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Chemical safety tidbits and papers, from OPRD

A tweet from Chemjobber that Organic Process Research & Development editor Trevor Laird is retiring at the end of the year made me realize that I forgot to highlight OPRD’s annual “Safety of Chemical Processes” section at the end of last year. Making up for the omission:

Laird’s editorial: “There is a long way to go to educate and train to a high standard all chemists working in laboratories and chemical plants and to minimize the number of these incidents, which lead to damage to buildings and loss of profits, as well as loss of life. Companies always measure the cost of doing something (e.g., training) but never measure the cost of not doing something; there is a cost of not training staff, however, just as there is a cost associated with not complying with regulations (e.g., FDA regulations).”

Safety Notables: Information from the Literature, including notes about Togni’s reagent, dimethylsulfoxide, hydroxylamine, peroxides, dimethyldioxirane, nitro-explosives, and safer reagents for a number of reactions

Hydrazine and Aqueous Hydrazine Solutions: Evaluating Safety in Chemical Processes, from Lilly Research Laboratories

Safer Preparation of m-CPBA/DMF Solution in Pilot Plant, from Suzhou Novartis Pharma Technology

Process Safety Evaluation To Identify the Inherent Hazards of a Highly Exothermic Ritter Reaction Using Adiabatic and Isothermal Calorimeters, from Mylan Laboratories

Safe Scale-Up of a Hydrazine Condensation by the Addition of a Base, from AbbVie

Merck’s Reaction Review Policy: An Exercise in Process Safety, from Merck

#Chemsafety at #ACSDallas

Dallas_transition_825x259The 247th ACS National Meeting starts on Sunday in Dallas, Tex. Here are the chemical and laboratory safety events that will be happening there. If you’d like a nicely-formatted version to print, check out CHAS-at-a-Glance.


  • Division of Chemical Health & Safety executive committee meeting, open to all ACS members; 8:30 am-noon; Convention Center room D169
  • Ask Dr. Safety: Protecting reproductive health in the laboratory environment; 1:30-3:10 pm; Convention Center room A120/A120


  • Committee on Chemical Safety meeting; 8:30-11:30 am; Sheraton, 400 N Olive St, room Lone Star C2
  • Benefits of chemistry in our lives; 8:00-10:20 am; Sheraton Dallas, Austin Ballroom 2 (cosponsored PRES event)
  • eLearning: What we’ve learned and where we’re going; 1:30-3:50 pm; Convention Center room A120/A120
  • Chemical safety of energy and food; 4:00-5:10 pm; Convention Center room A120/A120
  • Social hour; 5:30-7:30 pm; Iron Cactus, 1520 Main St (hosted by CHAS, PROF, and SCHB)

How freight company Saia trains and monitors its drivers


Credit: Saia

As seen in a variety of rail and truck incidents, chemical manufacturing sites are not the only places where hazardous chemicals can be a concern. Those chemicals often must transported safely to another facility. For trucking operations, safe transportation “starts with hiring the right drivers, training them correctly, and then monitoring them for performance,” says Karla Staver of Saia LTL Freight.

Saia won an American Chemistry Council Responsible Care Partner Award last year. As a company, Saia tries to keep in mind that its employee’s families share the roads with the shipments the company hauls, says Staver, who is Saia’s director of safety and claims prevention.

When hiring, Saia couples road tests with extensive background checks that look at an applicant’s driving record and which companies they’ve already driven for. “Our top candidates have at least a year’s worth of experience,” she says.

Once hired, drivers get instruction on topics such as forklift use, hazardous materials, and hazard communication standards. They then spend a week working with a driver trainer. Staver characterizes driver trainers as “top drivers within the company who have expressed an interest in helping train.” The trainers focus on defensive driving techniques, such as being aware of traffic behavior and leaving appropriate space cushions. “We have had drivers that we brought on who don’t make it through that week because they didn’t meet our expectations of safety performance,” Staver says.

Saia then continues to monitor its drivers long term, Staver says. The company has both city and long-haul drivers. “City drivers we see frequently, and they’re a little bit easier to score, such as by how much brake do they bring back every day or are there any issues with customers,” Staver says.


