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Boost your lab ergonomics IQ

Contributed by Dow Lab Safety Academy

When people talk about ergonomic issues, they often refer to things like carpal tunnel syndrome from sitting at a desk and typing. But there are also ergonomic risks associated with working in a laboratory. If you know what they are, you can take steps to minimize stress on your body and avoid injuries.

Here are four ways to improve your lab ergonomics.

1. Start with proper attire. Shoes matter, especially in a lab where hazardous materials could spill. Opt for something with a cushioned sole, closed toe, closed heel, and impervious material. Also, be sure to remove loose-fitting clothing that could interfere with your experiments

2. Pay attention to posture. Since many lab stools don’t have backs, it can be challenging to keep your back straight. But it’s important to do so, as poor posture can lead to fatigue and injury. When seated on a stool, be sure your feet are flat on the floor by adjusting your seat height to the proper level.

3. Reduce back strain when standing. Fatigue can come into play when you have to stand for long periods of time. Lab mats are an important piece of ergonomic protective equipment that can help relieve strain on the feet, legs, and back. Use one when you’ll be standing at a sink, lab, or hood for prolonged periods.

4. Embrace the mini break. When your muscles begin to get sore, it’s your body’s way of telling you to rest. Plan stretch breaks into your day after 20 minutes at any task or any time you are doing a repetitive task. Quick mini breaks or changing tasks can have a big effect.

At the first sign of discomfort, contact your local health official to address the issue. Fighting through the discomfort will lead to pain and could potentially lead to an ergonomic injury.

For more on this topic, watch the Laboratory Ergonomics video in the Orientation & Training module at the Dow Lab Safety Academy. The Dow Lab Safety Academy is a free digital learning environment that seeks to enhance awareness of safety practices in research laboratories.

Disclaimer: See Dow’s Terms of Use.

How McKinsey makes training mandatory

From a New York Times profile of McKinsey & Co. CEO Dominic Barton and his efforts to change the company’s rules and culture regarding personal investment after insider trading scandals:

At McKinsey’s London office last fall, a recently hired associate sat at a computer for an orientation session. The associate worked at McKinsey as a business analyst several years earlier and then left the firm for a nongovernmental organization. During her first stint, she simply signed a form confirming that she understood McKinsey’s investing rules. This time, though, she had to walk through a 45-minute interactive program.

When McKinsey first introduced this tutorial, six employees refused to complete it, saying it was a sign that the firm was turning into a “nanny state.” They left the firm. To push recalcitrant employees to complete the test, McKinsey cuts off their email access until they comply.

The story says that all McKinsey consultants–not just new ones–have to complete tutorials such as the one described and senior partners in particular weren’t to too happy about it. Barton persevered.

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.

Lab safety videos on lab coats, eye protection, and eye washing

Yes, I know, my last post was just videos, too. But people are doing some good ones! Behold a typically great video from the University of California, San Diego, on personal protective equipment: Eye and face protection and lab coats.

From UC Berkeley, what happens when you neglect eye protection (at the end, though, even if his eyes are fine, I think that the acid on his head requires a shower):

Lessons learned videos: Formic acid splash and trichloroethylene spill

Kudos to Cornell University for turning some incidents into lessons learned videos:

Formic acid splash

 

Trichloroethylene spill in a hallway

New lab safety video on personal protective equipment

Courtesy of University of California, San Diego, chemistry lecturer Haim Weizman, here is a new video on personal protective equipment–mostly lab coats, with a nod to eye protection.

So far, two complaints have cropped up on the Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list about the video. One is that it shows safety glasses rather than splash goggles. I agree that goggles would be a better choice, especially when part of the video shows a splash. Safety glasses are really just for impact protection.

The other complaint concerned “the low-cut tank top work by the lab worker.” I agree with this to some degree, because the lab coat doesn’t cover the top of the worker’s chest, either. On the other hand, how much protection would a crew-neck t-shirt really provide? And how much clothing policing is reasonable? UCSD started requiring lab coats in its undergraduate labs a few years ago precisely because it was difficult to enforce a dress code. “Our explanation of what was appropriate attire was a huge paragraph and had to be constantly changed” as fashions evolved, teaching labs safety coordinator Sheila Kennedy told me in 2010. If chest protection is such a concern that you might want people to take a ruler to their collarbones, then perhaps the answer lies in lab coat design rather than dress codes.

Proposed ACS undergrad guidelines increase safety requirements

This week’s issue of C&EN includes a story by Celia Arnaud about proposed changes to the ACS Guidelines for Bachelor’s Degree Programs, which are developed by the Committee on Professional Training. The issue also has a comment by committee leaders Anne B. McCoy of Ohio State University and Ron W. Darbeau of Louisiana’s McNeese State University.

