Monday, August 15, 2016

"There are no available national statistics about injury and illness rates specifically in research laboratories."

In 2013, William Banholzer (a senior Dow executive), Gary Calabrese (a senior Dow Corning executive) and Pat Confalone (a senior DuPont Crop Protection executive) wrote a letter to Chemical and Engineering News with the following statistic:
The facts are unequivocal. Occupational Safety & Health Administration statistics demonstrate that researchers are 11 times more likely to get hurt in an academic lab than in an industrial lab. 
At the time, this was almost immediately challenged by Jyllian Kemsley, because it was based on OSHA statistics for entire institutions, not the laboratories themselves.

However, this "11 times safer" statistic continues to circulate, even as it is unfounded. Today, C&EN added an editor's note to the original letter to the editor:
EDITOR’S NOTE: The statistic presented in this letter that “researchers are 11 times more likely to get hurt in an academic lab than in an industrial lab” is inaccurate. The authors actually compared the overall injury and illness rate for academic institutions to Dow Chemical’s overall injury and illness rate. The overall rates would include accidents in areas such as groundskeeping, dining halls, and manufacturing facilities as well as in research laboratories, and the university rates may not include events that harm students. There are no available national statistics about injury and illness rates specifically in research laboratories.
It will be interesting to see if Google's webcrawlers and diligent fact-checking will manage to correct the record and purge this statistic from our collective memories, and here's hoping that we actually have national-level statistics about chemical laboratory incidents in our lifetimes. 

6 comments:

  1. Some of us who have worked extensively in lab as well as industry didn't buy it the fist time.

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  2. Lets see a statistic based on "injuries per unique chemistry" Considering people in academia are doing unique things all the time, the accident rate is incredibly low relative to industry that usually makes a mistake running the same thing all the time.

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  3. I can remember people being sent home from work when they were exposed to chemicals known by their numbers at DuPont. If you die at home, it wasn't an on-the-job injury.

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  4. Also, academic labs hardly ever pollute groundwater sources with PFOA's, dioxins, etc...

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  5. anon electrochemistAugust 16, 2016 at 3:30 PM

    Hell, I wouldv'e bet on at least 11 times. My mid size department had 53 firetruck callouts last year.

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