Credit: Saia

Long-haul drivers are harder to evaluate. Saia has installed camera systems in its trucks that save a recording of 10 seconds prior to certain trigger events, such as a hard-braking situation. The company gets an email alert and then can look at the recording and assess the event for the root cause, such the driver following another vehicle too closely, getting cut off, or avoiding debris on the road, Staver says.

When the company piloted the system, they put it in 10 trucks in the Los Angeles area. The company found that generally its drivers were performing better than expected. “We were, frankly, shocked at the statistics that we got back,” Staver says. Nevertheless, there were a few drivers that needed correction. The videos themselves became coaching tools. “It was great to turn it around to the driver and say ‘tell me what you see,’” she says.

For hazardous materials, drivers are taught how understand bills of lading and to recognize whether shipments are appropriately labeled and sturdily packaged, as well as how to block and brace materials in trailers and what placards to use on the outside. “If there is a release, they are trained on the sequence of emergency events that needs to happen,” Staver says. “Drivers are not first responders,” she adds. “We teach them to notify and find a safe harbor, including don’t park by a drain or a creek.” On the back of company badges is an 800 number to reach in-house safety professionals who are available around the clock and have more extensive hazardous materials training and experience. Saia also contacts with emergency response vendors that can be called in as necessary to handle chemical releases as necessary.

Friday chemical safety round up

Chemical health and safety news from the past two weeks:

Fires and exposions:

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

Not covered (usually): meth labs; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; things that happen at recycling centers (dispose of your waste properly, people!); and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels

Attorneys will argue on three motions on Monday in case against Patrick Harran

With Michael Torrice

On Monday, Aug. 26, University of California, Los Angeles, chemistry professor Patrick G. Harran is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing regarding felony charges of violating the state labor code. The charges stem from the death of research assistant Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji after a 2008 fire in Harran’s lab.

Harran was initially charged in the case on Dec. 29, 2011. Preliminary hearing testimony was heard in November and December, 2012. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Lisa B. Lench ruled on April 26 that there was sufficient evidence to send the case to trial.

Harran faces four charges of violating California Labor Code section 6425(a), which makes it a crime for “Any employer and any employee having direction, management, control, or custody of any employment, place of employment, or of any other employee” to willfully violate an occupational safety or health standard in such a way that causes death or permanent or prolonged impairment of the body of an employee.

The four specific charges center on:

  • Failure to provide employees with information and training to ensure they are apprised of the hazards of chemicals present in their work area [Title 8, section 5191(f)(4)]
  • Failure to establish, implement, and maintain an effective injury and illness prevention program that includes “methods and/or procedures for correcting unsafe or unhealthy conditions, work practices and work procedures in a timely manner based on the severity of the hazard” [Title 8, section 3203(a)(6)]
  • Failure to require body protection for “employees whose work exposes parts of their body, not otherwise protected as required by other orders in this article, to hazardous or flying substances or objects” [Title 8, section 3383(a)]
  • Failure to require “clothing appropriate for the work being done” [Title 8, section 3383(b)]

Monday’s hearing will center on three motions filed by Harran’s defense team to try to get the case dismissed. While we have not yet been able to obtain the initial motions, we have the district attorney’s opposition arguments and the defense’s replies to the opposition.

Motion to dismiss pursuant to penal code section 995
California Penal Code section 995 says that an indictment or information shall be set aside by the court in a few specific situations, such as if a defendant has been indicted without reasonable or probable cause.

From the district attorney’s opposition document, page 10:

Distilled to its essence, the Motion to Dismiss claims: 1) The California Code of Regulations sections charged do not apply to defendant Harran because they only apply to an “employer”; 2) Defendant Harran did not “willfully” violate the law because he was unaware of his duties; 3) Victim Sangji was trained by someone (the defense offers up Pomona College, Norac Pharma, defendant Harran, and Dr. Paul Hurley as possible candidates); 4) Defendant Harran was not responsible for devising an Illness and Injury Prevention Program; and 5) The use of lab coats was “optional” at UCLA. Subsumed within these five arguments are various sub-arguments that will be addressed to the extent necessary below.

District attorney opposition to motion to dismiss
Defense reply in support of motion to dismiss

Notice of demurrer and demurrer to felony information
According to Nolo, a demurrer is “A written response to a complaint filed in a lawsuit which, in effect, pleads for dismissal on the point that even if the facts alleged in the complaint were true, there is no legal basis for a lawsuit.”

