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Analyzing Laboratory Hazards

ACS Meeting News: ACS guidelines are directed at small-scale research lab activities

by Jyllian Kemsley
September 13, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 37

Credit: ACS
Cover of ACS publication on Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories.
Credit: ACS

In the wake of several serious accidents in research laboratories across the U.S., the American Chemical Society has issued new guidelines in a 132-page report titled “Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories.” The document was developed by the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety and made publicly available online on Sept. 4

Hazard analysis is “a core process that’s necessary for conducting research safely,” said chemist Kimberly B. Jeskie of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who led a task force in developing the publication. Jeskie and other task force members discussed the safety guidelines at a Division of Chemical Health & Safety symposium at last week’s ACS national meeting in Indianapolis.

The committee prepared the guidelines in response to a U.S. Chemical Safety & Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) recommendation. The federal safety board, which usually investigates industrial accidents, asked ACS to develop for research laboratories “good practice guidance that identifies and describes methodologies to assess and control hazards.” CSB made the request after its investigation of a 2010 explosion at Texas Tech University that injured a graduate student. ACS publishes C&EN.

In its report on the Texas Tech accident, released in 2011, CSB noted that guides to hazard evaluation and risk assessment designed for industrial settings are not applied easily to research laboratories. That’s because industrial hazard assessment procedures are often made for large-scale, repetitive activities. “What we really needed to focus on were small- to moderate-scale activities that would change very, very frequently,” Jeskie said.

The ACS report discusses five approaches to hazard analysis that task force members believe can be applied successfully to research laboratory settings. Subcommittees that developed the chapters on each technique included members who had used the approaches at their own institutions, Jeskie added.

CSB Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso said that the chemical safety board is evaluating the guidelines.

Chemistry academics who reviewed the report call it comprehensive. “I think this will be a very positive resource for our faculty, students, and research staff,” commented Andrew Zydney, head of chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University.

However, the guidelines require some commitment to read, said James K. Whitesell, a chemistry professor and chair of the chemical safety committee at the University of California, San Diego. He noted that the publication would benefit from more of a tiered structure that gives quick summary access to various topics, then adds layers of detail as readers choose to explore areas of interest.

Task force member and Texas Tech chemistry professor Dominick J. Casadonte Jr. tested some of the approaches on his students. “It’s a great educational tool,” he said. “If faculty will just take the time to go through some of these hazard analysis tools with their students, I think everybody will learn a lot more about safety.”

Feedback on the guidelines can be submitted by Oct. 15 to



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