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Preventable Lab Accidents

September 27, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 39

As a former college professor of chemistry and consultant on health and safety, I cringed with pain at the report of yet another laboratory accident in “Texas Tech Lessons” (C&EN, Aug. 23, page 34). When and where will the next lab accident occur? One thing that disturbs me in this article is the statement by T. Taylor Eighmy, vice president of research at Texas Tech University, who is quoted as saying, “This was a very unfortunate and unnecessary accident that could have resulted in loss of life very easily.”

In all my experience, I have never heard of “an unnecessary accident.” If there is such a thing, what would be a “necessary accident”? What must be remembered is the statement so many safety professionals make: ALL ACCIDENTS CAN BE PREVENTED. Read that again.

Apparently, the injured Ph.D. candidate didn’t know or chose not to follow proper safety procedures. It behooves all chemists charged with ensuring the safety of students and laboratory workers to follow what James A. Kaufman of Laboratory Safety Workshop has proclaimed loud and clear for many years, “No lesson is so important and no task so urgent that we cannot take time to teach science safely.” Take time to do it and develop an institutional safety culture.

Martin VanDyke


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