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Estimate: Academic Labs 11 Times More Dangerous Than Industrial Counterparts

samzenpus posted about 7 months ago | from the will-I-live-to-take-the-test? dept.

Businesses 153

Jim_Austin writes "Academic science labs are generally far less safe than labs in industry; one estimate says that people working in academic labs are 11x more likely to be hurt than their industrial counterparts. A group of grad students and postdocs in Minnesota decided to address the issue head-on. With encouragement and funding from DOW, and some leadership from their department chairs, they're in the process of totally remaking their departments' safety cultures."

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Depends on what they are doing (5, Funny)

Carewolf (581105) | about 7 months ago | (#46426297)

It is anything like my university, the chemistry labs keep blowing up due to students trying to make illegal drugs off hours.

Re:Depends on what they are doing (5, Funny)

ameoba (173803) | about 7 months ago | (#46426435)

Our problem was Electrical Engineering grad students continually burning popcorn in the microwave.

Yeah... the admissions standards were a little soft.

Re:Depends on what they are doing (5, Interesting)

usuallylost (2468686) | about 7 months ago | (#46427203)

Are you sure it is just the students?

One of my professors in college told me that when he was a graduate student one of his professors got arrested. The guy and a group of his grad students had been cooking up significant amounts of drugs in one of the schools labs after hours. They were using them to throw big drug parties. According to my professor the primary goal of the whole operation was to help them pickup members of a certain sorority that liked to attend the parties. One of the students involved got arrested which lead back to the professor and brought the whole thing down.

Re:Depends on what they are doing (2)

oddaddresstrap (702574) | about 7 months ago | (#46427399)

One of my roommates in college was in the pharmacy program and had a *lot* of parties at our house. It quickly became clear that the they were in the program because, duh, "That's where the drugs are".

Re:Depends on what they are doing (4, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 7 months ago | (#46427695)

There's also the fact that industrial labs often have routine things they do (mix up these chemicals, repeat until the patent expires in a decade or two) while academic labs have fewer. Academic labs aren't generally suited to doing one thing over and over again, there's a high turnover of people and more incentive through profits to optimize standard operating procedures in private industries.

That can lead to increased safety: if you have a protocol you follow every day, it's probably pretty well thought out, with potential dangerous parts examined closely. Liability, etc.

Meanwhile, me in an academic lab, I'm kind of flying by the seat of my pants at all times, since I'm supposed to be doing new things. "Okay, I'll just pipette off this and put it in the... oh... is this water or is this that horrible carcinogen? I can't remember... What am I even doing, I got really into this Taylor Swift song..."

Re:Depends on what they are doing (1)

Shinobi (19308) | about 7 months ago | (#46427957)

Industry also has another thing that leads to increased safety: Avoidance of solvent stills for example. Another factor is that in industry, you often work in scale, which leads to avoiding highly exothermic reactions that work fine in academic lab scale, but goes BOOM when you scale it up above 10cl or so...

Re:Depends on what they are doing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428091)

Academic labs still have things they do nearly every day even if you are doing completely different experiments. You still have basic stuff like wearing proper clothing, wearing goggles, that certain classes of chemicals need to be used in the fume hood, etc. And I don't know where this idea comes that industrial labs only do cookbook chemistry instead of trying to research new things too...

Re:Depends on what they are doing (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | about 7 months ago | (#46428295)

I think I acknowledged that I was not making an absolute statement, I don't know why you'd assume I was.

Re:Depends on what they are doing (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 7 months ago | (#46428141)

Education is a funny thing.
It has all the trappings of a big business, however there is utter dislike of the idea that they run like a business.

Because getting a Professorship job is so hard in Academia and a pressure to obtain tenure is so high, that they will be more willing to skip steps in order to get the next big thing out. If someone dies in the process, that means there is now a job opening.

Which ones have more nubile girls? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426301)

Where can I find more nubile girls, academic labs or the industrial ones?

Re:Which ones have more nubile girls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426755)

Where are the men better hung, academic labs or the industrial ones?

[this is a balance question to test for gender bias among the moderators. Moderate this or parent, ready-set-go]

Re:Which ones have more nubile girls? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427003)

Answer: it doesn't matter because women either go with the bad boy or the fat wallet.

Possibly valid, but.. (3, Informative)

blackraven14250 (902843) | about 7 months ago | (#46426313)

Possibly valid, but the estimate in question seems to only be based in a remark by Dow Chemical's CTO. Not exactly the kind of thing that you'd expect to be news alone. In fact, the article is about the safety procedures they've implemented at University of Minnesota in conjunction with Dow, not a comparison between industry and academia as the title implies.

