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Students, the Other Unprotected Lab Animals

kdawson posted more than 5 years ago | from the protection-available-but-not-to-you dept.

Education 236

theodp writes "Slate reports on the horrible — and preventable — death of a young UCLA biochemist in a t-butyl lithium incident, which led a Chemical Health and Safety columnist to the disheartening conclusion that most academic laboratories are unsafe venues for work or study. It's estimated that accidents and injuries occur hundreds of times more frequently in academic labs than in industrial ones. Why? For one thing, Slate says, occupational safety and health laws that protect workers in hazardous jobs apply only to employees, not to undergrads, grad students, or research fellows who receive stipends from outside funders."

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Sorry but (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28071849)

Linux just isn't ready for the desktop yet. It may be ready for the web servers that you nerds use to distribute your TRON fanzines and personal Dungeons and Dragons web-sights across the world wide web, but the average computer user isn't going to spend months learning how to use a CLI and then hours compiling packages so that they can get a workable graphic interface to check their mail with, especially not when they already have a Windows machine that does its job perfectly well and is backed by a major corporation, as opposed to Linux which is only supported by a few unemployed nerds living in their mother's basement somewhere. The last thing I want is a level 5 dwarf (haha) providing me my OS.

Re:Sorry but (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072027)

I fucked your mother in the mouth last night.

Re:Sorry but (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072209)

That would explain the funny taste when I kissed her after eating her pussy this morning...

School vs Industry (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071869)

I spent 2 and half years (I graduated early) studying Computer science in University. What surprised me when I got out was that the things I stressed over every day in school were only the thinnest onion skin of what was required of me in the industry. If I were to retake an exam after a couple years in the industry, I wouldn't have any problem with it.

The difference is that industry requires so much more focus and professionalism than schooling does. So it's no surprise that students would fuck up in a laboratory much more than a junior clinician with a month of on the job training.

It isn't about lack of OSHA oversight, it's about how academia considers safety as an afterthought.

Re:School vs Industry (-1, Flamebait)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071881)

very true. i work in one of the most dangerous industries in the world (resources) yet i'm much safer at work than i am doing DIY work at home. it's rather ironic that the whole lefty money is the root of all evil crowds that populate most university's permit their workplace to be so much more dangerous.

Re:School vs Industry (3, Insightful)

Werthless5 (1116649) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071977)

Can somebody mod this down as flamebait? Seriously, lab safety has to come down to a left vs right debate? Sigh...

Re:School vs Industry (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072017)

It's rather ironic that the whole lefty money is the root of all evil crowds that populate most university's permit their workplace to be so much more dangerous.

It's also rather ironic that people who eat cheerios are five times more likely to commit suicide.

Do you even know what irony means?

Re:School vs Industry (0, Troll)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072127)

yes, do you? the money thats supposed to be evil is in fact saving people.

thanks for playing.

Re:School vs Industry (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072183)

Apparently you don't know what "yes" means, either.

the money thats supposed to be evil is in fact saving people.

Ignoring the false generalization that university types think money is evil, this would be irony, yes, but:

the whole lefty money is the root of all evil crowds that populate most university's permit their workplace to be so much more dangerous.

This is a loose connection between two unrelated things.

Re:School vs Industry (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072285)

there's either a loose connection or they are unrelated.

Re:School vs Industry (2, Interesting)

icannotthinkofaname (1480543) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072513)

But correlationisnotcausation. Don't you ever read the tags?

Re:School vs Industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072659)

It's not the money, it's the regulation. Ms. Sangji was probably one lab coat away from being saved, and those are cheap. But the free market (which conservatives put such faith in) naturally produces businesses which risk their customers' health unless we agree to impose a reason not to, and we didn't get around to it in this case.

Re:School vs Industry (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28071891)

And what kind of workplace hazards did you experience as a computer scientist? Aside from the obvious risks associated with sitting in a non-ergonomic chair for too long.

Re:School vs Industry (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071921)

When I have to plug in a cable or other "under the desk" activity, I have one of the sysadmins do it for me.

Re:School vs Industry (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072047)

Ew. That's not very sanitary, you know.

Re:School vs Industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072713)

Well, if it was good for Clinton, obviously it must be good enough for him.

Re:School vs Industry (5, Funny)

sando101x (1058590) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071969)

And what kind of workplace hazards did you experience as a computer scientist

The Skynet kind.

Re:School vs Industry (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072215)

If it tends to weed out the stupid. I'm for it.

Re:School vs Industry (4, Informative)

tyrione (134248) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072325)

I spent 2 and half years (I graduated early) studying Computer science in University. What surprised me when I got out was that the things I stressed over every day in school were only the thinnest onion skin of what was required of me in the industry. If I were to retake an exam after a couple years in the industry, I wouldn't have any problem with it.

The difference is that industry requires so much more focus and professionalism than schooling does. So it's no surprise that students would fuck up in a laboratory much more than a junior clinician with a month of on the job training.

It isn't about lack of OSHA oversight, it's about how academia considers safety as an afterthought.

