious problems, according to people posting on reddit chemistry:

I mean these are supposed to be some of the brightest student chemists around, yet the attitude is really disappointing. Whenever I’ve called people out on it they typically say that they “know” what they are doing. The brazen attitude is really pathetic. I’ve heard other excuses like saying how it takes too long to put on lab coats. I’ve seen people refuse to evacuate during fire alarms to finish their columns. I’ve seen people eat while doing chemistry at their hoods.

Everything from “not caring about the equipment/techniques” like not bothering to fill the vac traps with liquid N2, setting up distillations with pressurized nitrogen instead of with a N2 bubbler, letting dishes become overwhelming before dealing with them, leaving wrappers out; to “legitimate dangerous practices” like using a low temp oil bath heated to 325C instead of a sand bath until the oil burned and blackened, dumping 20-30 g of sodium in ketyl stills because they don’t want to clean it, trying to throw away broken Hg thermometers in the trash.

I watched this girl work with god only knows what ligand and metal with gloves still on, proceed to pull out her iPhone and text her friends. Also headphones in lab, we bought a radio so you didn’t have to wear those and block out the world. What if an emergency comes up and I’m yelling for help but your in your own little world listening to music??

And some responses when Chemjobber tweeted about the discussion:

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. All of these are “symptoms” of the problem – where is the PI in all of this. If the PI simply said – “no coffee in the labs” the symptom is gone.

    The issue with the posted question is the lack of metrics to track the problem.

  2. Too many lab teachers allow students to listen to music and otherwise tolerate distractions that are simply antithetical to the singlemindedness required of laboratory work. Students have come to expect no limits placed on these distractions to the extent they can’t live without them, or so they think.

  3. They need to spend a summer in an industrial lab. I worked at the Dupont Experimental Station the summer after high school (with carbamates). Boy did I get religion — I was on a lab inspection team before the end of the summer.

    I had a few close calls in school, mostly as a result of proximity to my careless lab partners.

  4. I’ve been in academic labs that were awful… And some which are brilliant. Certainly the standard at unis is not the standard in industry and I always think it’s a shame.
    I regularly throw away 20 – 30 sample tubes a month which have no labels. People have accosted me clearing out things from vacume ovens saying ‘I know what it is’ to which the truth is, it was in a public place and no one BUT YOU has a clue what it is.