Recognizing chemical hazards
Jun12

Recognizing chemical hazards

I've got a story in this week's issue of C&EN on OSHA's new Hazard Communication standard (aka "HazCom"), the regulation that determines how chemical safety information is relayed to workers, and what bench chemists need to know about the chemical labels and safety data sheets coming their way. "Memorize the pictograms" is really the take-home point. To that end, it's important for people to recognize the distinctions between them. The two groups that I think require particular attention are the three health-related pictograms (human profile, exclamation mark, and skull and crossbones) and the flammables and oxidizers (flame and flame over circle). C&EN Design Director Rob Bryson worked with me to group those in print, but that was difficult to do in our web and mobile formats. We posted online a pdf of the print pages as an additional resource for our readers. Also in this week's issue is a comment from Robert H. Hill Jr., chair of the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety, discussing the Safety Culture Task Force report on "Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions." And now I will sign off for the rest of the week, as I head to Boston to immerse myself in the Investigative Reporters & Editors annual conference! The Friday news round-up will return on June...

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The lab is a splash zone
May08

The lab is a splash zone

The University of California, San Diego, has a great new video on eye protection. It was produced by the chemistry department's Haim Weizman, who was also the man behind A day in the lab, To be (safe) or not to be, Flash chromatography 101, and a trio of videos on working with pyrophoric reagents and reactive metals. Overall, I think the "splash zone" video is a terrific illustration of why it's important to always wear eye protection in labs, even when you're not the one handling the chemicals. That said, the safety glasses featured in the video are really designed for impact protection, not splashes. For splash protection, people really need to use...

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Dow and Minnesota team up on safety
May02

Dow and Minnesota team up on safety

Dow Chemical and the University of Minnesota (UMN) announced on Monday a pilot program to improve laboratory safety in the university’s chemistry and chemical engineering laboratories. UMN is one of the universities benefiting from a program Dow announced last year in which the company is investing $25 million per year for 10 years in research programs at 11 academic institutions. The new safety program is independent of that effort but germinated in the relationship established between Dow and the university, says Frank S. Bates, head of UMN’s chemical engineering and materials science department. The safety program also extends beyond research programs sponsored by Dow. Central to the effort is a Joint Safety Team (JST) made up of the safety officers from every chemistry and chemical engineering research group. “All of those safety officers will be interacting with Dow and working together to learn best safety practices” from the company, says William B. Tolman, chair of the chemistry department. At a kick-off meeting a few weeks ago, representatives from Dow and the university agreed that their focus would be on building and sustaining a good safety culture. UMN already seems to have some good procedures and protocols in place, says Pankaj Gupta, senior strategy leader for research and development  at Dow. The task is how to raise awareness of those and how to share Dow’s best practices and adapt them to a university setting. To that end, in the next couple of weeks, Dow and UMN plan to survey chemistry and chemical engineering faculty, postdocs, and students to get their feedback on the current state of laboratory safety and what needs to be improved. Then the program will try to address those concerns by having Dow representatives visit the campus to work with members of the JST. Some or all JST members will also visit Dow, where they will be exposed to things like Dow’s training program, its laboratory audits, and how scientists approach experiments, Gupta says. Repeat surveys will help determine how the program progresses. Gupta has already surveyed recently-hired Dow employees to get their input on the differences between academic and Dow safety culture. “The number one theme that came up again and again was awareness,” Gupta says, adding that other concerns included specifications for protective equipment, protocols, and pre-task analysis. “When our new employees come in, they spend about 30 hours in mandatory training before they can set foot in the lab to do an experiment,” providing an immediate lesson that safety comes first, Gupta says. Monthly safety meetings and pre-task analysis, in which peer groups discuss the hazards of new procedures and what to do if something...

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Developing laboratory safety certification
Feb16

Developing laboratory safety certification

Responding to a request from several former ACS presidents, the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety is attempting to develop an online laboratory safety certification program aimed at chemistry graduate students. The program ideally would address longstanding complaints from industry that Ph.D. programs do not adequately educate students to work safely in industrial research and development laboratories. A well-planned and peer-reviewed online certification program could be part of the solution to this training gap. The development cost for online training programs, according to an informal survey of commercial online training providers, is approximately $20,000 for each presentation hour of this type of safety course. This means that developing an 8- to 10-hour course with about a dozen training modules would cost $160,000 to $200,000. The division is now facing the following questions and would welcome input from Safety Zone readers: How might costs be lowered? What work could be done by volunteers rather than paid consultants? Does ACS have the resources to develop the program without using a training provider? Several organizations are willing to support program development: the ACS Corporate Associates, National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council, and Council for Chemical Research. Are there others that might be interested? Is there sufficient demand to warrant developing the program? Can it meet industry's needs? What topics should be covered, and what is a realistic amount of time to commit for effective training? Is taking an online course and passing tests sufficient for certification or should there be other components? Related post: Teaching safety to chemical...