Don't compare Computer Science to Chemistry. Having Mechanical Engineering and Computer Science on my c.v., M.E. stomped all over CS for professional standards, strict materials and manufacturing lab rules and much more. Why? Because you don't work with Milling Machines in CS or Oxy-Acetylene/Arc Welders while machining and assembling a CAR versus writing test cases in software. The fact this University doesn't have strict standards falls square on the shoulders of their full time professional staff who manage the labs and should be drilling into these kids Factors of Safety. If we ever mishandled metal lathes we got our asses chewed by the machinists. The manufacturing lab, strengths and materials labs and metallurgy labs were brutal on idiots who were not cautious about what they did in a building with plenty of options available to cause an explosion.

Re:School vs Industry (2, Interesting)

linzeal (197905) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072407)

Yeah but why should OSHA only protect the instructors. As a fellow Mech and EE I can assure you that industry standards are only as stringent as what will prevent them from getting lawsuits. Universities do not value a student as much as an employee because students are customers.

Re:School vs Industry (2, Informative)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072851)

OSHA doesn't protect students worse then employees. They are a set of standards with some strict rules and as long as an employee is supervising, no matter how many students are in the lab or whatever, the OSHA rules apply.

Now the Student isn't on their own if an instructor isn't present either. They are protected by consumer protection laws which means that the lab should have at minimum, guidelines that match OSHA requirements for everyone if not more stringent guidelines because of previous lawsuits.

This entire premise of double standards is a croak and doesn't exist. The only thing OSHA coverage would have done is provided for a fine as well as a lawsuit when the student did something wrong and got killed. The lawsuit is still an option and even agreements not to sue can be invalidated if reasonable steps for safety weren't followed.

Re:School vs Industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072779)

Hey, Carpal tunnel syndrome is no laughing matter...

Re:School vs Industry (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072803)

You mean, your CS teachers were a bunch of idiots who DIDN'T shout at you for having insufficient test cases, bad design and terrible implementation?

The only reason the ME guys shouted is because people could get hurt. CS bugs hurt people too, google for Therac-25 to find out why.

Re:School vs Industry (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072397)

Congratulations! Not only did you avoid any bad analogies, but you also managed to restate the obvious implications of the article summary and get modded up for so doing. Well done!

Re:School vs Industry (0, Troll)

LaskoVortex (1153471) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072691)

The lab is "on the job". Knowledge is created there. My guess is that you have never done real physical science so please stop pretending you know what you are talking about. If you have done real physical science, point to a real publication about *physical science* (chemistry, biology, biochemistry, physical chemistry, etc.) with your name on it. In industry, they don't do real physical science because they use a work flow for production or synthesis. Work flow is not science. Real science is work on the very edge of the unknown--so a worker doesn't even know what dangers she will encounter before she actually does an experiment. And she can't know what will be the result without doing the experiment. Do some science and come back and give us your thoughts. Until then your spewing flamebait that isn't going to be modded as such because 95% of the /. crowd doesn't do real physical science themselves.

Re:School vs Industry (1)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072765)

Now maybe I don't have my name written up in some fancy shmancy "scientific journal".

But even *I* know that you don't handle pyrophoric materials without a labcoat!

Sangji, who had worked in the lab for 2 months, was injured while attempting to draw a quantity of the chemical t-butyl lithium from a receptacle using a syringe. The material, which is pyrophoric, burst into flame on contact with air when "the plunger was either ejected or pulled out of the syringe," according to report's narrative summary of the incident. The "liquid ... spilled onto [Sangji's] clothing, torso and hands ...and immediately caught fire. ... No appropriate clothing protection nor a laboratory coat was used while working with the pyrophoric material," the report found. In addition, Sangji wore a "sweatshirt made of synthetic material."

Mid-range time in the lab (5, Interesting)

Martin Blank (154261) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071875)

I wonder if some of the lab students fall into the trap of thinking that they knew enough, and not realizing that their earlier practices were put in place not to protect them as novices, but to protect them at all times.

It seems similar to something that I've read happens to some pilots. In those cases, a pilot with, say, 200 hours still considers himself a novice, and will carefully follow the checklist and be extremely careful to not get overwhelmed. That pilot may reach 800 hours, and think that he's got it down. This is, according to one investigator (Australian, I think) the most dangerous time to be a pilot. Once this stage is passed, usually around 1500 hours, the pilot has had enough close calls to realize that what they learned early on should be applied all throughout their career.

IIRC, this was the conclusion of an inquiry into a crash of an Australian military helicopter that killed most or all aboard when it came down too hard and too fast to the back of a ship, bounced off, and landed in the ocean. The base reason was "pilot error," but there was much more to the psychology of the situation.

Re:Mid-range time in the labnk (1)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072007)

Yep. In terms of computer usage, I've always said that it is the people who "think" they know what they are doing who get into the most trouble.rec

Think of learning Unix. You start out, you double check the manpages, you double check what directory you're in, what machine you're on, your current user ID etc. Then a little bit later, when you feel like you're finally getting the hang of it, you end up as root sitting in '/' and in one window, and in another your sitting in a directory that you need to delete files in. You type 'rm -rf *' and realize, only afterwards, that you were in the wrong terminal window!

Then you learn: double check everything before typing something stupid like 'rm -rf *'!

Re:Mid-range time in the labnk (1)

micheas (231635) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072265)

This is why I am prone to putting > tmp.sh at the end of commands that are very destructive. Deleting the wrong 30,000 files is something you only have to do once.

