The National Research Council’s “Safety Summit”
Nov24

The National Research Council’s “Safety Summit”

Last week, the National Research Council convened a “Safety Summit” on academic laboratory safety. Roughly 40 people attended, including representatives from academia, industry, and government labs and agencies. The goal of the summit, says Dorothy Zolandz, director of NRC’s Board on Chemical Sciences & Technology, was to help the board determine what projects it should initiate in the area of laboratory safety. The board is currently wrapping up an update to “Prudent Practices in the Laboratory,” as well as the production of educational materials for the State Department’s Chemical Security Engagement Program (C&EN, Dec. 7, 2009, page 44). A few themes emerged from the summit, which included talks by several attendees as well as open discussion, Zolandz says. One was that several people felt very strongly that safety should be an explicit part of the hiring and evaluation criteria for faculty. But others felt that the problem was really a lack of resources for which faculty shouldn’t be held responsible. Matthew Clark, director of university programs at the Department of Homeland Security, commented that in his experience, issues of safety compliance came down to “cost, inertia, and arrogance on the part of the principal investigators,” Zolandz says. When it came to comparing practices in academia versus industry, a few myths were explored and shot down, Zolandz says. One was that industry does a lot of repetitive, standardized operations in their labs rather than anything innovative. Ken Moloy, a research fellow at DuPont, “really put the lie to that and said that he and his group are doing things all the time that have never been done before,” Zolandz says. (Separately, Robert Krzywicki, global practice leader for employee safety at DuPont, commented that “you get the level of performance that you demonstrate you are willing to accept,” Zolandz says.) Another point of comparison was a purported lack of line management in academia. “I think there is a pretty strong hierarchy,” Zolandz says, but whether the chain of authority will support faculty, and especially junior faculty, on lab safety issues is not always clear. On the matter of what creates a safety culture, Zolandz was particularly struck by statistics presented by Ron Zanoni, manager of occupational safety at Arkema. Arkema conducted a survey of safety practices and culture at its facilities worldwide. What the company found, Zolandz says, was that even if sites seemed to have good resources and practices in place, accident rates could still be high. The poor accident ratings were tied to lack of engagement by senior leadership; trust, cooperation, and communication between workers; and planning. Everyone at the meeting agreed that that there’s a line to be drawn...

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Texas Tech correction
Oct06

Texas Tech correction

I had to correct the Texas Tech story last week. The correction illustrates an important point in academic laboratory health and safety: There may be no one overseeing a public university’s health and safety program. The original paragraphs in Texas Tech Lessons: The internal TTU investigation identified multiple violations of the university’s chemical hygiene plan (CHP). A CHP is required by the federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration for laboratories that use hazardous chemicals. OSHA sets requirements for what must be covered in a CHP, but it is up to the organization to decide how those requirements are addressed, says Russell W. Phifer, a safety consultant and past-chair of ACS’s Division of Chemical Health & Safety. The organization then must comply with the policies and procedures it establishes. In TTU’s investigation, the university found a lack of training and standard operating procedures, among other deficiencies. So far, OSHA itself has not investigated the incident. OSHA typically does not get directly involved unless there is a fatality or multiple injuries requiring hospitalization or unless an institution or company has an accident rate that is much higher than comparable establishments, Phifer says. If an employee complains to OSHA, the agency sends a letter to the employer asking for a response to the charges and will investigate if the response is deemed inadequate, Phifer says. The correction: The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration does not oversee laboratory safety at Texas Tech University because OSHA does not have jurisdiction over public employees. Texas Tech is required by a Texas governor’s executive order to develop and implement a risk management and safety program for its employees and the citizens it serves. Texas does have a state Office of Risk Management, but spokesman Paul Harris says that the office does not cover the University of Texas, Texas A&M University, or Texas Tech University. The error highlights a regulatory gap that affects a lot of people: In U.S. states and territories that have not developed their own occupational safety and health programs and continue to rely on federal OSHA coverage, public workers are not protected. Here’s the breakdown: States and territories with OSHA-approved plans that cover all workers, public and private: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Tennesssee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wyoming States and territories with plans that cover only public workers (private workers fall under federal OSHA): Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Virgin Islands States and territories that fall fully under federal OSHA: Alabama, American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana,...

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