UT Austin to prohibit concealed carry of handguns in some laboratories
Mar01

UT Austin to prohibit concealed carry of handguns in some laboratories

Last year, Texas passed a bill requiring public colleges and universities to allow people to carry concealed handguns anywhere on campuses. Schools have until Aug. 1 of this year to implement new concealed carry policies in response, although they cannot put in place rules that have the effect of generally prohibiting concealed carry. Texas prohibits carrying handguns openly on college and university campuses. In February, the University of Texas, Austin, released its concealed carry rules. Of particular interest to the Safety Zone: POLICY STATEMENT | NO. 13 The concealed carry of handguns should be prohibited in areas where the discharge of a firearm might cause great harm, such as laboratories with extremely dangerous chemicals, biologic agents, or explosive agents, and areas with equipment that is incompatible with metallic objects, such as magnetic resonance imaging machines. Finding: Handgun license holders are generally not trained on the safe use of weapons in areas where an accidental or intentional discharge might cause great harm such as laboratories with hazardous chemicals, gases, or biological agents. Such a discharge of a weapon could have grave and catastrophic consequences. Moreover, handguns are inappropriate in the vicinity of some types of equipment, such as equipment containing powerful magnets. This policy is reasonable and addresses specific safety considerations necessary to ensure safety in these unique environments. This policy does not have the effect of generally prohibiting license holders from carrying concealed handguns on campus. The adoption of this policy is within the authority granted to university presidents. Implementation Strategy and Criteria: There are many locations and activities on campus that require these specific safety considerations. The campus will identify and prohibit the carrying of concealed handguns from these areas. The campus will provide the required notice along with information in appropriate materials and websites. UT Austin chemistry department chair Devarajan Thirumalai says that “a working group comprised of faculty, staff, and students is currently working on an implementation plan.” Texas A&M University also has a committee evaluating its policies. Texas Tech University’s Board of Regents was supposed to review that school’s proposed policy last week. A New York Times story notes that Rice, Baylor, and Southern Methodist universities are all keeping their campus-wide prohibitions of concealed...

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Defining chemical safety, health, hygiene, and security
Mar27

Defining chemical safety, health, hygiene, and security

Last week, this question landed in my inbox: “What is the functional difference among chemical safety, chemical security, chemical health and chemical hygiene?” I assume that the person who e-mailed me is not the only one wondering about all those terms. Here are the definitions I put together with input from Larry Gibbs of Stanford University, Kimberly Jeskie of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Neal Langerman of Advanced Chemical Safety: Chemical safety is the application of the best practices for handling chemicals and chemistry processes to minimize risk, whether to a person, facility, or community. It involves understanding the physical, chemical, and toxicological hazards of chemicals. Chemical health is a subset of chemical safety that focuses on toxicology and health risks. Chemical hygiene is essentially the same as chemical safety. It is the collection of best practices used to minimize chemical exposure, whether to workers or the community. It is one part of occupational or industrial hygiene, which broadly focuses on controlling biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic, and psychosocial stressors to ensure the well-being of workers and the community. Chemical security involves preventing illegal or antisocial use of chemicals, often by restricting...

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Incorporating safety into good research conduct
Mar04

Incorporating safety into good research conduct

From Chemistry World today comes news of new sanctions for research misconduct, as set out in the Research Councils UK Policy and Guidelines on Governance of Good Research Conduct. Chemistry World reports: Universities who do not take cases of research misconduct seriously could have their funding withdrawn. … Penalties could be applied to universities or research organisations which fail to meet RCUK’s obligations for research integrity – for example, if institutions conduct incomplete or biased investigations into alleged misconduct or if their researchers have committed ‘persistent research misconduct’. Such failures could result in existing grants being revoked, applications getting rejected ‘for any period of time, including indefinitely’ or even retrospectively clawing back funding from the institution. The policy document outlines unacceptable research conduct, which includes (bold is mine): Breach of duty of care, whether deliberately, recklessly or by gross negligence: Disclosing improperly the identity of individuals or groups involved in research without their consent, or other breach of confidentiality; Placing any of those involved in research in danger, whether as subjects, participants or associated individuals, without their prior consent, and without appropriate safeguards even with consent; this includes reputational danger where that can be anticipated Not taking all reasonable care to ensure that the risks and dangers, the broad objectives and the sponsors of the research are known to participants or their legal representatives, to ensure appropriate informed consent is obtained properly, explicitly and transparently Not observing legal and reasonable ethical requirements or obligations of care for animal subjects, human organs or tissue used in research, or for the protection of the environment Improper conduct in peer review of research proposals or results (including manuscripts submitted for publication); this includes failure to disclose conflicts of interest; inadequate disclosure of clearly limited competence; misappropriation of the content of material; and breach of confidentiality or abuse of material provided in confidence for peer review purposes Improper dealing with allegations of misconduct: Failing to address possible infringements including attempts to cover up misconduct or reprisals against whistle-blowers Failing to deal appropriately with malicious allegations, which should be handled formally as breaches of good conduct. Read broadly, the policy seems to say that people conducting laboratory research need to be appropriately informed of the risks of their research and provided with safeguards to conduct their work safely, with the penalty being possible loss of funding (as well as investigation by the UK’s version of OSHA, the Health & Safety Executive). In an educational environment, I think that ideally this means giving people the tools and teaching them to do risk assessment and mitigation, with appropriate oversight. The Universities UK Concordat to Support Research...

