Help build the Chemical Safety Library!
Oct04

Help build the Chemical Safety Library!

Scour your memory, lab notebooks, or the literature to find reaction safety information to enter into the Chemical Safety Library, a database tool that chemists may use to share information and avoid repeating dangerous events. To expand the library, the nonprofit that developed it is holding a two-week datathon from Oct. 17 to 31. The Pistoia Alliance launched the library earlier this year, and it now has more than 100 entries. “We are collecting community-contributed insights regarding reactions that have gone awry in the lab, with the aim of making this information freely and widely available to improve safety for all,” says Carmen Nitsche, Pistoia’s executive director for business development in North America. If you don’t already have a Chemical Safety Library account, please register in advance–library administrators screen user applications and reaction submissions to ensure the database remains free of spam. You can also register for a kickoff webinar on Oct. 18 to provide training, tips, and tricks. And be sure to alert your colleagues–students, postdocs, faculty, staff, EH&S personnel, collaborators–about the effort. Pistoia will reward top contributors with gift cards. C&EN plans to participate in the datathon by contributing information from our safety letters. Our challenge to you: Don’t let us be the top contributor! I hear all the time that people would like to have a database such as this, so now’s your chance to help create it. What happens during the datathon and a subsequent hackathon will help determine future development of the...

Read More
“Expertise is deeply gratifying, but it is also a potential trap”
Oct03

“Expertise is deeply gratifying, but it is also a potential trap”

From last week’s issue of C&EN, some lessons learned by ACS President Allison A. Campbell following a bicycle crash in Washington, D.C., and how they relate to laboratory safety: Since I regularly ride near my home in Washington state, I know the trails there quite well, including the overall quality, locations of potholes, and other hazards to be avoided. Additionally, we don’t get much rain, so it did not occur to me to pay any particular attention to puddles on the trail. So as I rode through a large puddle that morning, I was surprised when my front wheel dropped into a deep crater, sending me hurtling over my handlebars. My nose and chin slammed against the trail’s packed-gravel surface. I picked myself up slowly, stunned, stinging, and bleeding profusely. I was, all in all, fortunate. Even though I felt fine, I made a visit to the emergency room. I had neither a concussion nor broken bones: only scrapes, bruises, and two front teeth that were slightly pushed in but easily straightened. … We are all experts of one form or another, whether in the laboratory, the office, the kitchen, or any number of other settings. Expertise is deeply gratifying, but it is also a potential trap when it leads to overconfidence and a false sense of familiarity. Since my accident, I have been thinking about the idea of the “beginner’s mind” popularized by the Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki back in the 1970s. Suzuki observed that, as beginners in any practice, we are fully present and humble as we dedicate ourselves to learning something new and are on guard to grasp things we don’t know or might miss. As we accumulate skill and experience, the intensity of our awareness tends to erode. Suzuki urged us all to nurture our beginner’s mind, regardless of how advanced we might become at our pursuits, and to recognize that we are always beginners. Until recently, I had not thought about Suzuki’s advice as practical safety guidance. Read Campbell’s full column at...

Read More
Safety Zone live today at #ACSDC
Aug23

Safety Zone live today at #ACSDC

Today at 12:30 PM Eastern, join me for a Facebook live discussion with ACS President-elect Peter K. Dorhout of Kansas State University about safety issues in chemistry. Head to C&EN’s Facebook page and like us so you don’t miss...

