Dow launches Lab Safety Academy website
May20

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...

Read More
Stony Brook chemistry incorporates lab safety into Research Day celebration
Apr17

Stony Brook chemistry incorporates lab safety into Research Day celebration

Researchers 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...

Read More
In the #SheriSangji case: Sufficient training and oversight?
Jan10

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...

Read More
Dow teams up with universities on lab safety, how’d the UC “Creating Safety Cultures” webinar go?
Oct29

Dow teams up with universities on lab safety, how’d the UC “Creating Safety Cultures” webinar go?

Following up on a blog post last spring about a new lab safety partnership between Dow Chemical and the University of Minnesota, I've got a story in today's issue of C&EN delving into the details of what Dow and its partner universities have done so far. Since the program started, Dow has expanded it to include Penn State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara, and each school is experimenting with different Dow-inspired ideas. Also, students, take note: It’s not just the schools that have benefited from the interactions between Dow and the universities. Dow has changed one of its practices as well, Gupta says. Dow recruiters are now asking questions about safety in on-campus interviews, looking for people who have taken leadership positions or tried to emphasize safety in their own work. Separately, did anyone attend the University of California's webinar last week on "Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions." How was it? Did you get anything useful out of it? I was enmeshed in training and our annual Advisory Board and staff meetings for much of last week, so I had to miss it. Last but not least, I hope that everyone on the U.S. Atlantic seaboard stays safe and dry during...

Read More
Gloves in the laboratory: To wear or not to wear?
Sep12

Gloves in the laboratory: To wear or not to wear?

Andrea Sella, a chemistry professor at University College London, has this to say about reusable glove use in the laboratory: The consequences of using reusables is substantial. First of all, they are moderately comfortable so people wear them continuously – this leads to students wandering all over the place while wearing them – out students use them on the lab computers and spectrometers, the scales and so on, contaminating pretty well everything. Yup, it’s bad practice and that’s what we tell them. But it still happens. Secondly because they are comfortable they lead to some rather thoughtless behaviour – it’s common to see students put a gloved finger onto a hotplate to check to see if it’s hot. A few times they melt the rubber onto the tip of their finger. It doesn’t seem very bright, but more worryingly, it’s probably an indication symptom of risk compensation, the tendency of an individual to alter their behaviour when they feel safer, much as if you play football you’ll tackle that little bit more aggressively if you’re wearing shin pads than if you’re not. ... But there is another dimension to this: waste disposal. By using disposable gloves we end up having to send a quarter of a million gloves a year to be incinerated each eyar. These have been used once, and a careful student shouldn’t really have got anything onto the gloves anyway, so they are probably pretty clean. Isn’t it incredibly wasteful? For the sake of an unknown and possibly questionable increase in personal safety we end up spending tens of thousands of pounds for items that could be reused. And then have to pay for someone to take all this stuff away. He proposes at the end to have students use reusable gloves. Seems reasonable. But in further discussions with his colleagues, out came this: One of the comments that came out of these discussions was the number of incidents we’ve had over the past few years involving students transferring chemicals from their gloves to their face, neck, and elsewhere. In fact, if you stand and watch students in the lab – as I had occasion to this week – you see them contantly adjusting their safety specs and scratching their neck, nose, ears at regular intervals. All wearing gloves, of course. And because they are wearing the gloves, they are blissfully unaware that there might be anything on the outside of the glove. ... By providing gloves we are actually lulling our students into a false sense of security. They get stuff on their gloves and even if they’re aware of it, they just assume that...

Read More
Getting scientists to take [safety] seriously
Aug31

Getting scientists to take [safety] seriously

I know, I know, I said that I'd get the Safety Zone back on track and yet we still have no Friday round-up. Last Friday I was visiting SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Today, my computer got a new motherboard. (Also this summer: Family vacation. A work trip to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Minor surgery. Lice brought home from summer camp.) I have high hopes for next week, but we'll see what comes of a certain court hearing on Wednesday. In the meantime, I wanted to highlight this blog post by Janet Stemwedel at Doing Good Science: Getting scientists to take ethics seriously: strategies that are probably doomed to failure. Substitute "lab safety" for "ethics" and I think it's pretty spot-on for safety training, too: Segregating attention to [lab safety] in a workshop, class, or training session. Is [lab safety] something the entirety of which you can “do” in a few hours, or even a whole semester? That’s the impression scientific trainees can get from [a lab safety] training requirement that floats unconnected from any discussion with the people training them about how to be a successful scientist. Once you’re done with your training, then, you’re done — why think about [lab safety] again? I'm looking forward to her follow-up post on training strategies that she thinks are more likely to...

Read More