Monday, June 9, 2014

A variety of styles of academic chemical safety management from PIs

Very interesting quotes from Jyllian Kemsley's article in this week's C&EN on PIs and their approaches to chemical laboratory safety: 
...Beyond initial meetings and verbally setting expectations, PIs follow up with their groups in different ways. One approach is to stay aware of the experiments people are doing and use the opportunity to discuss experimental techniques. “The first time someone is going to use sodium metal, I’ll talk with them about different ways of handling it,” says Craig A. Merlic, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and chair of his department’s safety committee. 
Some professors make students write out an experimental protocol or emergency response plan. “Especially if they’re a first-year graduate student, I’ll tell them to write out for me a plan for waste disposal and what they’ll do if they spill to make sure they’re aware of the hazards,” says Scott E. Denmark, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who is leading an effort to improve his department’s safety culture. 
And some faculty do experiments with students one-on-one. “I’m very much a mother hen at least for the first couple of months. I go through every single procedure in the lab with my students,” says [Texas Tech professor] Casadonte, who chairs his department’s safety committee. 
Even PIs who aren’t as hands-on as Casadonte keep vigil over their labs. “I stick my head in everybody’s hood when I go through the lab,” Denmark says. If he sees a setup he doesn’t like or someone using glassware with a broken edge, he’ll discuss it with them. He also makes sure everyone is wearing lab coats, eye protection, and other protective wear, and he will flag things like a solvent bottle sitting on the floor. 
In Danheiser’s department, that awareness extends beyond his own lab. At MIT, the organic chemistry labs have glass walls along the corridor. If he or another faculty member walking the halls spies someone without a lab coat or eye protection, they’ll often knock on a window or go in to discuss the matter, Danheiser says...
Personally, I think pointed comments from The Boss (whoever they are) are pretty effective in making sure that safety rules are followed. Read the whole thing! 


  1. Every industry chemist everJune 11, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    Merlic's lab is safe, because he spends 2 minutes a week talking about it? AHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA

    Shows you just how big the academic/industry divide really is.

  2. I have to agree with the above comment regarding the difference between industry and academia in terms of safety standards.

    Not one academic mentioned the words 'risk assessment' nor how they ensure that students are competent to a) assess risks, b) carry out their work (although its clear that they are doing some form of training). To be honest all I've heard is very much an old fashioned top-down approach. What about student's and post-docs raising safety concerns themselves? What about encouraging a 'no blame' culture that allows people to challenge others in the lab about their unsafe behaviour? As the responsible 'managers' of the labs they should be doing a bit more than having a chat with new people or personally checking up on the labs every now and then.

    Although, that said, it is nice to see that some academics are individually engaging in reasonably good behavioural safety practices (even if they don't realise that is what they are doing).