The Washington-based American Chemical Society is working to improve safety guidance for academic institutions after several injuries in academic laboratories in recent years. The Society plans to develop safety education guidelines, finalize guidance on identifying hazards in research labs and examine the possibility of a central reporting system for schools and companies to anonymously report incidents as first steps in the process.

“The ultimate goal is awareness and a belief that an incident can happen to anyone at any time,” says Chemical Safety Board investigator Mary Beth Mulcahy. “That preoccupation will do the best job of keeping people safe. In labs, we’re walking into hazardous situations. We can educate people to proactively take control of those hazards and not blindly walk in and assume no risk.”

ACS is working to improve safety guidance after several recent injuries in academic laboratories. Source: wikipedia.orgACS is working to improve safety guidance after several recent injuries in academic laboratories. Source: wikipedia.orgMulcahy says laboratories need to become safer but many factors make that challenging. Factors include difficulty in collecting information about incidents from the wide range of schools, companies and organizations that use labs; lack of safety as a performance requirement for lab workers; and lack of safety education at schools.

“Overall, [companies] emphasize safety way more than academic institutions do, but they have a vested reason for doing that,” says Robert H. Hill, chair of the ACS chemical safety committee.

Hill says a central reporting system is a “big need.” And it is also key to record and log “near misses,” which are often misrepresented or forgotten. Hill says the biggest challenge is encouraging institutions to use near-miss data.

ACS says it has formed a task force to develop safety education guidelines.

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