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Collaborations advance ACS chemical safety programs

by Kirk P. Hunter, chair, ACS Committee on Chemical Safety
October 30, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 40


A photo of Kirk P. Hunter.
Credit: Courtesy of Kirk P. Hunter
Kirk P. Hunter

Many of us in the safety community say, “Safety is no accident,” and, “Safety is an active verb.” The members of the American Chemical Society Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) and the Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS) are exemplars of the commitment to the core ACS value of safety. We are passionate about safety. We care and want everyone to care about safety as much as we do.

This cadre of dedicated safety professionals, chemistry educators, researchers, and ACS staff has been actively collaborating, developing, and producing authoritative safety resources for the community. The Committee on Chemical Safety has been a catalyst and promoter of this work, which not only benefits ACS and its members but also extends to the wider chemical enterprise.

The guideposts of the CCS are stated in its strategic plan. Its mission is to provide collaborative leadership and resources to advance chemical safety. Its vision is that of a scientific community that embraces safety in all activities of the chemistry enterprise.

Having a safe work environment requires everyone to contribute fully in order for it to be successful.

One of the most transformative and significant contributions to chemical safety education has been integrating the risk management concept into laboratory safety practices. The key ACS recommendation has been that all laboratory activities should begin by identifying hazards and risks, considering the methods needed to control those risks, and preparing for emergencies. This is easily remembered by the acronym RAMP: recognize hazards, assess the risks from these hazards, minimize the risks, and prepare for emergencies.

This seemingly simple concept has profoundly changed the way we think about safety in laboratory and outreach activities. A rigid, rule-based safety culture is being transformed into an empowering, risk-based safety culture. The result is that chemistry practitioners are engaged in critically considering and researching hazards and then implementing the most effective safety controls.

The three subcommittees of the CCS—Education, Partnerships, and Emerging Issues—are responding to the ongoing need for authoritative guidance and current safety resources. Some examples of recent projects include the reports “Safe Transportation Recommendations for Chemicals Used in Demonstrations or Educational Activities” and “Recommendation for Sharing, Cleaning, and Disinfecting Safety Goggles and Glasses” and expanded guidelines for safe handling of low-solubility ultrafine particles in the lab (coming later this fall). These documents are currently available on the CCS website.

Collaborative projects also include the new videos “Why Should We Do Laboratory Risk Assessments?,” “Working in the Lab Alone? … What IF…,” and “Quality Data for Safety Experiments.” The large number of views indicates that the community is using these videos. Additional videos will be added in the near future to the ACS Chemical Safety channel on YouTube.

A recent collaborative effort among educators and safety professionals produced a new, free online chemical safety course titled “Foundations of Chemical Safety and Risk Management.” Since its launch in February 2021, over 2,000 individuals from all over the world have registered for the course. This self-directed, 17-unit course introduces the basics of risk management and US federal regulations along with the underlying chemical principles that must be considered. The course may be accessed through the ACS Center for Lab Safety.

In summer 2022, another safety summit will convene that will focus on the skills and knowledge industrial employers expect of PhD graduates. To help provide insights into employer expectations, a survey will be distributed later this fall. The goal of this collaborative effort of educators, industry, and ACS staff is to assist graduate PhD programs in improving safety education practices so that their students are better prepared for the workplace.

Having a safe work environment requires everyone to contribute fully in order for it to be successful. All cultures, ethnicities, and gender identities must be included in the collaboration so that it is effective. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and respect (DEIR) issues are not unique to one segment of the chemical enterprise. However, DEIR issues must be considered to create and maintain a positive safety culture in the laboratory. The CCS is in the process of creating a task force to study this important issue with work beginning later this fall.

Finally, this is my last year as a member of the CCS because of term limits and my only year as chair of this august group. I am honored to know and work with such knowledgeable and dedicated professionals. When I look at my CCS colleagues, I am amazed at the depth and breadth of the expertise represented and their generosity as volunteers. The support of the ACS staff is nothing short of amazing. I want to hold up my colleagues and say, “Thank you!”

Be safe.

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Views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of C&EN or ACS.



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