Re:Pilot Error and Time in Cockpit (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072295)

Actually, there are many "plateaus" that pilots need to go through as the learn their craft. When I was getting my private pilots license, I very clearly remember flight instructor Dave telling me that the only thing that flight instructors did was to basically teach us just enough to kill ourselves. The flight instructors hope was that when we inevitably got ourselves into a fix, he/she had taught us enough so that we could get ourselves out of it in one piece. Dave also said that I would, before a 100 hours of "pilot in command" time frame had elapsed, get myself into trouble and he really hoped that I would survive. And he was serious...and he was right. At the 60 hour time frame of piloting, I did the "low altitude, low airspeed, NO place to go" mistake on landing. Nearly killed myself. It made a lasting impression.

Gordon

Re:Pilot Error and Time in Cockpit (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072471)

I have been a private pilot for 10 years now.

I feel ya pal. Keep using that license to learn every time you push the balls to the wall.

Re:Mid-range time in the lab (5, Insightful)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072373)

I wonder if some of the lab students fall into the trap of thinking that they knew enough, and not realizing that their earlier practices were put in place not to protect them as novices, but to protect them at all times.

I don't know if it's overconfidence so much as getting lazy. I worked in a lab that was classified biohazard level 2 (I think) when I was a lab noob. Always wore gloves for one thing. I'm somewhat less of a noob now in a different lab. When I first started in my current lab, I would wear gloves for everything, even, say, when cutting chicken embryos out of their eggs. Clearly nothing in that which is going to hurt me.

Now I've probably swung too far the other direction. I've caught myself doing stupid things like not putting gloves on when carrying a test tube full of toxins because I would have had to walk 10 feet to the gloves and was in a hurry. I guess there was a little "I probably didn't get any outside the test tube" but it was mostly just laziness and bad habits. And I think that's probably where most of the dangers in academic labs come from.

Experienced researchers are often just as cavalier about dangers as anyone else in my experience, I think because a close call with lab safety, in some labs anyway, is much less dramatic than with a pilot. If you almost spill something bad on yourself, you might know it's something you want to avoid, but that's kind of academic. "Oh, a carcinogen almost landed on me, that would have been bad." You might laugh about it with your labmates next week, hopefully tell yourself you won't do that particular mistake again.

If you almost crash a helicopter on the other hand, you probably nearly wet your pants, and the reaction isn't "Oh, that would have been bad," it's more "OHMIGOD I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M STILL ALIVE!" A much more viceral experience that probably causes you to be more careful with -everything- rather than just that one mistake. At least, I would guess that's the case.

but.... (5, Funny)

gclef (96311) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071889)

But, if they make the labs safe, where will the great stories (like pouring liquid nitrogen down a drain, or projectile canisters [umdnj.edu] ) come from? C'mon, someone has to serve as an example to everyone else...

Re:but.... (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072421)

Mythbusters!

Example:

Myth: Grad student's don't need to wear gloves when handling aflatoxin [wikipedia.org] because the gloves are worth more than grad students.

Test: We dropped pure aflatoxin on Tory's hands, and figure out how much a grad student is worth compared to a box of gloves.

Outcome: Tory has horrible tumors growing on his hands, but the box of gloves is calculated to be worth more than the grad student.

Myth: confirmed!

Re:but.... (2, Informative)

Viridae (1472035) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072489)

Pouring liquid nitrogen down a drain does sweet bugger all except possibly crack the pipes. Been there done that. Anyway quickest way to get rid of a small amount of it in a large enough room is to chuck it on the floor - evaporates harmlessly in seconds. More fun is an eppe (eppendorf 1.5 ml microcentrifuge tube) bomb - lump of dry ice in that, put the lid on and chuck it a suitable distance away. Makes a hell of a bang. Watch out for the lid which inevitably goes flying at speed.

common sense prevents injury (5, Interesting)

ladydi89 (1159055) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071897)

what a load of crap. We had tons of rules and safety precautions that we had to take when I was an undergrad in chemistry. The problem is people who think they are invincible against battery acid and other such dangerous chemicals. If you made it to college, one would hope you have enough common sense to follow the safety rules and not be careless, but an amazing amount of less than intelligent life manages to sneak through admissions.

Re:common sense prevents injury (2, Insightful)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072009)

Part of it might be to to with getting older. When I was in my 20s, I must have thought I was invincible, the way I carried on. Decades later, with a catalogue of (fortunately more or less innocuous) industrial injuries, I seem to have got the message.

Which is why, when dealing with novices, I now try to stress the point that there is nothing uncool or wimpish about taking a few extra seconds for simple safety precautions.

Obligatory (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28071923)

Didn't any one pay attention in high school chemistry? Johnny was a chemist But Johnny is no more For what he thought was H2O was H2SO4

Do as I say, not as I do (-1, Flamebait)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071945)

Isn't it funny how the progressive forces in the university insist on applying standards to industry, and yet exempt themselves from the requirements on the grounds that compliance would be too expensive?