From the district attorney’s opposition document, page 4:

The defense essentially offers three arguments in support of its Demurrer to Felony Information. The defense asserts that the Information must be dismissed because the occupational safety or health standards: contemplated by Labor Code section 6425(a) and violated by the defendant do not apply to him. The defense claims that 1) Labor Code section 6425(a) is not a “stand-alone” statute and for criminal liability to attach a defendant must willfully violate any occupational safety or health standard, a claim that the People do not dispute. The defense further claims, however, that on the face of the charged regulations, those regulations do not apply to defendant Harran. The defense next claims that 2) if the safety or health standard is read to encompass the defendant, the charged standards or orders are imperrnissibly vague and therefore violate the defendant’s due process rights. The defense finally asserts that 3) Title 8 makes a clear distinction between employers and supervisors, and therefore this court must conclude that the charged standards or orders do not apply to the defendant and that supervisors are criminally liable under Labor Code section 6425 only when the specific standard or order expressly places obligation upon a supervisor.

District attorney opposition to demurrer
Defense reply in support of demurrer
Declaration of John J. O’Kane IV in support of defendant Patrick Harran’s reply in support of demurrer

Motion for Franks hearing, to quash arrest warrant, and demurrer to felony complaint
A Franks hearing, which gets its name from the 1978 case Franks v. Delaware, is usually held to determine whether a police officer’s affidavit used to obtain a search warrant was based on false statements by the officer. In this case, the defense argues that David Higuera, a senior investigator for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, omitted key information from his affidavit that led to an arrest warrant being issued for Harran. If the affidavit is eliminated, then the arrest warrant is invalid, and the case goes away because prosecution didn’t start before the three-year statute of limitations ran out.

This motion was filed under seal and parts of the filings are redacted. The arguments appear to be largely a repeat of the defense’s attempt to get the case dismissed last summer. The redacted parts of the filings likely pertain to an alleged juvenile criminal history of California Division of Occupational Safety & Health investigator Brian A. Baudendistel, who authored the report that formed the basis of Higuera’s affidavit. Harran’s defense team argued last summer that a conviction for a 1985 murder, when Baudendistel would have been 16, undermines the inspector’s credibility.

The other argument is that Higuera did not include information from a prosecution interview with Steve Carr, an organic chemist employed by the Los Angeles County Sanitation District. From the defense’s reply to the district attorney’s opposition argument, page 1:

Dr. Carr opined that: (i) it was “nebulous” as to whether Ms. Sheharbano Sangji would have required additional training regarding techniques used to transfer the pyrophoric reagent at issue here, tert-Butyllithium (“t-BuLi”) and the use of personal protective equipment (“PPE”); (ii) it was reasonable for Professor Harran or someone in his position to have believed that Ms. Sangji did not need ‘additional training regarding the use of t-BuLi or with PPE because Ms. Sangji’s. resume and background indicated that she was “operating at a high level” and a very “sophisticated person;”; Sangji already knew how to perform the requisite t-BuLi transfer techniques, as evidenced by a she performed on October 14, 2008, which was observed by Professor Harran and during which Ms. Sangji wore the appropriate PPE, as well as an experiment she performed three days later, on October 17, 2008; and (iv) that an experienced chemist would have performed the experiment in the manner Ms. Sangji utilized on the date of the tragic accident (e.g., without clamping the bottle or strict adherence to the Aldrich Bulletin, etc.).

District attorney opposition to motion for Franks hearing
Defense reply in support of motion for Franks hearing

Thursday chemical safety round up

I can only imagine the letters we'd get if we ran this photo today. Via the Watch Glass, http://cen.watchglass.org/post/57517779213/gum-if-this-operator-is-kidding-his-employer

We all had different standards back in 1969. Via the Watch Glass, http://cen.watchglass.org/post/57517779213/gum-if-this-operator-is-kidding-his-employer

Catching up on a few weeks of chemical health and safety news:

Fires and explosions:

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

Not covered (usually): meth labs; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; transportation spills; things that happen at recycling centers (dispose of your waste properly, people!); and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels

When is an explosion really an explosion

A letter in this week’s issue of C&EN takes us to task on our word choices:

I was disappointed to see the words “blast” and “explosion” used to describe the incidents at both Williams Cos. and at CF Industries in Louisiana (C&EN, June 24, page 5). Although both incidents involved fatalities, the CF Industries accident appears to have been caused by the rupture of a nitrogen line or vessel by overpressure. The mainstream press may think that is an explosion, but heaven help us if C&EN does.