Included in the changes are revisions to the safety requirements. Former committee leaders told me a few years ago that the last guidelines revision, completed in 2008, had more explicitly addressed safety than earlier versions, so the newly-proposed revisions take the criteria a step further.

Here’s what the requirements say now in the safety section:

7.3 Laboratory Safety Skills.
Approved programs should promote a safety-conscious culture in which students understand the concepts of safe laboratory practices and how to apply them. Programs should train students in the aspects of modern chemical safety appropriate to their educational level and scientific needs. A high degree of safety awareness should begin during the first laboratory course, and both classroom and laboratory discussions must stress safe practices. Students should understand responsible disposal techniques, understand and comply with safety regulations, understand and use material safety data sheets (MSDS), recognize and minimize potential chemical and physical hazards in the laboratory, and know how to handle laboratory emergencies effectively.

And here’s what’s proposed (overall, there’s a shift from “shoulds” to “musts”):

Section 7.3 Laboratory Safety Skills (p. 14-15)
Programs must train students in the aspects of modern chemical safety appropriate to their educational level and scientific needs. Approved programs must promote a safety-conscious culture in which students understand the concepts of safe laboratory practices and apply them.

  • Programs must train students in the aspects of modern chemical safety appropriate to their educational and scientific needs.
  • The promotion of safety awareness and skills must begin during the first laboratory experience and be incorporated into each lab experience thereafter. Classroom and laboratory discussions must stress safe practices. Students should be actively engaged in the evaluation and assessment of safety risks associated with laboratory experiences.
  • Safety understanding and skills should build throughout the curriculum and be assessed.
  • Students should
    • understand responsible disposal techniques
    • understand and comply with safety regulations
    • understand and use material safety data sheets (MSDS)
    • recognize and minimize potential chemical and physical hazards in the laboratory and know how to effectively handle laboratory emergencies.
  • Students must undergo general safety training as well as lab-specific training before beginning undergraduate research.
  • Approved programs must have an active, departmental safety committee.

What say you, readers? Are the proposed changes necessary or sufficient? What would you add or subtract?

From McCoy and Darbeau’s piece this week: “Please send comments to cpt@acs.orgcpt@acs.org by Aug. 1 so they can be discussed at the next CPT meeting. The committee will also hold an extended open meeting on Sept. 8 at the ACS national meeting in Indianapolis that will focus on the guidelines revision. Details will be posted on the CPT website. CPT plans to publish the new guidelines in 2014.”

Dow launches Lab Safety Academy website

Yesterday at the Council for Chemical Research meeting, Dow unveiled a publicly-accessible website with a comprehensive set of lab safety training videos plus additional resources. The website is at safety.dow.com. More details on the development of the site are in my C&EN story on the project. One tidbit that didn’t make it into the news story: While the video hosts are professional actors, the supporting roles are played by Dow scientists.

Stony Brook chemistry incorporates lab safety into Research Day celebration

Chemistry Research-Lab Safety Day Flyer-ScheduleResearchers developed lab safety demonstrations, competed for prizes, and attended a safety equipment expo as part of Stony Brook University chemistry department’s Research Day in January.

Research Day is an annual department tradition going back at least a decade, says department chair Nicole S. Sampson. Students prepare posters about their research, the department hosts a lunch, and one of the faculty members gives a keynote lecture. “Undergrads and other faculty wander through and find out what’s going on in the chemistry department,” Sampson says.

Last year, it was scheduled in early November, the week after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast. Although the university suffered minimal damage from the storm, the school cancelled classes for several days and Research Day was postponed until January.

Meanwhile, Sampson says, she had already been pondering how to elevate people’s safety consciousness. As everyone returned to work after the storm, she organized a joint meeting with the Research Day and safety committees, and Research Day took on a new safety component. “We got really excited about it, says Jonathan G. Rudick, a chemistry professor and one of the Research Day organizers. “It was a great way to get something new into a well-trod tradition.” he says.

Adds Sampson, “You can only tell people so many times to be safe. We decided that we had to find another way to say that it’s important to the university and to get people to stop and think about what they do every day.”

The plan the department came up with was to have students develop safety demonstrations related to their research. Members of the department would then vote for their favorite demos, and the winners would receive a prize. Prior to the event, lab safety specialist Kim Gates reviewed demonstration ideas and written protocols to make sure students followed best practices, then visited the labs to see the demos in person and ensure the labs could accommodate visitors.

One of the demonstrations that won an award was a presentation on a waste handling system for radioactive 32P work. Liquid waste gets filtered to remove 32P, which gets concentrated to reduce the waste volume. “It’s a very nice set-up,” Sampson says.

The other award-winning demo showcased permeability of different types of gloves to various solvents. The group dyed the solvents so observers could see them migrating through glove material to paper on the other side.