Re:Do as I say, not as I do (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072081)

... You're an idiot.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallacy_of_composition

a) Those "progressive forces" are _right_. Stringent safety procedures are vital.

b) The "university" "exempt themselves" from compliance? Read the friendly summary: Congress exempted Universities from compliance.

c) ... I can't go on. Fallacy of composition. Attributing the failure to implement lab safety procedures at an institutional level to the people who got those same procedures implemented at a national level? Attributing a phenomena that is demonstrable (to some degree or another) in many university and high school labs to one single entity? And presupposing that that entity is the same one that managed to get the standards applied?

And, finally, to protect myself, some humor: http://xkcd.com/386/ .

Re:Do as I say, not as I do (1)

Vectronic (1221470) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072237)

And, finally, to protect myself, some humor...

Exactly, if only they had been joking around they would have been fine, I can sit comfortably in liquid nitrogen while naked, as long as someone is laughing.

*More* Litigation? (1)

Bordgious (1378477) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071957)

*Just* what we need... As if my school didn't have enough issues already getting the lab supplies we want and need...

Emphasis is on the students (4, Informative)

Werthless5 (1116649) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071965)

I am a grad student, and every lab I have seen puts an emphases on putting your safety first. I have a difficult time believing that commercial labs are any safer.

Re:Emphasis is on the students (5, Informative)

ctmurray (1475885) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072167)

Wait till you get to industry. Much stricter. Everytime there is an accident there is a report to OSHA and an internal investigation. Procedures are changed, even to the side of overkill. Factories all keep track of the number of days since a reportable accident, and this number is rarely more than a couple of months. We get training each and every year on safety. We get monthly email bulletins of near misses and what we can learn. There are walk around audits of the lab areas.

Example: recently the factory started requiring a splash shield over the standard wrap around safety glasses. Why? Someone splashed a small amount of isopropyl alcohol in their eye even though they had the wrap around safety glasses. Do you wear both a splash shield and safety glasses when you dispense IPA from a squeeze bottle?

In grad school a woman was severely burned refluxing THF (flammable solvent) with metallic sodium (pyrophoric as in this article) in a glass round bottom flask in a hood (using an electric heating mantle). By accident the round bottom was not vented to atmospheric pressure (the stop cock was still in the neck). The THF was refluxing under pressure and this woman noticed and removed the stopper. The THF immediately turned into a gas, filled the hood, caught fire and exploded. Blew out the windows from the building.

No industrial lab would allow a flammable solvent near an electrically charged heating mantle. This would have to be done in a Class 1 Group D flammable safety room (intrinsically safe electricity wiring and blow out walls (no windows), you have to wear ESD shoes to prevent sparking) in a sealed container. At the graduate level you have no supervision, unlike undergrad labs that have been somewhat pre-screened and made medium safe. Not in grad school.

This reminds me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28071981)

of a comic that reminds me of a lab I used to do undergrad research in: http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1023 [slashdot.org]

Procedure Design (4, Insightful)

Demonantis (1340557) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071985)

Most companies experience an accident and put in place procedures to handle the danger. Most procedures performed in academic labs are designed by the student for that one time. There is some common sense, but things can more easily go wrong if the procedure hasn't had the same rigor as an industrial procedure applied to it.

It's easy to ignore the rules in college (1)

Mattazuma (1255022) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071987)

When I was in college, a long time ago, a friend and I filled silver-zinc battery cells with acid in our apartments instead of in the chem lab. I'm guessing my landlord never figured out why there were burns in the arms of one of his chairs. The batteries were for our school's solar car team (this was a big deal in the late 80s).

This is what happens whenever... (5, Insightful)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 5 years ago | (#28071993)

...you let undergrads lose in a lab. A friend of mine was nearly electrocuted because one of her undergrads took it upon himself to do some wiring, and "grounded" the black wire to the body of a vacuum chamber. Little did he know that the "red is power, black is ground" convention that he learned in his intro to EE course doesn't apply to AC circuits.

And that's just one of countless examples I've seen. Undergrads, and even many grad students, don't really know what they're doing half the time. That'd be fine, but the dangerous thing is that they think they do. If the guy in my previous example had taken a moment to ask, "Hey, which of these is ground?" then there would never have been a problem.

Short of keeping an eye on all of them at all times, there's not much you can do. And since the people who would do the watching are probably first or second year grad students themselves, it might not even do you much good.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072143)

White is for Weddings, Black is for Funerals, and Green is for Grass that Grows on the Ground.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072271)

Don't know where you are, but the wiring in my house (MT, USA, circa 1970ish) is one read and one black wire. I've always learned: red is hot, black is not.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072321)

Nope. Green, green with a yellow stripe, and uninsulated are ground. White and gray are neutral (except in Europe, where it's blue). Any other color is hot.

Now, that's in AC systems. DC is a bit different, in that black can be neutral in systems that don't use negative voltage. Since undergrad labs frequently use such systems, people get the idea that black is ground. It's not.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072641)

So what's this pink one with red polka-dots?

I think I connect it to...zzzzzt!

Re:This is what happens whenever... (2, Funny)

bob.appleyard (1030756) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072381)

Posting from the 70s? WTF

Re:This is what happens whenever... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072675)

Did Ted Kaczynski wire your house to try and electrocute you? There's no way a US house in the 1970's should have been wired that way.

