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Category → Personal Protective Equipment

UC expands its lab safety program

In this week’s issue of C&EN, I have a story on how the University of California is implementing and expanding upon the lab safety settlement agreement that UC made with the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office last summer. In short, UC is taking the legal mandates for chemistry and biochemistry departments and expanding them to all research and teaching laboratories as well as to technical areas such as store and stock rooms. Go read the story for details.

Included with the story is a list of links to things such as UC’s new online “Laboratory Safety Fundamentals” training program, UCLA’s personal protective equipment (PPE) inspection checklist, and the system’s new policies on training, PPE, and minors in labs. As part of reporting on the story, I went through the safety fundamentals training and scored 19/20 on the test at the end. If readers are inclined to do the same, be warned that it will take about three hours, at least if you click through the various bits to get additional information.

UC also purchased personal protective equipment for researchers, including 115,000 lab coats. Part of that purchase involved special-ordering flame-resistant, NFPA 2112-rated lab coats from Workrite in small sizes tailored for women. I don’t see them available now on the company’s website, but clearly it at least has patterns. I don’t know whether Workrite is willing to make more, but it’s probably worth a call if you’re looking for some.

Enhancing eye protection and livening lab coats

Artist Freddy Sicoli airbrushes lab coats at Pittcon 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Matheson

Artist Freddy Sicoli airbrushed lab coats at Pittcon 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Matheson

Paul Bracher posted yesterday at Chembark about trying to make eye protection more appealing to young scientists:

I thought we needed to do a better job of making eye protection cool/fun, so first, we ordered them some safety glasses like “real scientists” wear (for general use) in lab. I bought three varieties of glasses from my favorite safety company. Each pair was only about $2—well worth the investment. At the next club meeting, we let the students choose what model and color they wanted. (To my surprise, the boys all wanted red frames while the girls opted for the black or clear frames.) Finally, in order to let the kids establish a personal connection to their PPE, we brought some knickknacks to let them personalize their glasses. These included rolls of colored tape and packets of jewel stickers that the kids could use to “bling out” their frames. This model had particularly wide frames that gave the kids a bunch of space to decorate.

Right after the decoration activity, we performed our most demanding (and fun) activity to date: making glow sticks from scratch. I don’t think I saw a single kid remove his/her glasses during the experiment. We’ll keep monitoring the situation in the future, but I think we’ve made some headway.

Chemjobber followed up with his own post in favor of the idea, even for older researchers. But one Chemjobber commenter was concerned:

Adding some things to your PPE is going to decrease effectiveness… especially with flammability or reactivity.

I’m not sure that’s a big worry. While I’d hesitate to mess with a flame-resistant lab coat, I don’t see that tie-dying or airbrushing a standard one would render it ineffective. The same goes for adding a bit of bling to eye protection, although you’d want to be careful not to hinder sight. Readers who disagree are welcome to do so in the comments, as always!

If anyone has personalized their safety gear, I’d love to see it! Feel free to post photos in the comments or e-mail them to me at j_kemsley@acs.orgj_kemsley@acs.org.

Gloves in the laboratory: To wear or not to wear?

George Washington University teaching assistant Anice Mathew instructs chemistry students in the use of an extraction funnel before they attempt to extract chlorophyll from spinach.
Credit: Peter Cutts Photography (From “Personal Protection: Whither Lab Coats? C&EN June 28, 2010, page 18)

Andrea Sella, a chemistry professor at University College London, has this to say about reusable glove use in the laboratory:

The consequences of using reusables is substantial. First of all, they are moderately comfortable so people wear them continuously – this leads to students wandering all over the place while wearing them – out students use them on the lab computers and spectrometers, the scales and so on, contaminating pretty well everything. Yup, it’s bad practice and that’s what we tell them. But it still happens. Secondly because they are comfortable they lead to some rather thoughtless behaviour – it’s common to see students put a gloved finger onto a hotplate to check to see if it’s hot. A few times they melt the rubber onto the tip of their finger. It doesn’t seem very bright, but more worryingly, it’s probably an indication symptom of risk compensation, the tendency of an individual to alter their behaviour when they feel safer, much as if you play football you’ll tackle that little bit more aggressively if you’re wearing shin pads than if you’re not. …

But there is another dimension to this: waste disposal. By using disposable gloves we end up having to send a quarter of a million gloves a year to be incinerated each eyar. These have been used once, and a careful student shouldn’t really have got anything onto the gloves anyway, so they are probably pretty clean. Isn’t it incredibly wasteful? For the sake of an unknown and possibly questionable increase in personal safety we end up spending tens of thousands of pounds for items that could be reused. And then have to pay for someone to take all this stuff away.