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The new Chemical Data Reporting rule
Aug25

The new Chemical Data Reporting rule

We have yet another acronym from the Environmental Protection Agency: the Chemical Data Reporting rule (CDR). This replaces the Toxic Substance Control Act Inventory Update Rule (hold your breath – TSCA IUR). The rule requires manufacturers and importers to provide new and updated information on current production volume, manufacturing site-related data, and processing and use-related data for a larger number of chemicals than previously listed. The reporting threshold has also been dropped from 25,000 lbs to 2500 lbs for many products. EPA says the improved information will allow it to better identify and manage risks associated with chemicals. The new reports will be required every four years instead of five. For the first time, EPA is requiring companies to submit the information through the Internet, using EPA’s electronic reporting tool. According to the agency, online reporting will improve both data quality and EPA’s ability to use the data, as well as make it more accessible to the public. It is this last part I’m not sure about, especially since the agency has made it more difficult for corporations to make confidentiality claims. What data is going to be made available and how? Is there a point where the volume of data available is so vast that it’s meaningless? I also have to ask where and how importers in particular are going to get some of their data. For instance, EPA requires that: “if a manufacturer (or importer) can’t provide the information specified because the reportable chemical substance is manufactured using a reactant having a specific chemical identity that is unknown to the manufacturer and claimed as confidential by its supplier, the manufacturer must use e-CDRweb to ask the supplier of the confidential reactant to provide the correct chemical identity of the confidential reactant directly to EPA in a joint submission.” Uh, I’m missing something here. What if the supplier refuses to provide that information? The wording suggests simply that manufacturers and importers must “ask.” Companies will be required to start following the new reporting requirements in the next data submission period, which will occur February 1, 2012, to June 30, 2012. My next blog post will be from the ACS National Meeting in...

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To work or not to work alone in lab
Jul07

To work or not to work alone in lab

Last week on ChemBark, Paul posted about the issue of working alone in lab: I’ve got no major problem with working alone, so long as the person doing so uses good judgment in deciding what type of work is reasonable in these situations.  When alone, it is prudent to limit yourself to experiments that don’t require especially hazardous reagents, dangerous conditions, or large scales.  That said, I don’t think there are any black-and-white rules you can institute.  Experience should also enter the analysis; you don’t want to try something dodgy for the first time when you are alone. There are a bunch of other questions that can arise with respect to any outright ban of working alone.  First off, what counts as “alone”?  The institutional policies I’ve come across aren’t specific.  Must the researchers working be located in the same bay?  The same room?  Same floor?  Same building? We’ve tackled this issue before on The Safety Zone, most notably in a discussion with Tim Gallagher, chair of the chemistry department at the University of Bristol, in the U.K.: Another thing Gallagher highlights about his department’s safety culture is a prohibition on working alone—something that can be tricky to get right, he says. One approach is that no one works outside of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. because no one else will be there. Another is to get people to collaborate to enable longer or later time in the lab. In Gallagher’s department, “We have a culture where students will work with one another to enable their experiments,” he says, noting that people must work within the line of sight of another person. Having someone in an office down the hall doesn’t cut it. On one level, I agree with Paul that the work in question should dictate the circumstances–that is, after all, what risk assessment is all about. But are there not still some fundamental rules that should be in place? I always wear my seat belt in a car, for example, even when it’s daytime, the roads are dry, and the driver is sober, well-rested, and has been driving for many years without incident. (Full disclosure: I did work alone as a graduate student, principally to collect magnetic circular dichroism spectra. I’ve also been in a car accident.) It’s not always the hazards you know about that will cause a problem, as Gallagher also illustrated: An incident at Bristol [in 2009] left a student’s face and hands badly cut when an experiment exploded and shattered the safety glass on the fume hood. With the benefit of hindsight, Gallagher says that the most likely cause was a side reaction that produced a...

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Chemicals and elevators
Feb10

Chemicals and elevators

Do you ride in the elevator with chemicals or gas tanks? In grad school, I regularly rode in a small elevator with big (100 L?–memory is hazy on this point) tanks of liquid helium or liquid nitrogen. In hindsight, that was not the smartest idea. If the elevator had gotten stuck for some reason, I’d have been trapped in a small, poorly ventilated space with the venting tank. Smaller amounts of liquid nitrogen could have posed a problem, too, as would any compressed gas cylinder or volatile chemical. Some places  have dumbwaiters that allow for transport of small containers between floors. Best practice when an elevator is involved seems to be to station one person on each floor–one to put the chemical/tank on the elevator and send it off, the other to receive the delivery. One place’s policy states that this is the preferred option, and “if an attendant must accompany the container in the elevator, an escape pack supplemental breathing apparatus must be carried in the elevator.” Do my trips with the cryogens put me in the minority? What’s the transportation culture at your school or...

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