Eye protection in Cuba lab photos

Cuban chemistry students, who have limited access to safety gear, work on an educational lab at the University of Havana. Credit: Lisette Poole

Cuban chemistry students, who have limited access to safety gear, work on an educational lab at the University of Havana. Credit: Lisette Poole

In a recent cover story about chemistry research in Cuba, C&EN included several photos in which people were not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment–eye protection in particular–in labs. The photos garnered several critical comments, such as:

Please, please, please wear safety glasses in the lab! This should be a minimum requirement for all photos in C&EN. No glasses – no photo.

[T]here is no excuse for conducting laboratory work, or even being in a lab, without proper PPE. … I’m actually surprised to see such photos in C&E News without a suitable editorial comment.

C&EN generally does require that people must wear eye protection at a minimum in photos and video. We probably refuse a few photos a month for that reason alone.

We made exceptions for Cuba story photos for several reasons. One was a sheer lack of resources at the high school and university levels. It wasn’t that people were choosing not to wear eye protection, they simply didn’t have it.

A second reason was that we didn’t want to misrepresent lab conditions. Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology has better funding than the schools, but the lab culture there still didn’t involve wearing eye protection. For the purposes of this story, we thought it was important to show the lab environments as they are rather than how they ideally should be. (Would it have been journalistically ethical to ship eye protection to Cuba in order to get “better” photos?)

Consequently, C&EN decided to show the labs as they were, noting the lack of safety gear explicitly in the body of the story and in a photo caption. We didn’t make the decision lightly, and we realize that some may still disagree with C&EN showing anything but best safety practice. But we also know that our readers value fact-based, accurate journalism–which for this story meant using photos that we likely would not have accepted for labs in a more industrially developed country.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. Even in India we don’t get to wear eye protection…Even in some universities they don’t have compulsation to wear aprons(lab coat) for undergrads… Actually it is not lack of funding it’s the lab culture.. Moreover students have to buy there protective gear not the university which surely doesn’t include eye gear & gloves

  2. Publishing the photo and pointing out the lack of safety gear was a good call. The more times you remind people of the importance of PPE, the better.

  3. Good job on the photo. We all noticed and, hopefully, we understood what it indicated about the eye-protection culture in their labs. It was a news story which showed their environment as it is. That is how it should have been shown.

  4. I believe that the article was an accurate one but I think you should have emphasized that the students were not wearing safety glasses at a minimum. At least they appear to be wearing gloves and lab coats.

  5. As others said, it was a good call to publish exactly how it is in the lab. Mentioning it in the article that there is a reason for lack of glasses is also important. I notice the same thing going on in ads by more affluent schools around me and I take the time to email contacts there that they should not allow ads showing lack of PPE. The schools often come up with dumb excuses like, “Students do wear glasses, but they were removed for advertisement purposes.” Sigh

  6. Well, what is the excuse for the two plastic water bottles in the foreground of the picture?

  7. @Clair Claiborne–So you think that instead of “Cuban chemistry students, who have limited access to safety gear…” we should’ve been more specific about eye protection?

    @A Eyring–We won’t run those type of photos.

    @Vze Xkgi–The bottles might have something to do with the experiment rather than be there for drinking. One of them looks like it has paper or something in it.

  8. I believe that the photo suggests that despite warnings and admonitions, eye protection is not really that important. I believe that more than budgets are in play here. I believe that the culture suggests that eye protection is not really needed. But the question for C&ENews is why was the photo used? We cannot determine what experiments are being done. We can see what the students are doing. It looks a little crowded but that may be because everyone wanted to be part of the photo. Why did you choose to use this photo rather than one of an empty lab or of students in a classroom or of something else relevant to the article? And why, once this picture was chosen, did you not specifically note that there was no eye protection and that this is dangerous?

  9. @Joe Olechno–An empty lab would not have shown the conditions as effectively. The caption did note that the students have limited access to safety gear. We were not more specific precisely because we didn’t know what the experiment was and what specific safety gear would’ve been required.

  10. Along with majority of commenters, I endorse publishing a photo showing the harsh reality of this teaching lab at a Cuban university. Brings back memories of my high school chem lab in Detroit in early 50s.

    Along with no personal protection was lax supervision of students doing their lab experimental exercises. I remember that one of my setups of a distillation apparatus
    blue up because i made the apparatus connections air tight instead of vented.

    There was no pause step in the instructions for inspection and approval by the teacher.

  11. I agree with the observations of Sidharth Walia about the conditions of chemistry labs in India. Indians have a peculiar habit to wait for an accident then an enquiry committee is set up which works like a law committee and they give their recommendations after many days/even years and no action is taken by appropriate agencies and then we wait for another untoward incident to happen

  12. As chemist educated both in Latin America and Europe, I completely agree that the photograph was absolutely appropriate because of its accuracy and as stark contrast to the conditions faced in the United States and other parts of the world. I am certain most of the comments on the lack of protective eye-glasses emanate from an American-centred point-of-view that cannot conceive of other people carrying on the same tasks in a different way. Most developing countries are not so obsessed (or just do not have the budgets) to impose too strict security measures. And we do just fine, honestly.

  13. Twenty to thirty years ago it was common to have photos of lab technicians without safety glasses. We live in a more safety conscious world today due to the high cost of industrial accidents. In modern times it is appropriate for group photos in a laboratory to wear the required PPE (personal protective equipment), and that should include safety glasses.

  14. the photo shows the Lab reality in Cuba. As a Cuban Chemist I guess that the bottles are for making ice to be used in the experiment, don’t have ice machine in the lab neither. Now, I Am working in Brazil and here don’t have culture for using eye protection in the lab.

  15. @Frank Snitz–I am the author of the story on Cuba. In contrast to what you experienced, Cuban students at the University of Havana seemed to have a lot of supervision. The lab I visited had one teaching assistant or instructor for every five or six students.

  16. In Turkey, I had no safety glasses, only lab coat I wore. Now I am in germany and used to work with glasses. And now can not work without. So I agree that it is kind of lab culture.