National Safety Stand-Down May 2-6
Feb18

National Safety Stand-Down May 2-6

What safety thing do you know you need to do but haven’t yet managed: Lab clean-out? Emergency drill? Write or update standard operating procedures? The Occupational Safety & Health Administration and other federal agencies have set May 2-6 as a National Safety Stand-Down. It’s geared toward preventing falls in construction, but individual labs or departments could certainly use it for inspiration. The idea is to take a break from normal operations to focus on safety. Options to consider, in addition to what’s above: Teach risk assessment (learn the “bow tie” tool at the ACS meeting in San Diego) Hold some sort of safety training, maybe including using a fog machine to demonstrate fume hood flow, adding acid to eggs to show the necessity of eye protection, rinsing whipped cream off goggles in an eye wash station, and having someone use a safety shower (ideas from University of California, Irvine, chemistry department) Have your lab group group go through a “what if” analysis of a piece of equipment or experiment to discuss what could go wrong and how to avoid it (idea from Texas Tech University’s Dominick Casadonte) Run an emergency drill to have lab members walk through how to respond to a worst-case spill, fire, or some other incident Go around your department and take photos of good safety practices, then show them before a seminar Hold a safety video contest (idea from University of Minnesota chemical engineering and material science department) Have lab groups create safety demonstrations related to their research (idea from Stony Brook University chemistry department) Develop a contest in which lab groups compete against each other to develop best practices and pass inspections (idea from University of Texas, Austin, chemistry...

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Safety Madness at UT Austin
Mar04

Safety Madness at UT Austin

March is fast approaching and with it March Madness, also known as the NCAA Division I Basketball Tournament (go Cardinal!). The chemistry department at the University of Texas, Austin, took a page out of the basketball book last year and created a “Safety Madness” tournament—complete with brackets–for its department. Lab groups divided into the “makers” (organic and inorganic divisions) and “measurers” (analytical and physical divisions), says chemistry professor Sean T. Roberts. The reason for the split was concern about comparing different lab operations. “My lab does ultrafast spectroscopy, and the biggest concern for us is laser safety,” Roberts says. “I don’t know how you compare laser safety practices versus synthesis. The risks are very different.” So the department decided to crown one “makers” champion and one “measurers” champion. For the initial round of the tournament, each lab group had to submit a best practices document for that group. The idea was to get groups to settle on core tenets that they should follow. “We got all manner of different documents back,” Roberts says. His group was new and had to create their from scratch, while others had something that had clearly been passed down for years from group member to group member. One came in as a mad lib—with correct answers at the bottom, Roberts says. Round two involved having faculty do a lab inspection. “We’d ask students questions and put their feet to the fire to try to figure out which labs were better prepared,” Roberts says. The winners of this round each got a $100 gift card. The final round involved student-led lab inspections. The ultimate champions? Eric Anslyn’s group for the makers and Roberts’s group for the measurers. Each group earned a $200 gift card. For a first time event, Roberts was pretty happy with how the contest went, he says. One disappointment was that only about half of the department competed, but that might have been due to poor advertising, he says. Roberts was also surprised by the feedback he got from students. “I thought that students would be more excited by having a financial prize at the end, but that wasn’t the case,” Roberts says. “Talking to students, many felt that they would prefer an award that they could put on their CV to help them land a job in an industrial setting.” “One positive that came out of the competition was that some members of our faculty saw the value in having a peer-to-peer style lab evaluation apart from the inspections that we have periodically from EHS,” Roberts adds. “I’m partnering with another junior faculty member at UT, Mike Rose, to institute a...

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In memory of those who died, something to do in lab today
Dec01

In memory of those who died, something to do in lab today

From Derek Lowe, regarding the four DuPont workers who died from a methyl mercaptan leak two weeks ago (I would add, also, the many others who’ve died in laboratory accidents): So in memory of these four, here’s something that all of us who work in the lab can do today. Take a look around you. Remind yourself of where the fire extinguishers are (and there should be more than one kind). Think of how you’d get to the safety shower if you had to use it. And pick the door you’ll use if a situation get beyond that. It’s far easier to go over such details when things are quiet, and if you do that every so often you’ll have a much better chance of remembering where to go when you really need to. And whenever you’re setting up an experiment that involve any noticeable hazard (pyrophoric reagent, toxic liquid or gas, potential exotherm), think for a moment about what might be most likely to go wrong, and also what the worst thing that could happen might be, and what you’d do about them. Is it dropping that bottle of phosgene solution on the floor? A fire started by your hydrogenation catalyst or your sodium hydride? An exotherm that sends your reaction pouring out over the hot plate or heating mantle? Picturing these things beforehand is never wasted time, because (as everyone with experience in the lab knows) such things do happen, and not on anyone’s schedule. Those four DuPont workers were getting ready to go home for the day when suddenly everything went wrong: in their memory, keep an eye out for what might go wrong in your own fume...

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Mentoring for lab safety
Jun10

Mentoring for lab safety

From this week’s issue of C&EN: Chemistry Professors Promote Lab Safety When it comes to training students and postdoctoral researchers to work safely in academic laboratories, it is hard to overemphasize the importance of the head of the lab—the principal investigator (PI). “The PI sets the tone for how a lab is going to act and operate,” says Dominick J. Casadonte Jr., a chemistry professor at Texas Tech University. “If the PI is very safety conscious and has safety as a priority, then students and professionals in the lab will also have it as a high priority.” PIs who do make safety a priority say that their mentoring in this area starts on the day that they accept someone into their labs and continues throughout their advising relationship. Running their labs safely is not just about meeting regulatory requirements, they add—it is about making sure their group members think about their experiments with safety in mind. Go read the story for the details of how some faculty engage with their group...

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Safety videos, courtesy of a department contest
Apr02

Safety videos, courtesy of a department contest

Last Spring, the University of Minnesota department of chemical engineering and materials science held a lab safety video contest. Department chair Frank Bates thought it would be a nice way to motivate interest in the safety moments that the department holds before seminars, he says. The contest rules were simply that the videos had to maintain basic standards of decency and respectfulness, Bates says. Graduate students worked in small teams to develop four entries, which were judged by members of the department. Prizes were $500 for first place, $300 for second, and $150 for third. Bates says that the contest was fun and generated a lot of interest. He expects that the department will hold a similar contest again at some point. Here are the videos, in order from first place to runner up (I’ve added them to my running list of lab safety...

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