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I worked at different commercial labs in the Calgary,Alberta, Canada region over 25 years starting in 1976.
Some were death traps while others were merely adequate. Until safety is taken seriously over the bottom
line, injuries and deaths will continue. Senior management and owners must be held accountable including heavy fines and jail time if warranted. Section 217.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code spells this out.
Really good article. The American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Chemical Safety recognized that our academic institutions need to do more to teach, practice, and promote safety in the laboratory. They have several publications that address these shortcomings: Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions (2012); Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories (2015); Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Academic Institutions (2016); Guidelines for Chemical Laboratory Safety in Secondary Schools (2016). All of these are aimed at helping our academic institutions improve their efforts in safety, especially safety education. The challenge in my mind is that there are now tools to teach safety to undergraduates but the current academic faculties most likely never received safety educations themselves and did not build strong safety ethics that are needed to practice and promote safety among their students. So we all need to help them find ways to get safety education incorporated into the chemistry curriculum so tomorrow’s chemists and faculties do have the safety knowledge and safety ethics to keep their students safe.
It is unsettling that the process industry which handles larger quantities in more extreme conditions has been able to reduce their injury rate over the decades while college and university laboratories seem to remain complacent behind their teaching mantle. Near misses, accidents, fires and even the occasional explosion are too common due to a lack of organizational imperative, a failure to adequately train faculty and students in hazard analysis and recognition and a too lenient policy towards compliance.
The statistic that “researchers are 11 times as likely to be injured in an academic laboratory as in a comparable industry setting” is inaccurate. From the editor’s note on the letter’s web page (http://cen.acs.org/articles/91/i18/Importance-Teaching-Safety.html):
“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.”
Thank you Jyllian. The piece has been updated.