|Shudder. (Credit: USCSB)|
With these academic incidents, people like to focus on the immediate actions of the individuals involved and try to poke holes and with hindsight and assert some sort of blame on the individual involved and what we have to recognize is that there are bigger systems at play here that can influence safety...For what it's worth, I think that's true. People love to poke holes (I do!) and there are safety systems that should try stop these things from happening. But as one of the "people" involved in analyzing chemical safety incidents and armchair quarterbacking them, I think there's real worth in doing so. The classic question that chemical workers should ask themselves when confronted with these situations is "What would I have done?" I think it's only natural, healthy and instructive to think through these issues from a bench chemist perspective.
So I'll end with this bit of over-the-top provocation: the lesson to be learned from the TTU incident is "don't do that." Don't make 100 times the amount of an unknown shock-sensitive compound. Don't perform dangerous manipulations without the appropriate safety gear. Don't expose your students to danger by allowing them to be dangerously ignorant of energetic materials safety. Don't allow your institution to be exposed to legal risk from ignorant PIs and insufficiently trained students.
Is there any other lesson to be learned from TTU? Probably. What policy would you implement to stop this from happening again? Can you even do that? I think it might be possible.
[Now to deal with a random leaking pipe somewhere in the lab.]
Note to readers: STEM_Wonk and I will be having a back-and-forth this week on academic chemical safety. Tomorrow's installment with be on her blog.