Re:Possibly valid, but.. (1)

jasper160 (2642717) | about 7 months ago | (#46427069)

I believe it. The labs my wife work at the UM were never held to the same standards as an industrial or government lab. Safety, MSDS, and OHSA rules were ignored and never enforced. PI's have no management background in those areas and were more concerned with the life of getting published and securing another grant, a whole other topic.

Convenient Memory Lapse (2)

Roger W Moore (538166) | about 7 months ago | (#46427489)

It seems the CTO of Dow is forgetting certain events [wikipedia.org] which a company that Dow now owns caused a few years ago. If academic labs are 11 times more dangerous then somewhere we must have lost about 176,000 grad students which I think might have been noticed by now even if it were spread out over a few decades.

Besides academic labs are doing research which means that outcomes are not known and you are doing things which have not been done before. This is inherently more risky than repeating established procedures with minor variations. Even so I still don't see how academic labs can come anywhere close to the death toll from a single industrial accident, let alone 11 times it.

Re:Convenient Memory Lapse (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427763)

That was not a Dow lab, but a Dow production plant. There are some big differences, orders of magnitudes between the two. This is a comparison between industry labs, which do research just like academic labs do too: small scale experiments trying to find new things and sometimes unexpected outcomes.

Re:Convenient Memory Lapse (2)

ttucker (2884057) | about 7 months ago | (#46428297)

Industrial labs do research. Many of your favorite petrochemical products were designed in industrial laboratories.

Really? (4, Funny)

rebelwarlock (1319465) | about 7 months ago | (#46426337)

Students less likely to follow safety procedures. News at 11.

Re:Really? (4, Informative)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 7 months ago | (#46426549)

No. An over simplification of the matter. The reality is when I was at university there was no safety messages from the faculty, absolutely nothing from on high. Oh, we were told to wash our hands after working with solder because it wasn't lead free and to not put it in our mouth but that is it.

First day in industry, fume extractors, safety glasses, soldering irons with deadman switches in case they were left on absolutely no use of a knife without wearing some gloves.

This isn't students not following safety procedures, this is no safety procedures existing. The head of our school stood right next to me while I was stripping wires by holding the wire between my thumb and a very sharp knife, nothing was said. When a student heated a wire under tension the semester I left and it flicked molten solder in his eye, nothing happened. At my work the HSE team would have lost their collective shits.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426575)

The head of our school stood right next to me while I was stripping wires by holding the wire between my thumb and a very sharp knife, nothing was said.

To be fair, though it seems backwards until you spend a lot of time working with knives, if the knife was very sharp, that's actually quite reasonable... if the knife was dull, you'd probably lose a finger.

Re: Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426905)

Q: How do you know if a knife is sharp or dull?

A: After you've lost a finger.

Re: Really? (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 7 months ago | (#46428209)

Har har.

Sharpness is typically by gently and carefully dragging your thumb *across* the blade, which is perfectly safe even for medical grade scalpels.

If you use a knife sans cutting board without first testing it's sharpness you kind of deserve what you get. Except that basic knife safety seems to be an skill that's not taught anymore. Used to be a child (boys especially) got their first pocketknife by age 12 at the latest, and were taught how to sharpen it and use it responsibly. What has happened to our culture that such basic tool-using skills are no longer taught? It's not like knives have gotten much less common.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426667)

"The head of our school stood right next to me while I was stripping wires by holding the wire between my thumb and a very sharp knife, nothing was said"

Perhaps he wanted to get rid of a dullard student who would do this?

Did he stand silently right next to you while you failed to look left and right before crossing the road too?

Re:Really? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427083)

Did he stand silently right next to you while you failed to look left and right before crossing the road too?

And here we have the fundamental difference between academic and industrial environments. In an academic environment, somehow neophyte students are expected to think through all the possible ways that a procedure or chemical reaction might go wrong and take their own active steps to prevent those accidents. If a student cuts his thumb off or sets himself on fire, somehow it's his own damn fault. In an industrial environment, highly trained experts are known to have lapses of attention, distractions, and occasionally to make just plain mistakes. If one of those inevitable accidents hurts someone, it's because inadequate controls allowed the error to escape containment.

