Friday, January 27, 2012

How to talk about chemical safety

What's the best way to talk to a peer about how they're performing a particular chemical operation and its safety components? What if they're doing something really unsafe? 

I dunno, but here's one mostly ineffective way:
Hey! What you're doing there is REALLY unsafe. You're going to get yourself killed! And everyone around you, too! Are you some kind of idiot?
Here's another ineffective way:
What are you doing? [walks away]
 Here's how I might approach someone doing something unsafe:
Hey, uh, have you thought about the safety concerns with this method of doing something? No? Let's go look up some best practices on how to do this.  
I know that you're under pressure and trying to get this done -- I really appreciate that. But let's go find out if you could get hurt, eh?
That might be a little too diplomatic. It depends on the person you're talking, of course, and what approach you think might work the best. Readers, what do you prefer? 

7 comments:

  1. My husband had to deal with this problem when he was working at a custom synthesis place. I'll have to get him to comment on what he did. IIRC, he had to get extremely upset to get them to change...

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  2. I worked in a lab where it was common practice to shut the fume hoods off overnight to save on heating bills. I had to put my foot down and insist that a fume hood be left running (someone else's) that had ethylene oxide sparging into a reaction overnight.

    Not that they were much of a fume hood. The fumes simply exited an aperture out the side of the building from the second floor and into the downtown street.

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    Replies
    1. How did you get what you felt was appropriate?

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    2. CJ,

      He made a nuisance of himself until they agree to leave the hoods on.

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  3. Wasn't there also an issue with a LiAlH4 experiment?

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  4. My neophyte hoodmate had a metastable syringe of alkyllithium in the presence of an open beaker of acetone. Yes, it ignited. Without saying anything I walked to the hood, opened the under-hood cabinet, took out a watch glass, covered the beaker which extinguished the fire, then walked away. Point taken.

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  5. First rule: come back home alive EVERYDAY
    Second rule: come back home with the same number of eyes, fingers and scars you had when you came in the first time
    Third rule: help your neighbour with the first and the second rule. Get advice as soon as possible if you think he/she is going to break any of these rules.

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