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Treat a clothing fire with stop, drop, and roll

The standard advice for a clothing fire, even in a lab, is still to stop, drop, and roll. According to the National Fire Protection Association Code 45, “Standard on Fire Protection For Laboratories Using Chemicals,” A.6.6.3.2:

Laboratory personnel should be thoroughly indoctrinated in procedures to follow in cases of clothing fires. The most important instruction, one that should be stressed until it becomes second nature to all personnel, is to immediately drop to the floor and roll. All personnel should recognize that, in case of ignition of another person’s clothing, they should immediately knock that person to the floor and roll that person around to smother the flames. Too often a person will panic and run if clothing ignites, resulting in more severe, often fatal, burn injuries.

Fire-retardant or flame-resistant clothing is one option available to help reduce the occurrence of clothing fires. Refer to NFPA 1975, Standard on Station/Work Uniforms for Emergency Services, for performance requirements and test methods for fire-resistant clothing.

It should be emphasized that use of safety showers, fire blankets, or fire extinguishers are of secondary importance. These items should be used only when immediately at hand. It should be recognized that rolling on the floor not only smothers the fire but also helps to keep flames out of the victim’s face, reducing inhalation of smoke.

I realize that finding enough floor space in a lab to roll effectively might be a challenge. That’s why it pays to think ahead with your experiments: If you’re doing something that could result in a fire, think about where best to do it. Working in a hood next to a safety shower or open floor space would be a wise choice. You should also make sure there’s nothing else flammable nearby and that nothing is blocking paths to the exit or emergency equipment, such as that safety shower or a fire extinguisher. And wear a fire-resistant lab coat.

In a recent discussion on the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list, some division members cautioned about using fire blankets. Fire blankets can be used to smother fires or to wrap around yourself if you need a shield to get past a fire. But do not wrap one around a standing person to extinguish a clothing fire, because doing so may create a chimney effect that serves to intensify the fire rather than extinguish it (Prudent Practices, section 2.F.2; Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students, chapter 2).

And, as always, don’t work alone. If your clothing catches fire, you can drop and roll or step into the shower while your companion assists and calls for help.

Supervising the laboratory

One of the common threads that came out of the investigations into the laboratory incidents at UCLA and Texas Tech was a lack of training, communication, and supervision in the laboratories. Sheri Sangji at UCLA did not use the procedure that her adviser would have recommended. Preston Brown synthesized amounts of energetic materials well beyond the limits that his adviser, chemistry professor Louisa Hope-Weeks, thought she had set. I spoke with Hope-Weeks and chemical engineering professor Brandon Weeks recently about how they’re running their labs now.
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Teaching laboratory safety

Over at Endless Possibilities today, Katherine Haxton, a chemistry lecturer at the UK’s Keele University, discusses the safety talks that she’s giving to students at the start of the term. She asks:

Another thing that struck me as I was preparing the safety talks is how few undergrad lab safety talks there are available on the internet – do we all just hide them away in the dark recesses of our virtual learning environments? Are we scared to make them public just in case something happens that the talk didn’t cover? I would have thought that prospective students and their families, and those of current students might quite like the idea of being able to see the safety requirements set out somewhere. Just a thought. And where can we actually share best practice for undergraduate lab safety?

I know that the Journal of Chemical Education

and the Journal of Chemical Health & Safety both publish papers related to lab safety education (and papers on some of the programs I wrote about last year appeared in JCHAS over the summer), but does anyone have ideas for faster, less formal dialogue in this area? If people have some good suggestions, perhaps this a project that the ACS Safety Culture Task Force would consider.

To certify or not to certify

Safety professionals who want to document their experience and skills have many options for professional certification. The Board of Certified Safety Professionals alone lists seven different programs, from the Certified Safety Professional to the Safety Trained Supervisor. Other organizations providing such programs include the World Safety Organization (17 different certifications), the National Association of Safety Professionals (a mind-boggling 50 programs), and the Board of Environmental, Health & Safety Auditors (just one, but in various specialties). I haven’t even mentioned venerable programs like the Certified Industrial Hygienist, which certainly requires some safety expertise. And how about the Polevault Safety Certification Board, for coaches and participants? Oh, wait, I’m supposed to focus on chemical safety here.