Maybe it's the cost: students are cheap - they're paying to be on-site, and if one of them gets disabled, there's another standing in line behind him ready to jump blindly into the same situation. Employees are expensive - they've been trained; if they're off the job then the company loses production while still paying said employee (disability if they get blown up); they're often working with larger, more expensive volumes; the cost of their accident might be incalculably large.

So yeah, if your department head is standing next to you, and you've never seen a road before, then I hope he'd tell you to look both ways. More importantly, if he sees a car and you don't, I hope he would stop you stepping into the road. That's what "culture of safety" means: everyone looks out for everyone else, and you don't let your friends do stupid shit just because it won't hurt you directly.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427921)

Except in a case a student does get injured, it is a massive mess of bad PR and all sorts of inquiries and often heads roll . In an academic environment, if a higher employee gets injured, then it is just some more subdued calls to have procedures and policies improved. Students aren't disposable in any easy sense when it comes to safety, unless you catch them before something bad happens and want to kick them out.

It might depend on what environment you're in, and I don't have much experience with chemistry labs. But in multiple academic machine shops I've heard someone yelling at someone to stop and think, and do something differently because they were about to do something that has a chance of going wrong. In a couple cases I've seen students thrown out of the shop for doing something was more certain to go wrong. All of them were required to have gone through training on how to use the machines.

This is not to say academic labs have laxer safety, as many people from top to bottom have a get-it-done mentality, that during research you sometimes have to bend rules to get things done in a expedient manner. You have stuff like the previous poster mentioned of stripping wire, which probably didn't get a complaint as a lot of people learned it doing that way growing up, and do it that way at home, and think you can reasonably do it safely at work while some employers don't want to take that chance. That is a different game than not adequately ventilating an experiment you know can produce fumes, or say manually holding a device that if dropped could likely be fatal when it should be mounted securely to a stand, etc.\

Re:Really? (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about 7 months ago | (#46428207)

You really think that people in an academic setting have more of a "get-it-done" mentality than people in business?

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426821)

The idea is to expose students to NO procedures so that eventually, the dumb ones blow themselves out of existence and the smart and intuitive ones make it to industry to serve society!

Darwins law in action!

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427937)

"The reality is when I was at university there was no safety messages from the faculty, absolutely nothing from on high"

The faculty never told me acid would burn! Its their fault! They never told me those knives were sharp! Its their fault!

Youre a goddamn adult - supposedly intelligent - working in a fucking lab and its somehow the faculties responsibility to tell you to be careful?

Re:Really? (1)

ttucker (2884057) | about 7 months ago | (#46428311)

The EE lab at my university had safety practices mirroring the industry, but none of the more academic departments did.

Re:Really? (1)

flyneye (84093) | about 7 months ago | (#46427007)

Well..theyre learning to operate in the real world. Put OSHA on their asses with regular surprise inspections, make them sit through hours of tedious HAZMAT safety classes, DHS security classes and environmental impact classes and for good measure give them forklift training even if they will never use one. THAT is closer to the real industrial world. If they do not comply with the rules , throw them out of the course, just for a touch of realism.
Soon students will follow safety procedures and possibly question their vocational choices to the benefit of us all.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428145)

Research laboratories are exempt from OSHA regulations.

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427067)

University educators unable to have even the smallest iota of leadership or practicality. News at 11.

I must have taken the wrong courses (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426341)

I never saw anyone get hurt in the Math, CompSci, or Stats Labs when I was in college

Re:I must have taken the wrong courses (2, Funny)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about 7 months ago | (#46426533)

I never saw anyone get hurt in the Math, CompSci, or Stats Labs when I was in college

Don't get too complacent, though. Even in the worst cases, the chem labs always send you home to mommy in a finite real number of small boxes. That...isn't always true... after certain classes of mathematics accident.

Re:I must have taken the wrong courses (3, Funny)

rsmith-mac (639075) | about 7 months ago | (#46426579)

That...isn't always true... after certain classes of mathematics accident

Quantum physics isn't any better. Oh sure, they send you home in one piece; but you're in a state of quantum superposition. As a result no one is willing to open the box and let you out, for fear of collapsing the superposition and killing you.

Re:I must have taken the wrong courses (4, Funny)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 7 months ago | (#46426981)

I sure as hell hope that's a natural number of boxes, otherwise my whole world is a lie...

Re:I must have taken the wrong courses (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427945)

Ever see anyone drop a compass back in the old days when they were a bit of an investment to get a nice, solid, heavy, and sharp tool? Just falling out of someone's hand, they go an impressive distance into a leg...