He proposes at the end to have students use reusable gloves. Seems reasonable. But in further discussions with his colleagues, out came this:

One of the comments that came out of these discussions was the number of incidents we’ve had over the past few years involving students transferring chemicals from their gloves to their face, neck, and elsewhere. In fact, if you stand and watch students in the lab – as I had occasion to this week – you see them contantly adjusting their safety specs and scratching their neck, nose, ears at regular intervals. All wearing gloves, of course. And because they are wearing the gloves, they are blissfully unaware that there might be anything on the outside of the glove. …

By providing gloves we are actually lulling our students into a false sense of security. They get stuff on their gloves and even if they’re aware of it, they just assume that because they have gloves on “it’s OK”. Risk compensation works in mysterious ways. …

Now I’m not saying that one shouldn’t wear gloves under any circumstance. Far from it. Clearly there are issues of scale and of context. But what I am saying is that for the vast majority of procedures like the ones we conduct in our teaching labs, gloves may look smart but they have precisely the opposite effect to what we intend.

It’s wrong, it’s wasteful, and it’s expensive. And we have plenty of, for the most part, fairly minor incidents to deal with that probably would not happen if our students didn’t wear them.

So the plan is to go even further and actively discourage students from wearing gloves as a matter of routine in our labs. Why? Because, completely contrary to “common sense”, we believe they’ll be safer and actually work better in the lab.

I’ve written before about schools’ decisions not to have students in teaching labs wear gloves or lab coats. But I know that some still believe that minimum lab attire, no matter what, should be goggles, lab coat, and gloves. Also, you should wear personal protective equipment to account for everything going on in the lab: You may never spill something, but what about your labmates?

I’m curious to hear what Safety Zone readers think: Is there a minimum set of PPE that should be worn for teaching labs (perhaps accompanied by a contamination demo, like Seattle University does with fluorescent powder), or is this something to be considered on a lab-by-lab basis? And what about for research labs?

Safe science garb: Lab coats

What would you do to improve the white sack?

A guest post by my C&EN colleague and sewing aficionado Cheryl Hogue.

As Halloween approaches, demand certainly must rise for lab coats. They are essential for portraying everyone from Beaker of “Sesame Street” to characters from “Grey’s Anatomy.” Nothing says “scientist” like a lab coat.

Of course, lab coats are also required gear in many (most? all?) chemistry labs.

What makes for a good lab coat? ChemBark’s recent blog post on buying a lab coat got me thinking about this. It also sparked a mad desire in me to design a lab coat for a woman, tailored to following curves a bit while not hugging the body. On many women, including me, many unisex lab coats look like white sacks with lapels and pockets.

But before I could break out my sewing machine and go totally “Project Runway,” I began pondering the characteristics of a good lab coat. Jyllian pitched in and checked with the consulting firm Advanced Chemical Safety. She found there are neither regulatory nor voluntary standards for lab coats.

So now, I throw it open to the chemistry community – what are your criteria for a lab coat? Should the characteristics of a coat vary depend on the type of work done in the lab?
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Eyes in the lab

One thing that made a big impression on me recently was a poster depicting how well different forms of eye protection work when your head is splashed. Along the lines of “a picture is worth a thousand words,” the pictures clearly show that goggles are the hands-down best choice when it comes to working with liquids. Had I seen it when I was a student, that poster would have done a lot to get me to wear goggles rather than safety glasses. (Poster shown after the jump.)

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Slap on those safety glasses!

My colleague and co-blogger, Jeff, is out this week and asked me to post this for him.

One of the most time-consuming elements of preparing an article for publication is finding good photos. And when you get one that works, it is hard to lose it.

Last week, I lined up a lab photo to go with an article on a Department of Energy research grant program. It hadn’t been easy. The DOE program funds startup research and it is hard to take a picture of something that barely exists.

But I got a good one—two researchers, a student and faculty member, intently overlooking what appeared to be a small reactor vessel. Absent from the photo was any form of eye protection.

I tried to sneak it through the C&ENews editor. For a wild moment, I even thought about photo-shopping glasses onto their faces. But the magazine has become increasing vigilant about checking lab photos for eye protection. And that is that.

I contacted the university lab where the photo was taken and was told:

We have lab safety guidelines which are site-specific in our labs. In the area where this photo was taken, both (the subjects) were following the particular safety guidelines for that area of that lab.

That view just sets many of our readers on fire. I have been told that “Everyone should put the glasses on the minute they enter a lab, no matter what they are doing.” I have gotten phone calls and seen more than a few letters to the editor saying the same thing. [Jyllian notes: See this week's letters to the editor for a reader's concern about photos of researchers not wearing gloves.] And I have written stories of lab techs being injured during explosion while they were in the lab changing from protective clothing to street clothes.

But I wonder if the safety glasses avoidance issue is so big and widespread it demands a universal, absolute dictum? Are there places in a lab where safety glasses are just plain unnecessary and such a pain that we’d do well to just leave them off?