1.A INTRODUCTION

Over the past century, chemistry has made great contributions toward our understanding of and our ability to manipulate the physical and biological world. Most of the items we take for granted in our day-to-day life involve synthetic or natural chemical processing. Indeed, even our own bodies may be viewed as chemical machines, now that molecular biology has removed the traditional boundary between chemistry and biology. The chemical laboratory has become the center for acquiring knowledge and developing new materials for future use, as well as for monitoring and controlling those chemicals currently used routinely in thousands of commercial processes. Many of these chemicals are beneficial, but others have the potential to cause damage to human health and the environment, and therefore also to the public attitude toward the chemical enterprise on which we also heavily depend.

Since the age of alchemy, some chemicals have demonstrated dramatic and dangerous properties, which have required the development of special techniques for handling them safely. We also know now that many more are insidious poisons. Until recently, the chemical hazards in many laboratories were not accepted and taken into account by those working in them, and, accordingly, the necessity of putting "safety first" was not fully appreciated. During the "heroic age" of chemistry the notion of martyrdom for the sake of science was actually accepted widely, according to an 1890 address by the great chemist August Kekulé: ''If you want to become a chemist, so Liebig told me, when I worked in his laboratory, you have to ruin your health. Who does not ruin his health by his studies, nowadays will not get anywhere in Chemistry" (as quoted in Purchase, 1994). In sharp contrast, a growing recognition of moral responsibility and mounting public pressure have made institutions housing chemical laboratories accountable for providing safe working environments for those employed in them and complying with extensive regulation of the transport of chemicals to the laboratories and removal of waste from them. The "old days" of easygoing attitudes toward laboratory safety and down-the-sink disposal are over! Laboratories have become safe places to work.

1.B THE NEW CULTURE OF LABORATORY SAFETY

A new culture of safety consciousness, accountability, organization, and education has developed in the laboratories of the chemical industry, government, and academe. To a degree that could scarcely have been foreseen 25 years ago, programs have been implemented to train1 laboratory personnel and to monitor the handling of chemicals from the moment they are ordered until their departure for ultimate treatment or disposal.

Workers in many hazardous fields2 (e.g., seamen and construction workers) have developed traditions of working together for mutual protection and the maintenance of correct professional standards. In the same way, laboratory workers have come to realize that the welfare and safety of each individual depends on clearly defined attitudes of teamwork and personal responsibility. Learning to participate in this culture of habitual risk assessment, experiment planning, and consideration of worst-case possibilities for oneself and one's fellow workers is as much a part of a scientific education as learning the theoretical background of experiments or the step-by-step protocols for doing them in a professional and craftsmanlike manner.

Accordingly, a crucial component of chemical education at every level is to nurture basic attitudes and habits of prudent behavior in the laboratory so that safety is a valued and inseparable part of all laboratory activity. In this way, "safety first" becomes an internalized attitude, not just an external expectation driven by institutional rules. This process must be part and parcel of each person's chemical education throughout his or her scientific career. One aim of the present volume is to encourage academic institutions to address this responsibility effectively and cultivate their students' participation in the culture of laboratory safety as a solid basis for their careers as professional chemists.

1.C RESPONSIBILITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR LABORATORY SAFETY

The culture of laboratory safety depends ultimately on the working habits of individual chemists and their

1  

Throughout this book, the committee uses the word training in its usual sense of "making proficient through specialized instruction" with no direct reference to regulatory language.

2  

With regard to safe use of chemicals, the committee distinguishes between hazard, which is an inherent danger in a material or system, and the risk that is assumed by using it in various ways. Hazards are dangers intrinsic to a substance or operation; risk refers to the probability of injury associated with working with a substance or carrying out a particular laboratory operation. For a given chemical, risk can be reduced; hazard cannot.



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