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Treat a clothing fire with stop, drop, and roll
Dec15

Treat a clothing fire with stop, drop, and roll

The standard advice for a clothing fire, even in a lab, is still to stop, drop, and roll. According to the National Fire Protection Association Code 45, "Standard on Fire Protection For Laboratories Using Chemicals," A.6.6.3.2: Laboratory personnel should be thoroughly indoctrinated in procedures to follow in cases of clothing fires. The most important instruction, one that should be stressed until it becomes second nature to all personnel, is to immediately drop to the floor and roll. All personnel should recognize that, in case of ignition of another person's clothing, they should immediately knock that person to the floor and roll that person around to smother the flames. Too often a person will panic and run if clothing ignites, resulting in more severe, often fatal, burn injuries. Fire-retardant or flame-resistant clothing is one option available to help reduce the occurrence of clothing fires. Refer to NFPA 1975, Standard on Station/Work Uniforms for Emergency Services, for performance requirements and test methods for fire-resistant clothing. It should be emphasized that use of safety showers, fire blankets, or fire extinguishers are of secondary importance. These items should be used only when immediately at hand. It should be recognized that rolling on the floor not only smothers the fire but also helps to keep flames out of the victim's face, reducing inhalation of smoke. I realize that finding enough floor space in a lab to roll effectively might be a challenge. That's why it pays to think ahead with your experiments: If you're doing something that could result in a fire, think about where best to do it. Working in a hood next to a safety shower or open floor space would be a wise choice. You should also make sure there's nothing else flammable nearby and that nothing is blocking paths to the exit or emergency equipment, such as that safety shower or a fire extinguisher. And wear a fire-resistant lab coat. In a recent discussion on the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list, some division members cautioned about using fire blankets. Fire blankets can be used to smother fires or to wrap around yourself if you need a shield to get past a fire. But do not wrap one around a standing person to extinguish a clothing fire, because doing so may create a chimney effect that serves to intensify the fire rather than extinguish it (Prudent Practices, section 2.F.2; Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students, chapter 2). And, as always, don't work alone. If your clothing catches fire, you can drop and roll or step into the shower while your companion assists and calls for...

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Supervising the laboratory
Nov09

Supervising the laboratory

One of the common threads that came out of the investigations into the laboratory incidents at UCLA and Texas Tech was a lack of training, communication, and supervision in the laboratories. Sheri Sangji at UCLA did not use the procedure that her adviser would have recommended. Preston Brown synthesized amounts of energetic materials well beyond the limits that his adviser, chemistry professor Louisa Hope-Weeks, thought she had set. I spoke with Hope-Weeks and chemical engineering professor Brandon Weeks recently about how they’re running their labs now. Probably the biggest change is intended to address the question of “How do you know that students understand what you’re telling them?” Weeks says, echoing some recent science blogosphere discussion. Before anyone can do an experiment or use an instrument, Weeks and Hope-Weeks now require everyone in their labs to write out protocols for what they will do. It’s not enough to have a literature protocol in hand: Students must rewrite it in their own words. The same is true for instruments--no one gets to refer just to a lab protocol, everyone has to get trained on an instrument and then write out the protocol for themselves. “After the accident what became clear to me was that oral communication with students was never enough to ensure they understood,” Hope-Weeks says. Now, “when it comes to lab work, we discuss it, and then I say go away and write it down and send it to me.” Hope-Weeks reviews the document, flags any issues, and the student will rewrite as necessary until Hope-Weeks is confident that the student knows what to do and how to do it safely. The process applies to students from other groups who want to do something in the labs, too. Although TTU requires that labs have written standard operating procedures and experimental protocols, different faculty vary in how they implement the requirement--some faculty might write all the procedures that people in their lab are expected to follow or allow the use of literature protocols. But anyone who wants to work in the Hope-Weeks or Weeks labs has to write their own protocols and get them approved before starting experiments. Aside from helping to ensure that students have thought about what they’re to do, the student-written protocols have also flagged some training issues, Hope-Weeks says. She read one protocol recently in which a student said they would use a cannula to transfer 30 mL of an air-sensitive material. Hope-Weeks asked if the student knew how to do that, and the student didn’t. The student will have to set up the equipment and practice with a solvent before proceeding with the experiment....

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