I've also watched someone get burned improperly removing a jam from an old printer too.

Re:I must have taken the wrong courses (1)

jeffb (2.718) (1189693) | about 7 months ago | (#46428315)

Overflow from the men's room flooding the server room, with lots of high-voltage cables lying around under the raised floor. Fastest system shutdown I've ever seen an admin execute; pulling the main breaker will do that.

I was set on a career in chemistry before I discovered computers in high school. I count it as one of the luckiest breaks in my life. See, I've always tended toward absent-mindedness and clumsiness. In Computer Science, you frequently have an Undo option, and failing that you can go to backups. In Chemistry, not so much. There's a good chance I never would've survived grad school.

DOW (0)

Another, completely (812244) | about 7 months ago | (#46426343)

On first reading, I thought that would be Department of Works or something. Since when is DOW capitalized? It's named after a person.

Re:DOW (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427035)

Since when is DOW capitalized?

On the NYSE?

No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (3, Insightful)

coder111 (912060) | about 7 months ago | (#46426347)

Yes, wrap everything in red tape and "health and safety", wear a helmet and a high visibility jacket all the time inside the university and even going to bed... That's the answer. Oh, and more stupid courses on how not to break your neck sitting at a desk.

Labs are more dangerous, because they are doing non-standard groundbreaking stuff in the labs, not some conveyor repetitive stuff that people have been doing for 100 of years and every move is known. That's why it's a lab and not a factory- you do risky unproven stuff there. Also, you get young hotshot students/postdocs working in labs, not professionals with experience and a mortgage and a family, so they are more accident prone as well.

I'm not working in a lab, but in my experience accidents happen in following circumstances:

* People are too tired or stressed out. * People are being rushed too much. * People don't know what they are doing. * Well, small number of "Hold my beer and watch this" moments. I guess students are somewhat more prone to those.

So if you want less accidents to happen, make working hours reasonable first (I know post-docs and students in universities work insane hours). And train them better. Of course safety equipment should be available when needed. But more red tape is not the answer, and getting higher-ups involved will wrap everything in so much red tape that getting anything done will require even more hours and frustration, probably leading to more accidents.

--Coder

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426511)

When I was at uni they were proud of the fact that they cut corners on safety, as it meant that companies would give them money to do research that would be too dodgy/expensive to do in house. My personal "favourite" was the solid state laser lab where they decided students didn't need proper eye protection. The lack of insulation on the HV bus bars powering the damn thing and having to perform contortions to adjust the kit in a confined space just added spice.

H&S does often go too far, usually when you let administrators who don't understand the actual risks set the rules. Having said that there is no need for anyone to get injured doing lab work. Ever.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (3, Informative)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 7 months ago | (#46426563)

Ahh yes the old blame the worker. Sorry but I've witnessed accidents happen at uni that simply wouldn't happen in industry due to some very simple safety guidelines such as put on safety glasses while soldering. It seemed really silly to me when I got out of uni that people wore glasses / goggles to solder, but it didn't seem to silly a semester after I graduated when I heard a student managed to fling solder in his eye.

The problem is two fold:
a) students are quite gungho when it comes to their work and will quickly take shortcuts because they don't know any better or don't have the right tools, example: I didn't see a wire stripper till I got to industry, I used to do it by pressing the wire to a knife using my thumb and I got many cuts as a result.
b) complete lack of protective gear. You piss off the idea of PPE because it's been applied too haphazardly by HSE idiots who think protective gear should be worn everywhere at all times, but that is no excuse for not wearing it when you are actually doing potentially dangerous work or working in a potentially dangerous area.

The whole ground breaking research stuff is a load of crap. There's just as much if not more ground-breaking research in industry as there is in a university lab. There needs to be a middle ground.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426641)

Ahh yes the old blame the worker. Sorry but I've witnessed accidents happen at uni that simply wouldn't happen in industry due to some very simple safety guidelines such as put on safety glasses while soldering. It seemed really silly to me when I got out of uni that people wore glasses / goggles to solder, but it didn't seem to silly a semester after I graduated when I heard a student managed to fling solder in his eye.

Wha... how the... um, if you need safety glasses for soldering, you may also need to be re-taught how to solder.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426863)

You might be able to solder fine, but what about the person in the next spot along? Can you trust them with your safety?

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427005)

You might be able to solder fine, but what about the person in the next spot along? Can you trust them with your safety?