You couldn't even buy Romex with red and black wires then, and I doubt someone wired a house with conduit. The house is probably much older than you are guessing, or something else is going on.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (1)

gyrogeerloose (849181) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072709)

That's out of the norm. The electrical code in most U.S. states is: black=hot, white=neutral, green=ground. Red is typically used as a second hot wire in a two-way switch setup.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072715)

There are some 240V wiring systems that have a red and and a black wire. BUT, both wires are hot. Treating a black wire as not is one way to end up very, very dead.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (2, Insightful)

Fierlo (842860) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072171)

As a recent engineering graduate, I can only confirm that you're far too accurate for my liking. Engineering students think that they have it all figured out, and go on to design some wonderfully impractical items.

Almost all of which could be solved by simply asking someone with experience. The unfortunate reality is that many engineering students are taught that 'labourers' opinions aren't valuable. The simple truth is that they provide the 'applied' to the science that was studied. It's a shame, but many students never learn this, and end up grounding the wrong wire, so to speak.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (2, Informative)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072599)

Engineering students think that they have it all figured out, and go on to design some wonderfully impractical items.

That's an understatement. Some genius engineer with a company that I may have something to do with thought that it would be a good idea to route a compressor's power wires around a fine-threaded screw instead of a hose.

The compressor's vibration would then cause the wires' insulation to rub against the screw threads and eventually short the wires to the compressor's metal case. An ECO was sent out telling the service personnel to reroute the wires, but if the engineers would've figured that out when they designed the thing it would have made no difference in time or performance to set it up the right way at the factory.

Just another drop in the bucket of the bad stereotype that geeks are ultra-smart but lack common sense.

One more thing. Don't use tin connectors, guys. Just spend the extra 5 cents on gold-plated connectors. Trust me on this one.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072233)

A few years ago working at a university with a high percentage of Indian national grad students, I had a grad student electrical engineer not know what a fuse was or how to replace it when her computer lab ceased operating. I don't know if it was a language thing, but it seemed like she genuinely didn't get the concept of a fuse (it was an old lab).

Re:This is what happens whenever... (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072353)

I'd say that its most likely that the student generally didn't know. Its not anything against the ethnicity, but the Indian schools themselves seem to do a horrible job actually giving students a wide breadth of knowledge. And they don't seem to understand the importance of it.

Re:This is what happens whenever... (2, Funny)

smellotron (1039250) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072759)

This is what happens whenever you let undergrads lose in a lab.

How ironic that this is the one time that "loose" is actually the correct spelling, yet "let[ting] undergrads lose" is still somehow appropriate to the topic.

meh (5, Informative)

SuperBanana (662181) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072005)

Where I work, everyone in the entire BUILDING is required to take safety training. Everyone that actually works regularly in the lab space are required to take more training. If you don't, the school shuts off your access card.

The school makes your supervisor fill out a form each year that specifically inquires as to what you will be working with (gross simplification: animals, radioactive materials, hazardous chemicals.) Training is based off that.

Just because safety protocols at one school sucks (example: Texas A&M [corante.com] ) doesn't mean it does everywhere.

Re:meh (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072811)

I'm a graduate student. I was forced to sit through three hours of safety training on proper handling of hazardous chemicals. But I'm an astrophysicist - I spend all my time in front of a computer! The most hazardous chemical I deal with is the ethyl alcohol in my friday night beer!

With such bureaucratic stupidity, it's hard to take any of the safety requirements seriously.

There are multiple factors at work here (1)

viyh (620825) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072013)

Such as age, funding, skill, etc. The kids in a university/school setting are most likely younger than employees who work in an industrial setting. Schools don't have a lot of funding so that leads to trying to cut corners. Also, It's a school, a place where they are still trying to learn. In an industrial setting [hopefully] the company understands what it is dealing with and takes appropriate precautions. As mentioned in the first comment, schools do consider safety as an afterthought, but that IS in part due to lack of OSHA oversight since there is nothing forcing the safety issue like in a business setting. NASA has had the same problem for a long time. Cutting corners due to lack of funding/trying to save money and that compromises the safety of everyone involved.

Re:There are multiple factors at work here (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072665)

nothing forcing the safety issue like in a business setting

Yeah. Sell that. All hail OSHA. Send what's left of our research capacity to China.

BIDEN:

How many of you kids want to go to college? Well, guess what? Barack Obama and Joe Biden are going to make sure that every single one of you who qualify are going to get to go to college! Even if you don't have the money in your family to go, we're going to make sure you get there.

Do the schools think Great Leader Obama is going to pay full freight for 'every single one of you'?

LOL. You voted for it.

What a shame! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072019)

As an individual who works at a pharma company, I can tell you that the joke isn't "I'm off like a Prom dress" - it's "I'm off like a flaming lab coat". You would be surprised how quickly they will throw down those, if the time is right. A $10 item could have saved this individual. This is a tragedy.

Give me a break! (5, Insightful)

cyn1c77 (928549) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072037)

I am sorry that this woman died, but I 100% disagree with this fine. The woman was a research assistant who was working off-hours, alone in the room, and did not have the necessary protection on. She screwed up bigtime.

I find it hard to believe that she made it through all those years of schooling without knowing that (1) a lithium compound is pyrophoric and (2) she probably should have had protective equipment on. No amount of training that the UC system could provide can fix a lazy student with a key to the lab.

