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? 


  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...

  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.

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

    2. CJ,

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

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

  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.

  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.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20