After you've been to a gun club a few times for target practice, you either trust people or not. After trusting a functioning adult to not shoot you dead, I think it's reasonable to trust a functioning adult to not attack you with a soldering iron -- because seriously, you've soldered before? Because short of flicking it around with destructive purpose, I have a hard time imagining getting any in your eye. Do you ever see people that solder copper pipes together using safety glasses? As soldering as a really young kid, the only three dangers were forgetting to wash your hands after, forgetting to turn off the iron when you leave, and burning yourself from touching the iron (and the newer irons make the last two much less likely... irons from the 60s though...).

Get off my friggin' lawn.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428001)

How about those soldering without the nice temperature controlled soldering irons? They run hot, resulting in a lot of boiling flux. It isn't always the solder that is being flung around, but the bits of hot flux.

Or what about when removing a component? It seems students have to be reminded that hard way that when you rip out a part with hot solder on it, sometimes the leads will spring outward when pulled out of the board, and in the process fling that solder some distance.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (1)

confused one (671304) | about 7 months ago | (#46426999)

You're talking about students. They're not veteran technicians. Of course they don't know how to solder. And based on my experience with university engineering labs, it was learn by doing -- there was no "training". As a 20+ year veteran of electronics technician and engineering jobs, I can tell you some employers assume you know what you're doing, and some run IPC training programs (if you don't know what that is, then you probably don't know how to solder properly. One site took it to another level because they categorized soldering as "hot work", requiring additional training for fire safety and carrying extra safety regulation.

I think the premise of the article is probably correct.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427653)

some run IPC training programs (if you don't know what that is, then you probably don't know how to solder properly

There are many, many levels of "proper" soldering, from some guy soldering plumbing fittings to soldering a couple of resisters together for a hobby project to surface mount projects to the even higher demands of soldering for things used in space flight.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (1)

Pinky's Brain (1158667) | about 7 months ago | (#46427831)

Rosin cored solder can spit, when you tap the soldering iron to get excess solder off you might bump into something on the upswing ... control is an illusion, you are confusing luck with the ability to avoid the long tail.

Re:No no no not more "Health And Safety" please... (1)

Shinobi (19308) | about 7 months ago | (#46427709)

"a) students are quite gungho when it comes to their work and will quickly take shortcuts because they don't know any better or don't have the right tools, example: I didn't see a wire stripper till I got to industry, I used to do it by pressing the wire to a knife using my thumb and I got many cuts as a result."

Students being the only gung-ho ones? Bwahahahahaha.... Students being gung-ho is a result of PI's and others not having a proper safety mindset, or even deliberately pushing students to ignore safety, or not teaching it at all...

http://pipeline.corante.com/ar... [corante.com]

Working hours (2)

skund (982546) | about 7 months ago | (#46426357)

When I consider that I leave the lab after a 10 hour day (plus breaks) and everyone is wondering why I leave already, 12 hour workdays or longer are the standard and at least 50% of the staff is here on weekends also, I do not wonder why they are more dangerous.... Despite of this we are only payed for 20h/week and the administration gives a sh*** about work regulations... Kind regards from a academic biology lab in germany where the default working hours for a full time job are 40h a week or less.

Re:Working hours (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426427)

Well, as they say in German: S-S-K-M.

Lab != Industrial site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426365)

An industrial site or process is generally the result of experimentation carried out in a lab. That means shit in the lab sometimes goes wrong.

Re:Lab != Industrial site (1)

confused one (671304) | about 7 months ago | (#46427019)

An industrial site or process is generally the result of experimentation carried out in a lab. That means shit in the lab sometimes goes wrong.

They're making a comparison between university labs and commercial labs.

Re:Lab != Industrial site (1)

Talderas (1212466) | about 7 months ago | (#46427085)

Even assuming this wasn't comparing lab to lab and basing it solely on the fact this is experimentation, that is no reason not to take prudent steps and implement prudent safety regulations governing PPE or other behaviors.

Re:Lab != Industrial site (4, Interesting)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about 7 months ago | (#46427143)

And if you don't have sloppy health and safety standards in your lab, how can you accidentally discover new phenomena.

If Fleming maintained correct use of an autoclave... If Spencer hadn't walked in front of that unshielded magnetron... If Goodyear had a proper hood over his stove... If the Coca-Cola guy had properly labelled his supplies... If Becquerel properly stored his equipment and samples... If Hoffman (LSD) and Schlatter (Aspartame) had worn gloves or just hadn't licked their fingers after working with chemicals...