For someone with a PhD to make these mistakes is akin to a regular Joe forgetting to look both ways before crossing the street and then getting hit by a car. It sucks, but it is only the victim's fault.

Of course, it is never fashionable for politicians to blame the victim.

Re:Give me a break! (1)

cloricus (691063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072105)

I am with you. I don't understand why people are looking for some one to blame when it clearly, based on the detailed facts we have been given, is the fault of the lady who died. It is a shame that any one has to die but it happens.

Re:Give me a break! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072483)

I am with you. I don't understand why people are looking for some one to blame when it clearly, based on the detailed facts we have been given, is the fault of the lady who died.

Well, no. She was an employee, not a student. An employer is legally obligated to provide a safe working environment, provide training, protective equipment, supervision, and to protect the employee from their own stupidity.

Really, look it up.

Re:Give me a break! (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072147)

I'm guessing that this is one of those situations where she knew all that stuff; but was under pressure(internal or external) to get something done, and didn't bother to do it right. Easy to do, and 90% of the time it doesn't bite you. Sometimes, it does.

Re:Give me a break! (4, Informative)

Arguendo (931986) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072149)

Blaming the victim sounds harsh when the article indicates that the failure to wear protective clothing was systemic:

The 15-page report cites a deficiency in the department's records of safety and health training on exposure to hazardous chemicals. It notes that a safety inspection of the Harran lab by UCLA on 30 October had "identified [the failure of employees to wear required protective clothing] and recommended that laboratory coats must be worn while conducting research and handling hazardous materials in the laboratory."

Re:Give me a break! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072553)

recommended...

there's the issue summed up in one word

Re:Give me a break! (1)

tirerim (1108567) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072153)

TFA indicates that she didn't have Ph.D., just a bachelor's degree. It's not clear from the article that anyone ever told her she ought to be wearing protective gear; in fact, a previous inspection (before she worked there) noted the failure of employees to wear lab coats.

Re:Give me a break! (4, Interesting)

tyrione (134248) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072331)

TFA indicates that she didn't have Ph.D., just a bachelor's degree. It's not clear from the article that anyone ever told her she ought to be wearing protective gear; in fact, a previous inspection (before she worked there) noted the failure of employees to wear lab coats.

I point this failing right at the Secondary Level in High schools with Chemistry labs being removed after those idiots in Colorado. In Washington State they removed most school districts chem labs, bio labs and more. You get shown basic lab safety at that level, long before you enter a University. There is a serious disconnect that they removed the trades from High School, handcuffed the Hard Science labs and created integrated mathematics to shuffle through the herds of lowest common denominator. Challenge the kids and show them the beauty and dangers of Hard Science so they have a respect for it.

Re:Give me a break! (4, Insightful)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072403)

we needs to get back to the whole
play science for the munchkins (where vinegar and baking soda are the worst chemicals they use)
get more real as they get bigger (when they can add a chemical to a half full beaker of water correctly they can go beyond play stuff)
by the time they are old enough for a "wand" they should be using fire and the more nasty stuff
and by the time they are in high school they should be working with 3 liter kegs of Hydroflouric acid and other "fun stuff"

by the time they are of legal age they should be able to work out how to brew a keg and make their own fireworks
(and know that combining these is a bad thing)

Re:Give me a break! (3, Insightful)

ctmurray (1475885) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072189)

Grad school is all about working "off hours", I've been there and done that. I did not have safety glasses in grad school, at work I am required to have them and they are paid for by my employer. They go around and check on your use of PPE (personal protective equipment) and inspect your lab for safety (this did not happen in grad school) At an industrial job any new process requires a review by the safety team. You are completely on your own at grad school. The victim in most accidents like this have a role in the disaster. But safety is all about making the process or experiment inherently safe or at least safer through training, providing proper safety equipment and reviewing the process that the student is planning on using.

Re:Give me a break! (1)

Maximum Prophet (716608) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072197)

When I was in CS at Purdue, there where CS grad students whose undergraduate degrees were in some unrelated field, like basket weaving, who should never have been allowed to touch a keyboard, much less pyrophoric chemicals. From the article linked to by the article. "Less than 5% of [those] who work in a lab have ever worked with t-butyl lithium," and it is unlikely, he continues, that a student would "pick this us up on the undergraduate level."

I know I made enough non-lethal mistakes in high school to take chem lab safety very seriously, but there are people who get to the grad level without doing any real hands on work with dangerous material.

Re:Give me a break! (2, Informative)

RichardJenkins (1362463) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072201)

UC's own inspection found deficiencies last October, but they didn't act on them:

"a safety inspection of the Harran lab by UCLA on 30 October had âoeidentified [the failure of employees to wear required protective clothing] and recommended that laboratory coats must be worn while conducting research and handling hazardous materials in the laboratory.â But it says that the lab âoedid not implement procedures for correcting unsafe and unhealthy conditions, work practices and work procedures in a timely manner based on the severity of the hazard.â"

The article also implies they're not keeping records they are required to. A $30k fine seems entirely justified to me (and apparently to the university, who didn't contest it) - that doesn't mean the woman wasn't being foolishly reckless.

Re:Give me a break! (4, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072231)

She was an undergraduate, not a graduate student, let alone a PhD. She wasn't even a science major.

Why did she have a key? Why was she allowed in the lab alone? Why was she told to work with lithium?

