Since 2001, the U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB), an independent federal agency that investigates serious chemical accidents, has gathered preliminary information on 120 different accidents at academic labs. Last week, CSB released a first-of-its-kind case study report that detailed one accident at Texas Tech University.
In that report, CSB recommended that the American Chemical Society (ACS) develop new hazard evaluation guidelines for laboratories and called on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “to issue a Safety Bulletin on the importance of controlling the physical hazards of chemicals in academic laboratories,” according to a CSB press release.
CSB also released a safety video directed at lab researchers about the hazards in a lab. “The 24-minute video focuses on three serious laboratory accidents,” according to a CSB press release.
The accidents are: the death of a lab research assistant in a flash fire at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2008; a death by accidental poisoning of a highly regarded Dartmouth College professor in 1997; and a 2010 explosion at Texas Tech University that severely injured a graduate student, who lost three fingers and suffered eye damage.
Jeff Johnson and Jyllian Kemsley report for Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN):
The Texas Tech investigation is CSB’s first examination of an accident involving a university laboratory. But the board emphasizes that its recommendations are applicable to all academic research settings and could protect the more than 110,000 students and postdoctoral researchers working in hundreds of U.S. academic labs.
Rebecca Trager at Chemistry World writes that the case study report also cites the June 2010 injury of four people in a University of Missouri biochemistry lab from an explosion involving hydrogen, and a June 2010 fire at Southern Illinois University that caused roughly $1 million in damage.
The CSB report makes several suggestions on how to improve lab safety at colleges and universities. CSB also has advice for the ACS, which has 163,000-member organization of professionals and publishes C&EN, write Johnson and Kemsley. CSB says ACS should develop “good practice guidance that identifies and describes methodologies to assess and control hazards” that occur in academic research labs. According to CSB, there is no guidance now for the “unique cultural and dynamic nature of an academic laboratory.”
ACS president Nancy Jackson told Chemistry World that “ACS agrees that additional guidance in academic settings is needed.” Johson and Kemsley provide details about how ACS has already started to address the issues within its committees.
CSB’s chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso told Trager that the case study is directed toward academia to examine internal safety procedures, but it is also an opportunity for research funding agencies to require safety systems be in place before grants are awarded for laboratory work.
Source: “US universities’ lab safety under new scrutiny,” Chemistry World, 10/24/11
Source: “Academic Lab Safety Under Exam,” Chemical & Engineering News, 10/19/11
Source: “CSB Releases Investigation into 2010 Texas Tech Laboratory Accident; Case Study Identifies Systemic Deficiencies in University Safety Management Practices,” CSB press release, 10/19/11
Source: “Experimenting with Danger” Focuses on CSB Case Study on Texas Tech University Accident; Laboratory Deaths at UCLA and Dartmouth,” CSB press release, 10/20/11
Source: “Experimenting with Danger,” YouTube
Rachel Petkewich is a freelance science writer and editor. She has worked as a research scientist in the chemical industry and spent eight years as a staff writer and editor at various science journals and magazines, including Chemical & Engineering News.