Dreaming Big & Learning Well: Safety Journal Club Discussion, OCT 6, 2020

Led by:

Jessica Martin


The questions sent out to everyone to contemplate:

1) What safety-related incident have you experienced that taught you the most about how you approach safety?

  • IPA + dry ice container exploded – thought it was at room temperature when person put the lid on it, but it wasn’t.
  • Lesson: Safety is not as straight-forward as you think it is.
  • Working with a post-doc on LiH reaction. Post-doc told me to quench the reaction with water, so I dumped 100 mL right in and it exploded. Green goo goes everywhere and I was covered in it too. Noticed the goo was cold.
  • Lesson: First big lesson in explicit communication – we clearly meant 2 different things by “quench.”
  • Went to undergrad college with no safety personnel. As students, we were isolating DNA using phenol:chloroform extraction. A fellow student dropped a bottle of phenol. The bottle broke and splashed all over her. She went under the shower and technically we responded correctly. However, looking back we did not appreciate at all the seriousness of this incident or how dangerous it was.
  • Lesson: Educating on safety hazards is just as important as educating on the chemistry.
  • How management of change is not managed; lots of small incidents in developing SOPs and any processes.
  • Lesson: As safety professionals, we think about the safety of processes and why we do the things we do, but we don’t necessarily communicate it (or communicate it well).
  • Sustained an injury with a thin needle that took a core of my skin out of my thumb. Was sent to administrators to deal with paperwork and was informed that because of the particular situation, I actually was able to file a worker’s comp claim, however, this would not have necessarily been true depending on where I was working on campus.
  • Lesson: Who you are and where you are working determines workers’ comp status!
  • Within 30 days of starting job, a mislabeled bottle of biologicals had everybody in a panic; I had not had HAZWOPER training yet; turned out to be spirulina – someone had labeled it “eco” and they that it was e. coli; I did not act right away and this was a mistake because it exploded into a nightmare of infighting among a bunch of the faculty and staff over what this stuff was and how it got there.
  • Lesson: learned to be proactive as I can be immediately following a situation – communication is such a big issue.
  • In undergrad, used chlorosulfonic acid for an experiment in undergrad class – instructor dispensed it, everyone was double-gloved, in lab coats; instructors thought they had accounted for all hazards; however, they did not say that all of your equipment had to be secure before obtaining your aliquot of the acid; someone’s condenser hoses came out and sprayed water around the hood with the acid sitting in there; somehow it managed to miss the acid! Scary near miss. Back to communication!
  • Lesson: Even if you think you have covered all of the safety precautions, unexpected things can still happen. It is important to double-check things and communicate effectively.
  • Became safety officer at an institution when no one really knew what it was; staff member talking to x-ray crystallographer; fumes coming into the hallway; I noticed but I thought maybe it was okay because no one else was reacting; I didn’t feel confident in my position initially so I asked a bunch of questions about the situation and learned a TON about ventilation and the history of the situation; then had to learn to interact with facilities.
  • Lesson: Fully understanding a situation leads to a much more thorough resolution of a chronic safety issue than “name-and-blame” tactics. Also, realized how many different parts were contributing to one unsafe situation.
  • Used DMF right at edge of fume hood – after ½ hour decided to stop doing this; later in the day when outdoors, I suddenly couldn’t breathe and fell on the ground; figured out later that this was a common effect of DMF exposure.
  • Lesson: Learn the hazards of what you are working with. Also understand your protective equipment; the fume hood was being improperly used because it was overcrowded. Dangerous exposures can happen so easily when you don’t understand what you are handling and how to protect yourself from them.
  • Popular science magazines as kids (11 years old) – would do the experiments; tried to prepare copper nitrate; got copper and nitric acid from a small shop; the mixture produced brown gases that was not mentioned in the procedure. We ran away from it until the gases cleared. We learned to do our experiments outside from that point forward. I had many such incidents growing up and going through my own education.
  • Lesson: I learned that I could survive the accidents; and before you learned that this was simply the professional life of being a chemist. The UCLA incident really changed how I thought about safety. Now we think more about how to prevent exposure in the last 10 years. High levels of exposure are no longer thought of simply as “what it is to be a chemist.”

2) If you had an unlimited budget & unlimited authority, what change impacting laboratory safety would you make to your department/university? (Something reasonably realistic, but beyond what you can do now given $/authority)

  • More 1-on-1 training with people; you learn by doing; our university hires professors the same month we expect them to start teaching – wish that the onboarding process was longer and more thorough.
  • Focus on training the PI and changing the culture; graduate students get signals from the PI; safety as part of evaluation process for your career; most PIs don’t know what RAMP stands for!
  • In Michigan, offer “driving in the snow” classes; teach how to skid correctly, etc. This same idea could be applied to safety training.
  • Many years ago, I developed a “spill response” training with actual chemical spills; spill of hexane, 50% sodium hydroxide (4 L or 1 gallon), 98% sulfuric acid; trainings worked really well; several things happened that mitigated this hands-on training that all had to do with liability; county dept of health walked in when we were down to doing only 100-mL spills for this training – were told that we couldn’t do this anymore due to liability reasons and that we would be punished if we continued. This ended a great training program.
  • I would like to see some sort of Netflix-style series on chemistry and safety (make it badass); create a space in which PIs can just be PIs so they can focus on training in the lab.
  • We set up a presentation to actually show the researchers where their waste goes and why it was important to separate and label properly. This seemed to be well-received and was effective in getting better compliance from researchers on how they handled their waste.
  • We created a presentation in which researchers followed their waste stream; waste was burned right next to one of the poorest neighborhoods in our area; we used this to drive home the importance of minimizing waste production in labs as much as possible.
  • So much of the responsibility for safety spending falls on individual labs. Labs have very uneven access to money to spend on safety; lab groups literally are impacted healthwise and science-wise by this inequity.
  • Design a hazard review certification course so that graduate researchers can actually acquire a separate certification for this knowledge.
  • If develop a hazard review certification course, try to recruit area chemical companies to get involved in the design, and even delivery, of the education. This could help in getting graduate students to see that this sort of knowledge and skill is valued by employers.
  • UCSF: PI training course; only consider very new faculty members; bias towards the UC system

3) Given that you don’t have unlimited budget & authority, what have you seen to be the most successful safety culture tool in your area?

We did not get to this question in the discussion (although a few things were mentioned in the question above).

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