[If I hadn't regurgitated the first result of typing "accidental di"]

Re:Lab != Industrial site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427513)

If Fleming maintained correct use of an autoclave...

Please stop using this as an example... Antibacterials have been in use for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years. And more specifically antibacterial treatments for syphilis was in production and sale, before Fleming had made any discoveries... Hell just look at Louis Pasteur, Paul Ehrlich, etc.

Re:Lab != Industrial site (1)

PvtVoid (1252388) | about 7 months ago | (#46428037)

If Fleming maintained correct use of an autoclave... If Spencer hadn't walked in front of that unshielded magnetron... If Goodyear had a proper hood over his stove...

Serendipity will still happen in labs if you wear safety glasses.

Re:Lab != Industrial site (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428043)

And if that student had followed basic policy about tying up hair instead of getting killed using a lathe, what discoveries might she have made? While some progress has been made by accidents, how much progress has been impeded by lost man-hours due to injuries and breaking expensive equipment?

Not surprising at all. (3, Insightful)

meglon (1001833) | about 7 months ago | (#46426375)

I remember my days in ochem, being partnered with a guy i went through high school with. Easily the smartest kid in the class, it was, unfortunately, all book learning. He was the most dangerous person to be around in the lab, so much so that for certain experiments he was banished to the secondary lab where no one else worked... and because almost no one could stand to be around his ego (except for me some of the time), i ended up being placed in the hinterlab just to make sure he didn't cause the world to end (or at least, his world to end).

Undergrad labs are filled with people of widely disparate skill levels, knowledge, and understanding, and as (chem students) progress, some of the things they learn are downright dangerous. I still remember an experiment that if the glassware hadn't been dried thoroughly, if there was any water present, the unwanted byproduct would be phosgene gas. Nothing like that to perk your attention up a little when it comes to safety.

It's great that there are labs coming around to enforcing safety more, but there should be little surprise that it was needed.

Re:Not surprising at all. (1)

thegarbz (1787294) | about 7 months ago | (#46426569)

I tutored an electrical engineering class and one student asked me how to use the soldering iron. I told them to hold it like a pencil. So they did.... right at the end of the tip like a pencil.

Ignore for the fact that soldering irons are designed to get hot, and that part of the iron clearly had a nice rubber grip to hold, some people (and this is not confined to universities) have such little common sense it's a wonder their lived as long as they did.

Re:Not surprising at all. (1)

meglon (1001833) | about 7 months ago | (#46426583)

Bet he had a burning desire to be learn proper safety practices after that. David Gerrold said it best: "Common sense isn't."

Re:Not surprising at all. (1)

thermopile (571680) | about 7 months ago | (#46427161)

Mmm, the sweet smell of freshly cut grass...

For those that don't know, phosgene has been reported to smell like a freshly-cut field.

Re:Not surprising at all. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427499)

Heh. I remember somebody's beaker of distilled that had no water present, only acetone... Dumb mistake, but at least they had the presence of mind not to knock it off the burner stand while extingushing it when it boiled over and ignited. Don't think you're going to cultivate quick thinking or serendipity with OSHA level rules and a Dean of Safety Compliance, but common sense, and regular review are always in order. That, and periodic inspection of the plumbing draining the quant lab for corrosion, azides, etc. The lonely undergraduate in the instrumental lab on the floor below will appreciate the ceiling not crashing in almost on his head late one evening...:-)

PChem Zombie

Please, editors, do some editing (4, Informative)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 7 months ago | (#46426377)

A group of grad students and postdocs in Minnesota decided to address the issue had-on.

Well, that typo could've been worse.

Re:Please, editors, do some editing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426381)

Had-on! Apply directly to the forehead!

Re:Please, editors, do some editing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426385)

A group of grad students and postdocs in Minnesota decided to address the issue had-on.

Well, that typo could've been worse.

Could've been an issue with the leptons.

Re:Please, editors, do some editing (1)

slapout (93640) | about 7 months ago | (#46427471)

Portal: The cake is a lie

Slashdot: The editors is a lie

Duh (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426399)

Academics is the place where scientists get selected for fitness.

There are liars...and statisticians (0)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 7 months ago | (#46426417)

The results might be somewhat different, of course, if industrial labs didn't conduct most of their investigations "in-house". (snicker)

Student supervisor (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426423)

Walk past one of the first year students, notice the saucer full of shiny black crystals, not the fun 'a few crystals', mounded high ....

