Lab Safety Essay

Lab Safety Essay-43
Productivity, defined as accumulating data that can be transformed into as many journal articles as possible, is the “cultural imperative,” says a 2014 National Academies report.

Productivity, defined as accumulating data that can be transformed into as many journal articles as possible, is the “cultural imperative,” says a 2014 National Academies report.

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The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health concurred. incidents invariably reach the same conclusion: Young scientists and scholars working in university laboratories are failed — and put at risk — by the people who should be protecting them.In fact, faculty members commonly view safety regulations as an “infringement on their academic freedom,” Elston noted. Research universities ostensibly hire faculty to teach, but professors earn tenure, promotion, and acclaim through research, by publishing journal articles that they finance with sometimes lucrative grants.The grants are lucrative for universities too, which take 20 to 85 percent of the money as an “overhead” charge for basic institutional operating costs., Thea Ekins-Coward was working as usual in a laboratory at the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute of the University of Hawaii, Manoa. “I heard an explosion and then, uh, and there’s a lot of debris and somebody’s really injured. It’s, uh, a pretty big emergency.” The caller was right on all counts.A 29-year-old postdoctoral researcher, she’d been at the Honolulu lab for six quiet, uneventful months as part of a team seeking new ways to make fuels and plastics from biomass. The detonation, triggered by a transfer of static electricity to the ungrounded tank, had splintered furniture; spewed blood and skin across ceiling, floor, and lab benches; destroyed Ekins-Coward’s lower right arm; scorched her face; and left her, temporarily, profoundly deaf.To be sure, industrial labs are not perfect and lax conditions are “not universal” on the nation’s campuses, but “university labs are not as safe as industrial labs,” says William Banholzer, who co-wrote a 2013 analysis in on the importance of teaching lab safety to students.Banholzer, a former executive vice president and chief technology officer at Dow Chemical, is now a research professor of chemical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.Not long afterward, it cited and fined the university for violations of state law, reinforced by an exhaustive — and excoriating — 95-page investigative report on the incident. Experts say that the resulting mishaps are no more “accidents”— that is, random and unpredictable — than is being thrown from a car in a crash while riding without a seat belt.Kenneth Roy, chief science safety compliance adviser for the National Science Teachers Association, frames it in terms of his own experience: With “some of the crap that went on in the chem labs and the physics labs” while he was working toward his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees, “I don’t know how I’m alive,” he says, adding, “I look back and say, ‘Oh, my God, how could they be allowed to do that?’” Each injury or fatality studied so far adds up to this conclusion: It could have been prevented had anyone in power at the institution insisted on the kind of training, hazard analysis, risk mitigation, and adherence to accepted safety practices that are standard in the chemical industry — but so far not in academic science.At Hawaii, the explosion resulted from a failure to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation to ground the potentially explosive tank or even to require lab workers to wear gloves to prevent a static discharge, according to the investigations by the University of California Center for Laboratory Safety (established after the catastrophic Sangji incident) and the Hawaii Occupational Safety Division. And in the 2009 case at UCLA, safety investigators found that the chemistry laboratory in question had not offered training in following manufacturer’s instructions for safely handling a highly flammable material.


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