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Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Disposal of Chemicals
safety, the university safety program thrives. However, if the principal investigator's attitude is laissez-faire or hostile to the university safety program, careless attitudes can take hold of the whole group and set the stage for accidents, costly litigation, and expensive reeducation for those who move on to a more responsible institution.
1.ETHE SAFETY CULTURE IN INDUSTRY
Industrial laboratories that use chemicals engage in extremely varied activities. Some are at the heart of the chemical industry, with the complete complement of research, analytical, pilot plant, and production facilities engaged in making chemicals. In others the use of chemicals is more incidental to the production of special products.
Not surprisingly, the degree of commitment to environmental health and safety programs varies widely as well. Many chemical companies have recognized both their moral responsibility and their self-interest in developing the best possible safety programs. Others have done little more than is absolutely required by law and regulations, if that. Unfortunately, the bad publicity from a serious accident or violation in one carelessly operated laboratory or plant tarnishes the credibility of all those whose operations are above reproach. The public perception that chemical companies have "deep pockets" can place a high price on chemical accidents.
The industrial or government laboratory environment can provide strong corporate structure and discipline for maintaining a well-organized safety program where the safety culture is thoroughly understood, respected, and enforced from the highest level of management down. New employees coming from the more casual atmosphere of some academic research laboratories are often surprised to discover "a new world" of attention to the detailed planning and extensive checking that are required in preparation for running experiments. In return for their efforts, they enjoy the sense of security that goes with high professional standards.
Industrial safety programs can face several obstacles. Financial limitations to safety programs can prevent optimal development in business as well as academe. However, the short-sighted bottom-line thinking that can surface when management is separated from the laboratory by geography or by a lack of commitment to safety is a more common problem for industrial laboratories. Poor communication between laboratory workers and environmental health and safety officers can lead to adversarial relations when a perception develops that a bureaucracy is generating rules for the sake of rules. Compliance with institutional safety regulations does not guarantee a real acceptance of the culture of safety.
1.FFACTORS THAT ARE CHANGING THE CULTURE OF SAFETY
Over the past 20 years, several trends have emerged that are changing the shape of the safety enterprise in the chemical laboratories of industry, government, and academe. These factors include advances in technology and changes in cultural values and in the legal and regulatory climate.
1.F.1Advances in Technology
Several recent advances in technology have begun to change the safety requirements in chemical laboratories. For example, in response to the increasingly high cost of handling chemicals through the whole cycle from purchase to waste disposal, there has been a steady movement toward miniaturizing chemical operations in both teaching and research laboratories. This trend not only has had a significant effect on laboratory design but also has reduced costs of acquiring, handling, and disposing of chemicals. Another trend—motivated at least partially by safety concerns—is the simulation of laboratory experiments by computer. Such programs are a valuable conceptual adjunct to laboratory training but are by no means a substitute for it. As mentioned above, only students who have been educated carefully through a well-graded series of hands-on experiments in the laboratory will have the confidence and expertise needed to handle real laboratory procedures in a safe manner as they move on to advanced courses or research work.
1.F.2The Culture of Pollution Prevention
A recent and widely accepted cultural change that affects laboratory work is the concept of pollution prevention. The idea is simplicity itself: if one makes less waste, there is less waste to dispose of, and therefore less impact on the environment. A frequent, but not universal, corollary is that costs are also reduced.
The terms "waste reduction," "waste minimization," and "source reduction" are often used interchangeably with "pollution prevention." In most cases the distinction is not important. However, the term ''source reduction" may be used in a narrower sense than the other terms, and the limited definition has even been suggested as a regulatory approach that mandates pollution prevention. The narrow definition of source reduction includes only procedural and pro-