Monday, May 5, 2014

Why don't more safety shutdowns happen in US academia?

A very interesting response last month to a couple of lab fires at the National University of Singapore, via The Straits Times:
Several faculties at the National University of Singapore (NUS) were told to suspend laboratory activities yesterday in order to review safety after two fires at the university this month. 
In an e-mail seen by The Straits Times, the engineering, science and medical faculties were asked to suspend all research activities from 8.30am to 6pm yesterday. They were told to reflect on how to improve safety in their labs instead. 
The latest blaze broke out on Wednesday in a walkway at the engineering faculty at about 11.45pm. Nobody was hurt, and the fire was put out before firefighters from the Singapore Civil Defence Force arrived. The cause is being investigated. 
The other fire, which was reported in the media, took place on April 4 in another part of the engineering faculty, and led to two people being warded.
I wonder why this tactic has not been used in US science academia? I'd think that it would be potentially worthwhile, but I could imagine a lot of faculty members protesting. 


  1. This tactic is used in the US military -- but I wonder whether there is any quantitative evidence of it being beneficial (other than making some Colonels/Generals/Admirals feel like they did something). I have been in the safety officer side of that tactic and got pretty riled on more than one occasion at the lack of attention the briefings received (I got even on a couple of occasions when it was my turn to do a safety inspection though :-).

    My opinion is that safety standdowns are show -- it is what you do every day when no one os watching that really matters. It needs to be ingrained when young. I had a DuPont scientist for a father, so it is in my microcode!

    1. I worked at a DOD lab for a while. There were two incidents that happened at separate locations on the same day (neither at our location) and we immediately had a safety stand down...for three months.I agree with the show aspect, because for those three months, I wrote SOPs for using everything: rulers, flammable cabinets, balances, stopwatches. There was a joke SOP running around on how to use a toilet, or at least I think it was a joke.

      After time passed, we went about our daily business like nothing had happened, without incident.

    2. On the other hand, on-the-spot correction can be pretty effective. Correcting the behavior of those who need it as opposed to applying a broad brush...

      I've seen SOPmania before, in the nuclear weapons arena. Checkers and checkers of the checkers. When something unexpected happens, the SOPmaniacs are usually in deep trouble. My kingdom for a physicist! gr

    3. What kind of craziness are you talking about? Correcting the behavior as it happens - that would lead to a culture of safety and accountability. That would eat into my bottom line! Bandaids are the preferred way to go here. :-)

  2. Because Rugged Indvidualism. It's almost the fundamental tenet of being American. Do it the hard way, Do it your way. We venerate Paul Revere, the Pony Express, Daniel Boone, the Frontier, the Wild West, Boomer Sooners, Jayhawkers and proud of it.
    Texas Roughnecks, Georgia Moonshiners, Cajuns vs the Bayou, West (by God) Virginians vs the Mountains.
    Cowboy the f*** up and get the job done..

  3. academia has better things to do. The "reflect on how to do things better" is really everyone pissed off they cannot get things done.

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