'k, two choices, I clear the lab, you carefully fill the sink with water, submerge that shit, then carefully wash it down with lots and lots of water, or I hit the panic button, you don't get to finish your degree, and we probably lose the top three floors of the building ...

Around 300gm's of nitrogen tri-iodide WILL at least blow all the windows at least ....

There we are, standing behind the lifts, the lecturer who's supposed to be supervising finally turns up "Um ?"

"Seriously don't ask, and if I'm wrong, the bang will let you know"

Got away with it, but strangely, the local sewers had problems for months ....

So yes, mostly, industrial doesn't have to deal with that shit, probably safer, probably, but then again, there's scale ....

Presumably they're not 11 times more productive? (1)

eeyore (78059) | about 7 months ago | (#46426445)

N/T

I was hurt at university... (1)

dohzer (867770) | about 7 months ago | (#46426453)

... when my lab supervisor told me I didn't have what it takes to be a biologist and gave me a B-.

A: Because it breaks the flow of a message (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | about 7 months ago | (#46426507)

Q: Why is starting a comment in the Subject: line incredibly irritating?

I'm not sure... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426625)

...that it is.

because you can't deal with . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427183)

. . . antici-

Re:because you can't deal with . . . (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427199)

pation.

Not really a problem (2)

Alomex (148003) | about 7 months ago | (#46426613)

There are no bad experimental chemists.

Not for long anyhow....

Re:Not really a problem (1)

confused one (671304) | about 7 months ago | (#46427013)

You want to weed them out, have them do experiments with halogens. Fluorine, Chlorine, and Bromine do not react in kind and gentle ways with a great many things, including students.

Academic labs do... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426637)

...research on completely new areas. Industrial labs do refine research done in academic labs.

No surprise there (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426763)

Where I worked, the industrial regulations didn't apply, the budget needed to work safe wasn't there, half the lab workers were inexperienced students, and most of the machines and experiments were so cutting-edge that no one on the planet could predict how they'd behave. This anomalous behaviour sometimes included emitting röntgen laser beams in unpredictable directions. One of my professors had a black spot in his eye for that very reason.

Fundamental science comes with risks (3, Insightful)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 7 months ago | (#46426773)

Typical research at a university involves trying to find out what happens when you do something new. They keep trying until they find something that works or that is interesting. It's fundamental research. Companies typically do more applied research - optimizing things.

At a company, you have to gather 15 signatures before you can start a fundamenal science experiment with unknown outcome. At university, you just go ahead. Companies typically outsource such experiments to universities (or they just pick up on the research after a PhD student put in a few years of good work). It's not the same type of work, so you should not compare the risks. Test pilots also have a higher risk of injury than a commercial pilot.

Re:Fundamental science comes with risks (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 7 months ago | (#46426805)

Ok, I actually take back everything I just wrote (above). If basic things like 'bringing food into a lab' or 'wearing lab coats and gloves in an office' actually still go wrong, then they should just start acting professional, and this is a good thing.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v... [youtube.com]
In my university (in the Netherlands), this is already common for at least 15 years.

Re:Fundamental science comes with risks (1)

Registered Coward v2 (447531) | about 7 months ago | (#46426857)

Typical research at a university involves trying to find out what happens when you do something new. They keep trying until they find something that works or that is interesting. It's fundamental research. Companies typically do more applied research - optimizing things.

At a company, you have to gather 15 signatures before you can start a fundamenal science experiment with unknown outcome. At university, you just go ahead. Companies typically outsource such experiments to universities (or they just pick up on the research after a PhD student put in a few years of good work). It's not the same type of work, so you should not compare the risks. Test pilots also have a higher risk of injury than a commercial pilot.

test pilots also do everything to mitigate the risks. Safety is not about not doing inherently risky things; it's about minimizing those risks. It involves assessing the risks, eliminating them where possible, and taking steps to mitigate those you can't eliminate. It also means ensuring people don't do stupid things like not wear safety gear, work on energized equipment, rather than deenergize it, simply to save time, or take any of the hundreds of other shortcuts on the mistaken belief it can't happen to me. Finally, it means thoroughly investigating and fixing the root causes of minor incidents so bigger ones don't happen.

Re:Fundamental science comes with risks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427547)

Bureaucracy is not the answer, though. Safety is everybody's business. It should be taught as part of your experimental design, and the results analysed aloing with the rest of the experiment. I think that's the kind of culture being looked for here. At least it should be.

