Safety Committee Report, Fall 2016

The Safety Committee is a new standing committee of the Division of Chemical Education that was formally established at the Spring ACS meeting in Denver.  Our Vision and Mission statements are:

Vision Statement:

Education that embeds accurate chemical safety instruction at all educational levels.

Mission Statement:

To provide resources and strategies to chemical and science educators in order to prepare chemists and others to function safely when using chemicals.

These statements were drafted by the group that proposed the formation of the committee and will be re-visited soon by the formally-appointed members.

There are initially 14 members of this committee, many of whom have a high degree of safety expertise.  We plan to meet at the national ACS meetings and the BCCE.   This will be a committee that works on multiple projects simultaneously all of which are directed towards fulfilling our Mission statement.  Right now the committee is heavily weighted towards college and university faculty but we hope to constitute ourselves with the right talent to address chemical safety education at all levels so some expansion with a few more K-12 teachers will be welcome.  If you are interested in participating, please contact Dave Finster (chair) at dfinster@wittenberg.edu.

As a matter of context, in addition to the CHED Safety Committee, there are two other entities in the ACS that focus on safety (across the enterprise of chemistry):  the Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS, http://www.dchas.org/) and the Board-appointed Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS, http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/about/governance/committees/chemicalsafety.html).  The Safety Committee expects to collaborate regularly with these other groups on programming and tasks of mutual interest. 

Our first major project is the revision of the CHED publication, “Minimum Safety Guidelines for Chemical Demonstrations”.   This document was first published in 1988 and revised in 1995.  As you might guess, it is in need of some updating given the changes in safety culture and expectations today.   Early reports from this working group suggest that this document may be more complicated to re-construct than first thought since a proper prelude to a demonstration involves a careful hazard and risk assessment rather than just “following 14 rules”.  We plan to present the revision to the CHED Executive Committee in Spring 2016 for approval.  The need for good demonstrations guidelines has been highlighted in the past few years by several incidents during chemical demonstrations that led to serious injuries.

Other tentative projects are:

  • Increase the presence of safety information on the CHED website
  • Collaborate with CHAS and the CCS regarding documents related to safety education.
  • Promote programming at national and regional meetings regarding safety instruction.
  • Liaison with the AACT to work on items of mutual interest.
  • Promote publication of safety-related papers in the Journal of Chemical Education.
  • Work with the Examinations Institute to promote the assessment of safety instruction through a revision of the Chemical Health and Safety Exam (1997).

Folks in the “safety world” (CHAS, CCS) are often appalled at the occasional disregard for safety in both academic and non-academic chemical environments that lead to injury and death.  Virtually all of the incidents are preventable, and the most common phrase uttered is “we need more education about safety.”  Indeed.  While safety instruction has evolved, and continues to improve, at all levels of our educational system (ranging all of the way from K-12 through graduate degrees) there is much work to be done.  The recently-released 2015 guidelines for undergraduate programs in chemistry developed by the Committee on Professional Training has significant upgrades in safety instruction recommendations (http://www.acs.org/content/dam/acsorg/about/governance/committees/traini... see pp 18-19), but this represents only an incremental change towards the ideal.   The Safety Committee can be a vehicle to further improvements in safety instruction.  Please share your ideas and questions about safety instruction with us!  Contact the chair.

Dave Finster
dfinster@wittenberg.edu

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