Talking about safety culture at #ACSDenver
Aug31

Talking about safety culture at #ACSDenver

While we certainly missed our friends who were unable to make it to Denver because of the hurricane on the East Coast, I'd still say it has been an excellent meeting for both the Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) and the Division of Chemical Health & Safety (CHAS). Safety culture in academic laboratories has become a popular topic. Efforts by CCS to raise the issue's profile within ACS will result in today's Council discussion on the discussion. Both CHAS & CCS meetings included presentations from the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board on their investigation of academic safety incidents and causes. I also saw several National Academies senior staff members in Denver; they continue to work on raising the necessary money to follow through on their initial meeting on the topic.  It looks like this will continue to move forward on multiple levels. Hopefully there will be a consolidated effort to advance this important cause. On another subject, several former ACS Presidents have approached me about CHAS developing an online laboratory safety certificate program for graduate students. The objective is to give graduate students a "leg up" on preparing for life after academia. As many of you know, a major complaint by industry is that students don't have the safety experience they need to succeed when they're hired. By developing a comprehensive course with testing and a certificate, these graduates could add something helpful to their resumes. I'll throw a disclaimer right here that hands-on experience in using safety equipment and PPE is also necessary, but a well-designed program could be a strong basis. I'll be talking soon with both ACS staff and outside providers to determine the best approach. Feel free to chime in if you have ideas! Last but not least, thanks to the C&EN staff, particularly Jyllian and Amanda Yarnell, for including me in their get-together this weekend. I had a great time and would say they are not only professional and hard-working in their efforts to keep C&EN's high profile, they're also fun...

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CHAS News from #ACSDenver…
Aug28

CHAS News from #ACSDenver…

Greetings from sunny and warm Denver! It’s been a strange meeting; some CHAS members were unable to get here because of hurricane Irene. For many of us, our thoughts are with family and friends back East. As Jyllian noted, CHAS has four technical sessions, two workshops, and three Sci-Mix posters at this meeting. Unfortunately, several of our speakers were unable to leave home because of travel issues. I was looking forward to hearing Eugene Ngai, our Howard Fawcett Award winner for "outstanding individual contributions to the field of chemical health and safety," since I received my initial compressed gas safety training from him nearly 30 years ago! Unfortunately, he was unable to get out of the New York area and will have to give his presentation in San Diego or Philadelphia in 2012. CHAS can now be found on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn! We have established a social media team to help maintain our pages. Please feel free to Join or Friend or Like, as appropriate. This morning, the Chemical Safety Board gave the CHAS Executive Committee a presentation on its activities, using the Texas Tech University investigation as an example of the depth and methodology of their work. Dr. Mary Beth Mulcahy stressed the importance of overall safety culture and guidance within an institution, and hinted this was a significant issue at TTU. CSB expects publication of its full report on TTU by the end of September. More...

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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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Outsourcing Safety
Aug08

Outsourcing Safety

Outsourcing is a sore subject these days, with US jobs constantly being sent around the world to cheaper labor markets. Other jobs are contracted out to specialty companies, all in the name of improving the bottom line and reducing costs. While it would seem that safety-related jobs are safe, are they really? A quick internet search revealed dozens of companies advertising outsourced safety training, inspecting, worker’s compensation management services, and compliance services. One company advertises their “trained and certified safety supervisors provide cost savings and staffing flexibility while ensuring…compliance with safety regulations.”  Other companies specialize in providing safety professionals for construction site project work; some are little more than temporary staffing agencies. Does it make sense to trust your safety, either at an academic or industrial site, to outside contractors? Most of us have used outside trainers for specialty subjects such as first aid, fire safety, or HAZWOPER, but is this where you draw the line? It seems to me that familiarity with the site, its operations, and its employees are all important, and that this is difficult for temporary employees. There is also an issue as to where the loyalties of the outside contractor may lie. Would he or she provide the same level of detail, knowing the job is temporary? How important is good familiarity with equipment, processes, resources, and organizational policies and procedures? I’d think the time to get up to speed in these areas would be expensive, and would take valuable employee time to succeed. I think there are also liability issues, particularly in terms of regulatory compliance. What kind of guarantee can a company give that they will not make mistakes or omissions? Even considering the ability to sue in our litigious society, I think most organizations would prefer minimizing risk associated with outside contractors. What do you think? My disclaimer: I serve part-time as EH&S Manager for a printing plant, working about 10-12 hours a week as an independent contractor. I’ve been working there for four years, and have been able to reduce their EH&S costs by 75% annually while also significantly reducing injuries. I replaced a full time EH&S Manager who contracted out most of the air & water permitting and compliance work I do for them. In other words, I believe you can outsource safety in certain...

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The smelly stuff
Jul31

The smelly stuff

Having spent many years working in a manufacturing laboratory that stocked about 10,000 chemicals, I have a deep appreciation for the unique smells associated with organic compounds. A recent odor discussion on the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list, in which a poster is attempting to locate and identify a particular "smelly socks" smell, has been fascinating. It got me thinking, though, about how many different chemicals we're potentially exposed to in a laboratory environment. Having spent more time recently in an industrial setting where respirators are commonly used, I wonder about the exposure hazards of chemical storerooms and open laboratories. Obviously, if you exceed the odor threshhold, you're exposed to the particular chemical. And regardless of policies regarding the use of fumehoods for chemical handling, we've all experienced workplace odors and thus have all been exposed to low concentrations of a variety of assumably toxic compounds. Does the old saying, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" apply here? Most of the chemists I know are both generally healthy and typically long-lived. Is there anything to the theory that extremely low concentration chemical exposures help our immune systems? Obviously there is no magic number below which exposures are guaranteed safe. How do you feel about this? Why don't we see more respirator use in chemical laboratory...

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