Additional demos included using solvent purification push stills, ultracentrifuges, and glove bags; moving compressed gas cylinders; handling ethidium bromide; transferring butyllithium reagents; quenching metal hydride reagents; and “find-the-hazard” on a benchtop. One of Rudick’s favorites was hands-on instruction for how to remove gloves, using ketchup as a contaminant. The department also gave prizes for the two cleanest labs.

Additionally, Gates arranged for an expo with several vendors to exhibit safety equipment and perform a few additional demos. She had her own table to display lab photos she’d taken over a few years. Students had to identify 10 incorrect things in the photos, and their answers went into a raffle for another prize.

Overall, department members were very enthusiastic about the safety demos and the day went better than expected, Sampson and Rudick say. But between the usual Research Day events and the safety demonstrations, they agree that they had too much happening—neither Sampson nor Rudick actually made it to see everything. In the future, the department will hold separate annual research and safety events. For the safety day, Sampson and Rudick also want to pare down the number of demonstrations so there’s time to see everything. Even if individual researchers don’t do the chemistry in question, Sampson sees value in exposing them to it. “The laser jocks who come in to hang out with the people running ethidium bromide gels need to know what’s going on in that lab,” she says.

 

A note from Jyllian: I get a lot of questions from people asking how to be positive and proactive about safety rather than punitive and reactive. If your group or department is doing something that others could find useful, please get in touch!

In the #SheriSangji case: Sufficient training and oversight?

Is an experiment with an air sensitive catalyst an appropriate way to gauge experimental skill and technique to handle a pyrophoric reagent? That appeared to be one of the arguments that the defense attorney of University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran was setting up last month in a court hearing.

Harran faces felony charges of labor code violations relating to the death of researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji. Sangji died from injuries sustained in a 2008 fire in Harran’s lab that started when she was handling tert-butyllithium.

C&EN and the Safety Zone covered the preliminary hearing in Harran’s case. One of the charges centers on failing to provide chemical safety training. In cross-examination of prosecution witnesses, Harran’s defense attorney, Thomas O’Brien, seemed to be building the assertion that Harran had provided sufficient training and oversight by watching Sangji do an earlier experiment involving a Grubbs II catalyst. From Sangji’s lab notebook, here are the experimental details:

Oct. 14, 2008, experiment that Harran observed

  • Air-sensitive reagent was a Grubbs II catalyst, which loses potency on exposure to air
  • Working in a glove bag, Sangji added 63 mg of the catalyst to a 50-mL flask. She then added 2.5 mL of 1,2-dichloromethane 1,2-dichloroethane to the flask, followed by 250 mg of vinyl glycine dissolved in 2.5 mL of 1,2-dichloromethane 1,2-dichloroethane and 256 mg of undecen-1-ol simultaneously over 20 minutes. She lowered the flask into an 80 ºC oil bath and stirred it under reflux for 20 hours. She sampled the reaction solution to run thin-layer chromatography at 16 and 20 hours. She filtered the solution and then purified it on a silica gel column.
  • Sangji’s notes aren’t clear whether this entire process was done in a glove bag or just the step of weighing the catalyst.

Dec. 28, 2008, experiment that started the fire

  • Air-sensitive reagent was tert-butyllithium (tBuLi), which ignites spontaneously in air
  • Sangji was scaling up an Oct. 17, 2008 experiment to produce 4-hydroxy-4-vinyl decane. The first step of the synthesis was to generate vinyllithium. In October, she added 28 mL anhydrous ether and 3.0 mL vinyl bromide to a 200-mL flask. After stirring the mixture for 15 min at -78 ºC, she added 54 mL of 1.67 M tBuLi. She stirred the mixture for two hours, moved it to a 0 ºC bath for 30 minutes, and took it back to -78 ºC. She then used a double-tipped needle to transfer 3.90 mL of 4-undecanone in 6 mL ether to the vinyllithium solution. She stirred the solution for two hours, then quenched it with sodium bicarbonate. She put the quenched mixture in a separatory funnel, collected the organic phase, dried it to remove residual water, and rotovapped it to remove the solvent from the product.
  • Sangji doesn’t say it in her notebook, but she was probably not working in a glove bag to do this reaction. Going by what she did in December, she was more likely working in a hood, running nitrogen lines to the tBuLi bottle and reagent flask, and using a syringe to transfer tBuLi from one to the other.
  • Sangji scaled up this experiment three-fold in December and used a 60-mL syringe for the tBuLi transfer. We know that she did not clamp the bottle, and so was likely holding it upside down in one hand while manipulating the syringe in the other. She was probably on her second or third transfer, reusing the needle and syringe, when the syringe plunger came out of the barrel, exposing the tBuLi to air and starting the fire. Sangji’s clothes caught fire and she was burned on her thighs, torso, arms, and neck.

What say you, Safety Zone readers? Was a 63-mg Grubbs II experiment an appropriate one by which to gauge Sangji’s skills and technique to handle tBuLi at the 54- or 160-mL scale?