For those specializing in laboratory safety, the best known certification may well be the Certified Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO) program, offered by the National Registry of Certified Chemists (NRCC). The NRCC is heavily supported by the American Chemical Society, and the CHO certification is by far the most popular of its seven programs for chemists. Effective October 1, I will be taking over as executive director of the NRCC from long-time Director Gilbert Smith.

With this alphabet soup of choices, where should a chemical safety professional go for certification, and is it worth the effort? First, I’ll say a qualified yes that it can be a good idea. Some states have certification requirements for certain positions. Some employers require or “prefer” certification as a condition of employment. These requirements may apply only to one certification program, or several may be listed as meeting criteria. Anyone in a job search for a chemical safety career should certainly consider becoming certified in at least a specialty field, if for no other reason than to have his or her resume stand out from the crowd.

On the downside, some of these certifications are expensive to achieve and maintain. Many if not all require continuing education in order to maintain certification, and there are fees for application, testing, and renewal.  I’m interested in how our readers feel about this – has certification been of value to you? Is it required for your job? Is it worth the effort?

Talking about safety culture at #ACSDenver

While we certainly missed our friends who were unable to make it to Denver because of the hurricane on the East Coast, I’d still say it has been an excellent meeting for both the Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) and the Division of Chemical Health & Safety (CHAS).

Safety culture in academic laboratories has become a popular topic. Efforts by CCS to raise the issue’s profile within ACS will result in today’s Council discussion on the discussion. Both CHAS & CCS meetings included presentations from the Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board on their investigation of academic safety incidents and causes. I also saw several National Academies senior staff members in Denver; they continue to work on raising the necessary money to follow through on their initial meeting on the topic.  It looks like this will continue to move forward on multiple levels. Hopefully there will be a consolidated effort to advance this important cause.

On another subject, several former ACS Presidents have approached me about CHAS developing an online laboratory safety certificate program for graduate students. The objective is to give graduate students a “leg up” on preparing for life after academia. As many of you know, a major complaint by industry is that students don’t have the safety experience they need to succeed when they’re hired. By developing a comprehensive course with testing and a certificate, these graduates could add something helpful to their resumes. I’ll throw a disclaimer right here that hands-on experience in using safety equipment and PPE is also necessary, but a well-designed program could be a strong basis. I’ll be talking soon with both ACS staff and outside providers to determine the best approach. Feel free to chime in if you have ideas!

Last but not least, thanks to the C&EN staff, particularly Jyllian and Amanda Yarnell, for including me in their get-together this weekend. I had a great time and would say they are not only professional and hard-working in their efforts to keep C&EN’s high profile, they’re also fun people!

Friday round-up

Las Conchas wildfire map through June 30

I spent much of my week following New Mexico’s Las Conchas wildfire, which caused the city of Los Alamos to evacuate and the adjacent Los Alamos National Laboratory to close. As of this morning, the fire is the largest known in New Mexico history, with more than 103,000 acres burned in a mere five days. Los Alamos and LANL generally appear to be out of danger at this point, but tribal lands to the north are sustaining heavy damage.

New Mexico is also battling two other significant fires: Donaldson, which has burned 73,000 acres since it started on Tuesday, and Pacheco, which has burned 10,000 acres over the last two weeks. Officials are clearly worried that other fires will be sparked by fireworks over the Fourth of July weekend. Governor Susana Martinez says that she does not have the authority to completely ban fireworks state-wide, but she ordered (pdf) state police to increase staffing to help enforce a state ban on fireworks in wildlands as well as any local restrictions. Walmart and grocery store chains Albertson’s and Smith’s have all pulled fireworks from store shelves in the state; Walmart and Albertson’s also evicted vendors from their parking lots.

Which brings me to say: If you plan to use fireworks this weekend, please be careful and don’t hurt yourself, your family, or your community. Perhaps consider watching a professional do it instead? (If you work with fireworks, OSHA has some information for you.)

Other chemical health and safety news from the past week:

  • UCSD released a new safety video, this one aimed at undergrads
  • Chembark considered the issue of working alone in lab
  • More picric acid in Girl Scout first aid kits, in Colorado again and in Massachusetts
  • More than half of the hazmat transportation incidents in Canada are due to human error: “Improperly loading, unloading and handling dangerous cargo, drivers losing control of their vehicles, and carelessness and negligence.”
  • A wall of a chemistry building collapsed at Sindhu College in India. “Principal B Nag said it was just an accident and college authorities were not responsible for it. ‘The chemistry lab building is old and since the water tank is on the same floor, the place was moist and hence the wall collapsed partly,’ he said.” So it’s not the school’s responsibility to maintain facilities so that walls don’t fall down?