If this was a mistake made by an experienced researcher, I would agree with you wholeheartedly, but letting her in the lab was a serious mistake in judgment on the part of the PI.

Re:Give me a break! (4, Insightful)

Translation Error (1176675) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072351)

Except according to the article, the university wasn't able to show that she'd ever been trained to handle the substance she was working with. The university also knew this lack of training was an issue:

including its inability to show that Sangji had been trained to handle the dangerous substance and the lack of proper protective attire. UCLA's own safety officials had already faulted the lab on the latter issue back in October, but the problem went uncorrected.

It wasn't a question of someone ignoring the protocols she'd been taught--it was a case of someone never being trained in those protocols in the first place and nothing being done to correct this known problem.

Re:Give me a break! (1)

JavaManJim (946878) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072501)

What happened to common sense? Can you train for this? Its -4F at UIUC with a 20mph wind. Huge wind chill. How safe were lightly dressed people who parked their cars then ran into the school building? This was during Christmas break; no one was around. They could have slipped and fallen and incapacitated themselves. In that weather, exposure was a hazard.

Re:Give me a break! (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072355)

I am posting anonymously, since I don't know how much of this information has been previously published, but here you go:

1) Working in a chemistry lab is all about working odd hours. In many labs, your PI forces you to. It's not really a choice.

2) She was not alone in the lab. There were other people there, but they did not speak English.

3) She was a research assistant, so she had a BA and thus the knowledge of the average first-year graduate student. No more and no less.

4) While t-BuLi is spontaneously pyrophoric in lab, n-BuLi is not. Even if you somehow manage to learn this in class (unlikely, since you're probably not going to use it in an undergraduate lab), it's easy to mix up.

5) As is mentioned below, no one in the lab wore appropriate protective clothing. It's hard to blame Sheri for following the example set by the rest of the lab.

Re:Give me a break! (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072385)

I am sorry that this woman died, but I 100% disagree with this fine. The woman was a research assistant who was working off-hours, alone in the room, and did not have the necessary protection on. She screwed up bigtime.

Unfortunately, employment law disagrees with you. The employer is obligated to provide a safe working environment, provide training, protective equipment, supervision, and to protect the employee from their own stupidity.

Not surprising... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072039)

Normally I don't like to post as an AC, but it seems justified in this case.

A lot of times, undergrads in university labs are allowed to use the facilities relatively unsupervised. Staff who are around may not have the authority to force the students to follow safety procedures -- and the staff may not have been trained on each piece of equipment.

A lot of it seems to come from a sense of entitlement on the part of the students -- their reasoning being, apparently, that they pay $$k for tuition, so they are the clients. True enough, except that they are also sometimes unaware of proper procedures and the risks involved. A clearly-defined set of lab operating rules, as well as a clear chain of authority (with "Someone In Authority" with proper safety training present at all times when the lab is in use) would be very beneficial.

This lab sounds particularly bad. (2, Insightful)

gyroidben (1223170) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072055)

When I was a grad student I had to transfer sec-butyl lithium, which I think is slightly less intense, but still fairly nasty. I wore thick gloves, a labcoat, cotton clothes, safety glasses, and had the fume hood shields between my face and what I was doing. If graduate students in their lab were routinely doing stuff like this without even a labcoat, they have some serious safety issues which I don't think are representative of academic research in general.

Reminds me... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072059)

of a comic that reminds me of a lab I used to work in: [url=http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1023]http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1023[/url]

what about some statistics? (1)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072061)

These are teenagers learning to work with dangerous chemicals and devices. Of course, accidents will occur, and that's tragic. But are there any statistics that a university research lab is a more dangerous place to work than an OSHA-compliant workplace filled with workers of the same age? For that matter, is the university research lab any more dangerous, hour for hour, than, say, teenage driving or basic training?

In different words, is there any indication that there is a problem that needs fixing? If people are willing to accept a higher level of risk for other activities, then university research labs might not be the place to start optimizing safety.

unethical use of students (4, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072187)

The way graduate students are used in academic labs is unethical.

These are people who are told that their part-time pay for full-time (or more) work is offset by the opportunities that working in an academic lab and receiving an advanced academic degree will bring them. This is flat out not true. Prospective graduate students are misled into thinking that they have a place waiting for them at the top of academia or in charge of an industry lab.

Congress and the media are told that we have a shortage scientific labor. Meanwhile, there is so much labor available to academic research labs that they are often getting people to work for them for free. It is absurd that postdocs working in commercially relevant fields of physics make less money than a construction worker or fast food manager. Why is that? It's not because there's a shortage of labor. At least the postdocs are employees.

Why are we basing our research infrastructure on a rotation of untrained students? Why do we force those who are best at labwork to immediately move on to desk jobs? It certainly does nothing to promote safety, as people who know what they're doing are very quickly replaced (that's kind of the idea) and labs are structured and encouraged to keep the average level of competance low (it's education, right?). The whole thing makes no sense to me.

Re:unethical use of students (3, Insightful)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072505)

I agree with you. Unfortunately the solution to the problem would more then likely quadruple the cost of a collage education. GSI's teach, they grade, they do all the stuff the professor should be doing instead of having to publish, write grants and beg for money to fund relevant research so the department will stay afloat.

