Lab safety doesn’t just happen. It is a conscious decision.
Lab Safety Institute founder Jim Kaufman learned this the hard way. Two weeks into his first job at the Dow Chemical Company in Wayland, Massachusetts, Kaufman turned a round-bottom flask he was working with into a “roman candle with purple flames and black smoke.” Luckily he was able to put out the fire (albeit with potentially the wrong fire extinguisher), and no one was hurt. Disaster was avoided.
And this was after a full day of safety training. On his first day at Dow, June 9, 1973, Kaufman’s supervisor spent the entire day talking about lab safety. Kaufman came to realize that at Dow:
“Working safely wasn’t something extra. It was one of the primary colors. It was integral. It was important.”
When a lab at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute blew up two weeks later, injuring one of the researchers and destroying the lab, Kaufman was convinced. He has spent the rest of his career dedicated to improving lab safety standards around the world.
The Lab Safety Institute Story
While at Dow, Kaufman’s supervisor encouraged him to write up a list of lab safety guidelines. Kaufman came up with 40, and the company published and distributed them to 2000 colleges and universities in the mid-1970s. Within a year, Dow had printed 250,000 copies to satisfy requests from all over the U.S.
More than three million copies of Kaufman’s guidelines have been distributed to date, and are available in 10 languages; four more are now being readied for publication. According to Kaufman:
“The guidelines present simple no-cost and low-cost ideas that can create a more effective lab safety program. Some people like to use them as a checklist to see what you’re doing and not doing. Could you start with all 40 at once? No. You would make yourself crazy. But you can do something. Pick one. Get started and improve your lab safety program.”
After leaving Dow in 1977, Kaufman went on to teach at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts, where he spent the next 20 years. While there, he created the Laboratory Safety Workshop, the precursor to what is now the Laboratory Safety Institute. Until 1990, the organization focused on elementary and secondary schools, eventually expanding to colleges and universities with the help of grants from Union Carbide and the National Safety Council.
Kaufman moved the Laboratory Safety Workshop off the Curry campus in 1993, and incorporated as a non-profit in 1994. The Laboratory Safety Workshop officially changed its name to the Laboratory Safety Institute in 2001, and now provides educational programs to help public and private organizations around the world create more effective lab safety programs.
Recently, the Lab Safety Institute has become increasingly international in its outreach. In conjunction with the International Council of Associations for Science Education, LSI has offered courses in Australia, Estonia and Malaysia; Agilent Technologies has sponsored presentations in Beijing and Shanghai.
The Laboratory Safety Institute offers a variety of resources to the public. Among them are on-site training programs, on-demand tutorials, inspections and audits, safety program development consultation, regulatory compliance review, and hands-on lab design.
As a non-profit, the Lab Safety Institute relies on corporate and individual memberships to continue in its mission. Please click here to become a member or make a donation.
In Kaufman’s words:
“Our goal is to help others live safer, healthier, longer and more environmentally friendly lives.”
The Laboratory Safety Institute currently has an open post-doctoral position for a chemist with excellent teaching skills who would like to make lab safety an integral and important part of his or her career. Please contact LSI if you would like to apply.
The following are the Laboratory Safety Institute’s top ten lab safety guidelines. PDFs of the guidelines in English and other languages are available for download here.
Remember, lab safety is a conscious decision. Pick one of these guidelines and get started today.
1. Have a written health, safety and environmental affairs (HS&E) policy statement
2. Organize a departmental HS&E committee of employees, management, faculty, staff and students that will meet regularly to discuss HS&E issues
3. Develop an HS&E orientation for all new employees and students
4. Encourage employees and students to care about their health and safety and that of others
5. Involve every employee and student in some aspect of the safety program and give each specific responsibilities
6. Provide incentives to employees and students for safety performance
7. Require all employees to read the appropriate safety manual. Require students to read the institution’s laboratory safety rules. Have both groups sign a statement that they have done so, understand the contents, and agree to follow the procedures and practices. Keep these statements on file in the department office
8. Conduct periodic, unannounced laboratory inspections to identify and correct hazardous conditions and unsafe practices. Involve students and employees in simulated OSHA inspections
9. Make learning how to be safe an integral and important part of science education, your work, and your life
10. Schedule regular departmental safety meetings for all students and employees to discuss the results of inspections and aspects of laboratory safety