You 1nsensitive clod! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46426951)

arseholes at Walnut tops responsibility Distrqibution make good to write you

Academia is a different environment (4, Interesting)

physicsphairy (720718) | about 7 months ago | (#46426991)

IMHO the issue is that academia is not really a hierarchy like in industry. At a big school the freshman labs will be plenty paranoid about safety because of legal liabilities, but once you're talking about professors' private research projects, it's more like a hobbyist working in their basement, and in that situation we're all inclined to become comfortable and take shortcuts. Part of it, also, is the assumption that anyone with a degree comes packaged with knowledge of proper lab technique. What you will find is that, especially when you are talking students and Ph.D.s from different countries, they were trained differently. We have a lot of Russians who seem particularly cavalier. (honestly, if Chernobyl had't already happened, I might be expecting it).

Re:Academia is a different environment (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427809)

I shit you not, we still have to explain to certain foreign students that mouth-pipetting is not ok. When they think nobody's looking, we catch them doing it again, too. Yikes!

Editors - learn to type (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | about 7 months ago | (#46427045)

... address the issue had-on.

Had-on? Really?

Been there, done that, got the lung condition... (2)

Mr Foobar (11230) | about 7 months ago | (#46427103)

As a graduate research assistant, doing a series of tests ordered by the research professor, in a supposedly inspected fume hood, using glacial acetic acid. Waking up the next morning hacking up pieces of my throat and lungs, and being told to go to the student medical clinic. Being given some antibiotics -I had to pay for myself-. Later seeing the same damn fume hood being used by others weeks later, including myself. No changes or fixes done at all, at any time. Well, at least I got my name on a major research paper, guess it was worth it.

All the safety procedures were determined by the professors in charge, some who cared, most who didn't. Even almost forty years later I can still get an annoying cough, and I still do not go by a fume hood without using the simple test of a sheet of paper held at the fume hood, watching for the tale-tell bend of the paper in the right direction.

We should not discourage this trend. (1)

OglinTatas (710589) | about 7 months ago | (#46427121)

Where will the next Spider-man com from if not an academic lab?

Duh (1)

Vermonter (2683811) | about 7 months ago | (#46427225)

And I bet high school parking lots are far more likely to see an accident than your local strip mall parking lot. The people using the former are mostly people with no driving experience.

Re:Duh (1)

BVis (267028) | about 7 months ago | (#46427403)

Putting some damn goggles on does not require experience.

Not surprising, and acknowledged by chemists (2)

Wdi (142463) | about 7 months ago | (#46427343)

To those posters claiming that these are sensationalistic numbers, or fake statistics:

This problem is well known among professional chemists, and there have been a string of high-profile accidents in recent years (and very expensive settlements for involved universities as a result).

The ACS (American Chemical Society) has instituted a task force to guide academia in establishing a better safety culture..

See for example

http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/career_magazine/previous_issues/articles/2013_10_02/caredit.a1300217
www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/about/governance/committees/chemicalsafety/academic-safety-culture-report-final-v2.pdf

"Accident should not be prevented" (1)

edremy (36408) | about 7 months ago | (#46427419)

That's what one of the lab supervisors I worked with at an old job used to write up on the accident reports of about half the students who hurt themselves. Picked up a piece of glass without checking to see if it was hot? You've got some nice blisters to go with that learnin'. Forgot to check the stopcock on a buret and dumped concentrated NaOH all over your experiment and books? (That was me) Oh well, buy another book. Ice shifts suddenly while you're trying to get a beaker full of fuming nitric acid into an ice bath and you splash your hand? (Me again) Get used to having no hair and brown spots for a week. Minor accidents are great teaching tools- so long as nobody loses an eye or fingers everything's good.

Meanwhile, back when I worked in industry I got to see an open can of ether sitting on a benchtop (not fume hood) and the chemist smoking less than ten feet away. Oh, and my desk was in the radioisotope lab for a while- the one with two broken fume hoods and an area around the balance that was hot enough I didn't like to be near it for long periods.

Of course! (1)

morgauxo (974071) | about 7 months ago | (#46427447)

Of course more accidents happen there. Safety is hard! Why bother when you have an endless supply of easily replaceable grad assistants?

stupid people = stupid events (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427769)

Have done some instrument design contracts for local university labs. A truck-load of safety procedures and regulations cannot offer portection from a building full of idiots.

Kids will be kids (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46427857)

This just in: Kids playing in labs are more dangerous than adults working in labs - news at 11....

Are people actually getting hurt? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46428115)

Are actual people getting hurt, or is it just students?

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