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K-State Today

June 8, 2015

Improving our safety culture by being more aware of lab safety

Submitted by Steven Galitzer

Unfortunately, laboratory accidents are a reality, like the fire in a chemistry lab on the University of California, Los Angeles campus on Dec. 29, 2008, that killed 23-year-old research assistant Sheharbano "Sheri" Sangji. She was working with pyrophoric chemicals. Working with these chemicals requires techniques that prevent the introduction of air and the use of personal protective equipment, or PPE.

An excellent review was published about everything that happened leading up to the accident and the actions afterwards, including flaws in the lab practices of Sanji and her colleagues. This incident is an example of a larger problem that is prevalent at many universities regarding not properly following laboratory rules and the overall culture of safety.

While it is generally a safe place, Kansas State University is not immune to accidents. We have had fires, injuries, explosions, chemical spills and accidents involving faulty equipment, glassware or lack of PPE. The number of accidents on our campus is close to the national average, but one accident is too many.

In order to improve our safety culture, it takes three basic requirements: top down responsibility, safety training and job hazard analysis.

  • Top down responsibility is more than just a slogan. The president and all administration believe adherence to safety rules is a must. Everyone must follow the rules.
  • Everyone is required to complete job-specific safety training. Training is offered by the department of environmental health and safety, but also must be provided in each lab by and for the faculty and staff. 
  • Job hazard analysis includes reading and understanding Safety Data Sheets, or SDS, on all chemicals used in an experimental process.

The College Environmental Health and Safety Committee, which includes members of each college chosen by the college dean, works in consultation with K-State Environmental Health and Safety. Together, we are working on greatly improving training in all areas of safety. We also have university policies regarding safety in the lab. Manuals describing lab safety and basic lab safety rules are published online

Please remember that safety is more important than comfort or convenience and should be our main priority.