Fires and explosions:

  • A lightning strike apparently caused a fire in a hydrochloric acid tank at SiVance in Florida
  • A magnesium fire at Olympic Tool & Machine In Pennsylvania injured four, one with severe burns
  • A fire at a pesticide-manufacturing factory in India also damaged neighboring buildings

Leaks, spills, and other exposures:

  • Chlorine gas was released at a Tyson Foods plant in Arkansas after a chlorine solution was accidentally added to a drum of acid; 300 workers were evacuated, 173 treated for exposure, and at least 45 were admitted to the hospital (two were still hospitalized three days later)
  • And more chlorine was released from a leaking canister at an Airgas facility in Florida
  • A Notre Dame stduent was splashed in the eye with something–why was he not wearing eye protection?
  • On roads, railways, and shipards: an acid used in lotions, fertilizer, liquid asphalt, coal tar oil, sodium hypochlorite, more sodium hypochlorite

Not covered: meth labs; ammonia leaks; incidents involving floor sealants, cleaning solutions, or pool chemicals; and fires from oil, natural gas, or other fuels

Map from InciWeb.

Building laboratory safety skills critical to undergraduate education

From this week’s issue of C&EN, a letter on laboratory safety education:

I read Rudy Baum’s editorial “Educating Ph.D. Chemists” with interest, especially the discussion about safety culture in academia versus that in industry and government laboratories (C&EN, March 28, page 3). We continue to hear about a weak safety culture in academia. After many years’ experience working as a research chemist and as a health and safety manager in government, I believe the gap in the knowledge of chemistry graduates is a result of the inadequacy of the safety education process for chemistry un der graduates.

Building a safety-conscious culture requires constant reinforcement of safety in all laboratory processes. If academic institutions would incorporate safety throughout the entire undergraduate curriculum, bringing up safety at each and every laboratory session over the four years of study, then they would begin to build stronger safety cultures. This in turn requires that faculty and staff become strong leaders and proponents of safety, not just in words but by their actions, demonstrating that safety is a critical and important component of all chemistry.

Realizing that many would not know what an undergraduate student should learn about safety, Dave Finster and I wrote an undergraduate textbook, “Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students.” [Jyllian notes: C&EN previewed the book a year ago.] Using this or some other resource to provide lessons in safety for each laboratory session will over time build the kind of safety culture that is needed in academia. This not only serves undergraduates who go on with their undergraduate degrees to become secondary school teachers and chemists working in industry, but it can also prepare graduate students to safely carry out their research in academic labs.

Skills in laboratory safety should be essential and critical elements in the undergraduate process. The reason that safety is a critical skill is that if you don’t follow safety principles and practices, you or others can be injured or even killed. This cannot be said of other areas of chemistry study. Current educational efforts do not adequately teach the knowledge needed to develop strong laboratory safety skills. There are many ways to incorporate safety throughout the curriculum, including prelab assignments, lectures, homework assignments, etc. Academia needs to develop a strategy to teach strong laboratory safety skills to its undergraduate students.

Robert H. Hill Jr.
Stone Mountain, Ga.

I’ve covered several schools’ approaches to undergraduate laboratory safety training over the last year. Anyone else doing something interesting with their lab curricula? Who’s tried using Hill & Finster’s book and how did it go?

UC Irvine beefs up safety training for undergraduate inorganic laboratories

EH&S coordinator David Melitz applied whipped cream to a student's goggles for the student to rinse off in an eye wash station.

Inorganic chemistry undergraduate students at the University of California, Irvine, had a new feature added to their labs this spring: A 4.5-hour safety training session held at the beginning of the quarter.

The inorganic lab course is not for the faint of heart. The labs are each seven hours long, and some of the experiments involve reactive complexes that require vacuum lines, glove boxes, and Schlenk techniques, chemistry professor William J. Evans says. The class is required for chemistry majors and typically enrolls 150 students, divided into sections of 12 to 14 students each. “Some people think it a little crazy to try to do such sophisticated chemistry with so many undergraduates, but we have been able to do it and the students seem to enjoy it,” Evans adds.

The impetus for the additional safety training was a sense that the lab’s past effort—having students watch a video and take a quiz—wasn’t significant enough and students weren’t really getting the depth of training they needed, lecturer Kimberly D. Edwards says.

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