Read More
#Chemsafety programming at #ACSDC
Aug17

#Chemsafety programming at #ACSDC

The 254th ACS National Meeting starts on Sunday in Washington, D.C. Here’s what’s planned for chemical and laboratory safety; the Division of Chemical Health & Safety has its usual CHAS-At-A-Glance ready for printing. You can also find CHAS and the Committee on Chemical Safety in the Expo at booth 1038. I will be giving two talks at the meeting. I’ve highlighted them with the Safety Zone flask below. Note: I did not have time to proofread this after putting it together. If there’s something that you want to see, double-check the time and location in the actual program! SUNDAY, Aug. 20 Morning Division of Chemical Health & Safety executive committee meeting, agenda book here, 8:30 AM-noon, Convention Center room 146C Afternoon High school program, 1:00-4:35 PM, Grand Hyatt Independence D/E (CHED, SOCED) Analyzing hazards and risks in high school chemistry labs Collaborating for success: Professional skills development for undergraduates, graduates and postdocs, 1:20-5:00 PM, Washington Marriott at Metro Center Junior Ballroom 2 (CINF, CHED, PROF, YCC) Importance of skills development in the ACS certified bachelor’s degree in chemistry Collaborative efforts between faculty and embedded safety professionals to improve critical thinking skills of undergraduates Advancing graduate education: Opportunities and challenges, 1:30-5:00 PM, Grand Hyatt Independence C (CHED, PRES) From the safety beat: Incorporating lab safety into graduate training (featuring this very Safety Zone blogger) Supporting improved safety practices in graduate chemistry education Division of Chemical Health & Safety awards, 1:30-3:15 PM, Convention Center room 209C (CHAS, CCS) Make safety habits by finding your cues, routines, and rewards for safety! Chemical Safety: The state of the arts Stanford’s laboratory safety culture – from chemistry to the campus Soft skills in training and interactions, 3:25-5:10 PM, Convention Center room 209C (CHAS, CCS) Elements of leveraging soft skills Be prepared: Things to do before EHS interactions with lab Developing and maintaining relationships with research: Who, how, and why? Supporting development of chemical risk assessment skills MONDAY, Aug. 21 Morning Committee on Chemical Safety open and executive meeting, 7:00-9:00 AM, Marriott Marquis Independence F-H Building a safety culture across the chemistry enterprise, 8:30-11:10 AM, Marriott Marquis Ballroom Salons 1/2 (PRES) The Chemical Safety Board: Safety is good business and good policy Safety goggles aren’t just for nerds Changing the federal oversight model of Department of Energy National Laboratories Are you prepared for a journey? Chemistry in an evolving political climate: Research priorities and career pathways in public policy, 8:30 AM-noon, Marriott Marquis Chinatown (YCC) Non-proliferation for chemical weapons Chemical safety as a national policy priority Teaching laboratory safety in the undergraduate chemistry curriculum, exhibitor workshop sponsored by Flinn Scientific, 9:30 am-noon, Convention Center room...

Read More
Hazards of high oxygen concentration, mixing incompatible materials, and more in process safety newsletters
Aug01

Hazards of high oxygen concentration, mixing incompatible materials, and more in process safety newsletters

From AIChE’s “Process Safety Beacon” newsletters: Hazards of high oxygen concentration – “Autoignition temperature (AIT) and minimum ignition energy (MIE) are lowered markedly by higher oxygen content. Substances ignite more readily, burn faster, generate higher temperatures, and are difficult to extinguish.” Mixing incompatible materials in storage tanks – “Understand potential hazardous interactions among different materials that you unload into your plant’s storage tanks. The July 2016 “Beacon” describes the “Chemical Reactivity Worksheet,” a tool which your engineers and chemists can use to help understand chemical interactions.” …but the temperature was below the flash point! – “Because the vessel was operating below the flash point of the contents, the concentration of fuel vapor in the vessel atmosphere was too low for ignition. There should not have been an explosion hazard. But the fuel may not only be present as a vapor (remember dust explosions). The investigation determined that the vessel agitator created a fine mist of liquid droplets (Fig. 2). The tiny droplets were estimated to have an average size of about 1 micron. … Flammability testing demonstrated that the mist could be ignited at room temperature in air – and the mist would be ignited even more easily in a pure oxygen atmosphere.” Are you sure that vessel is empty? – “When returning equipment to service following maintenance, make sure that it is completely clean and does not contain anything that could be incompatible with process materials or operating conditions.” Corroded tanks! – “Holes in tanks can allow toxic or flammable vapors to escape into the surrounding environment. Corrosion can weaken tanks, pipes, or other equipment so they can fail under normal operating conditions.” Incident investigation of a steam pipe failure – “There is a reason for including a team of people with different expertise in an incident investigation… In this incident, the engineers and other experts did not recognize the machine tool marks on the failed pipe, and yet it was immediately obvious to the expert, experienced machinist. His knowledge completely changed the conclusions of the investigation, and was essential for understanding the cause of the...

Read More
Eye protection in Cuba lab photos
May23

Eye protection in Cuba lab photos

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...

Read More