Richard Rosera
Scotch Plains, N.J.

This is certainly something that I’ve thought about when reporting on incidents and compiling the news round ups. The challenge is that in a lot of cases, I don’t see good alternatives to “blast” or “explosion.” Complete this sentence: “The reaction released carbon dioxide, so pressure built up in the flask and it _________.”

I understand what I suspect is Rosera’s point, which is that a pipe or vessel rupture due to corrosion or pressure is a different scenario from something involving an explosive material, but does the answer lie in different vocabulary or giving the the details of what happened to put words like “explosion” in the appropriate context? The referenced story did that for the CF Industries incident, but similar details were not yet available with the Williams Cos. plant.

Behind the bench, storeroom managers and department coordinators play an important role in safety

By Russ Phifer

Efforts to improve safety culture in chemical research laboratories generally focus on bench chemists, principle investigators, and laboratory managers. The backbone of these labs in both academic and industrial R&D, however, is frequently those working behind the scenes in positions such as storeroom managers or chemistry department “coordinators.” The professional organization for this group of people is the National Association of Scientific Materials Managers (NAOSMM). As I attend the organization’s annual meeting in Niagara Falls this week, I’m struck by how unpretentious the members are and how much of their jobs concern safety.

People in these positions rarely have advanced degrees, and many worked their way to their current positions from other facets of the chemical enterprise. Nonetheless, they are often the primary problem solvers in their workplaces. Having attended more than a hundred national and regional meetings of various scientific groups over the past 40 years¸ I can say unequivocally that NAOSMM members are among the most active and dedicated people when it comes to encouraging safe laboratory operations. NAOSMM meeting programs are typically incredibly diverse and cover topics such as laboratory inspections, waste management, lab animal care, inventory management software, and, this week, the science behind wine making. The sessions are full, often with standing room-only crowds despite many concurrent sessions. The NAOSMM e-mail list also maintains a lively discussion on laboratory management and safety.

As we work to improve laboratory safety across the wide horizon of academic and industrial R&D laboratories, I find it heartening to know that this group has the energy, desire, and means to work behind the scenes to encourage improvement in all aspects of laboratory safety.

Have a fireworks-safe Fourth of July

If your area is similar to mine, the fireworks vendors will be out this weekend. “Between June 22, 2012 and July 22, 2012, more than 5,000 consumers were treated in hospital emergency rooms due to fireworks-related injuries,” the Consumer Product Safety Commission says. “More than half of these reported injuries involved burns to the hands, head and face. About 1,000 reported injuries involved sparklers and bottle rockets, fireworks that are frequently and incorrectly considered safe for young children.”

CPSC has a nice graphic with a breakdown of fireworks injury statistics, and there’s a similar one at an attorney group’s blog. CPSC also produced this video a few years ago. It’s a bit of an orgy of ways to destroy mannequins, but it gets the point across.

Here are CPSC’s safety tips for using fireworks:

  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
  • Avoid buying fireworks that are packaged in brown paper because this is often a sign that the fireworks were made for professional displays and that they could pose a danger to consumers.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities. Parents don’t realize that young children suffer injuries from sparklers. Sparklers burn at temperatures of about 2,000 degrees – hot enough to melt some metals.
  • Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse. Back up to a safe distance immediately after lighting fireworks.
  • Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not ignited fully.
  • Never point or throw fireworks at another person.
  • Keep a bucket of water or a garden hose handy in case of fire or other mishap.
  • Light fireworks one at a time, then move back quickly.
  • Never carry fireworks in a pocket or shoot them off in metal or glass containers.
  • After fireworks complete their burning, douse the spent device with plenty of water from a bucket or hose before discarding it to prevent a trash fire.
  • Make sure fireworks are legal in your area before buying or using them.

One of C&EN’s staff is a licensed pyrotechnician. She wrote a post a few years ago about how she handles safety at fireworks shows.

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 access.