Why do you think lecture halls have 200 students in them? I know four tenured professors at UC Berkeley, two in the chemistry department, two in the Anthropology Department, those 4 people would LOVE to teach more, but they have to be rainmakers instead of teachers.

And when I say rain makers I don't mean just money, that also means luring people into their programs so the departments stay afloat.

Why salaries are lower in science (3, Insightful)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072757)

Congress and the media are told that we have a shortage scientific labor. Meanwhile, there is so much labor available to academic research labs that they are often getting people to work for them for free. It is absurd that postdocs working in commercially relevant fields of physics make less money than a construction worker or fast food manager. Why is that? It's not because there's a shortage of labor.

Basic economics. Quite simply, it is because nearly every postdoc would much, much rather be doing science than working in the construction or fast food industries. And in general, people are willing to accept a lower salary for doing something that they like doing than they will accept for doing something that they don't like doing.

No safety protocols? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072235)

Good, then skies the limit on my settlement.

Good that it is said aloud. (4, Interesting)

drolli (522659) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072323)

I am an experimetal physcist and luckily i am spared from handling biologically active or organic compounds. However, i observe the following

* electrical/fire safety (my father was an electrical engineer, and we installed the electrical outlets in a holiday home together): The most important princiciple i see violated is that the electrical conductor should not carry force. In the lab people regularly attach no additional mounting. An all scales of electrical wire, from nA to 200V*30A

* procedural safety. Are there rules like: just do certain things with two persons? No, after all you have a PHD, masters, or bachelor, so you are more intelligent than the stupid morons and can handle that alone

* instruction: have you ever had to sign of a "sheet which says: yes, i was instrcten on this machine, which potentially releases dangerous gases". Fuck. In industry, to operate a dangerous machine there needs to be some kind of proof you can do it. In research claiming to have seen somebody operating a similar machine is enough.

* Exits. Hey, its resarch. We need this rack here, now. We dont care what you say, what we do is important and no, we dont have time to mount this cable over the door instead of creating a tripwire.

* Gross miseducation in the lab courses (noe spefic instruction, operating devices by general rules of thumb). Instead of: "this is a pump. Dont the fuck operate it outside its operation range. may burn or explode" we hear: "yes, the inlet pressure meter is a little broken. The manual is actuall for another pump type, because we gave the students lab course the smallest pump. No problem it ran the last 5 years in that way". The other part is that if you mention in a lab course something is broken you usually get punished by spending more time there, and no reward at all.

* After all: organizational issues: If student burns his hand, who is responsible? The Professor? he wasn there. The direct Supervisor (maybe also a student)? No, he usually doen not oficially supervise, its the professor. The security responsible of the institute: he has done his job with checking one time per year everything is roughly in order.

Yes. labs are a fucking mess. I was my hands all the time when going out the lab. You never know what the asshole before you left on the desk. I always look for the exits and usually check the safety valves (i work with cryogenics), at least verifyin that no fuck-up blocked them by a clamp (i have seen that, that dewar could have levelled the lab quite efficiently). I check if the ground wire is attached. I make tricky questions to estimate the credibility of the co-workers. I am a pain in the butt if believe sth is dangerous. And i get really annoyed if people exhibit a "i kept the checklist by the letters" approach. Such assholes just make the checklist longer and longer and less comprehensible because they force the one keeping it to add every single part to be checked (i knew people whos task it was to check the marks of the fire exit which lead trouch a small storage room, they walked around up to the door of that room, i said "there is a huge pile blocking the door in this exit and the bulb in the small room is burned out. They just said: "yes but the markers leading there are ok", and put a check mark). I am very willing to bend rules, but everbody should be kept responsible for his safety and the safety of co-workers in the lab.

Re:Good that it is said aloud. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072633)

I'm sure whatever you had to say was very fascinating and all but good god man, get a spellchecker! The spelling nazi in me just gouged out his eyeballs in agony!

My university (1)

jnnnnn (1079877) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072393)

My Australian university (I'm a grad student in the physics department) is ridiculously anal about safety. There are regular audits and weekly safety meetings.

It's all got something to do with much lower WorkCover insurance premiums for certified institutions.

Transient researchers (1)

Viridae (1472035) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072557)

Institutional labs typically suffer from transient researchers - mostly students. Having worked (and studied) in both areas it seems to me that the problem in universities is that there is often noone specifically in charge of safety and the people spending the most time in the labs are the least experienced ones - talking about university labs. In industry, they make sure to assign a safety officer and there is always experienced people actually in the lab.

Safety is your job (1)

partowel (469956) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072603)

No one else is going to care about you. Except you.

You must take self-responsibility for your actions, non-actions, and everything in-between and beyond.

You are responsible for what you do, ignore, or any other action you do.

In this case, safety at "school".

I remember school. I remember almost no safety protocols at all. I did science and all the other tech stuff.

Safety? What? You mean using a band saw with no breathing, eye, face protection? OH yeah. I remember.

Schools can't pay for safety. Schools don't care about you.

You have to take care of yourself.

YOU are on your own.

The answer is... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28072673)

Having worked in several academic research labs, this is an easy question to answer. Some of these have been previously mentioned.

1) The main person in charge of the lab is the professor but he is too busy to deal with your day to day activities and probably has no idea what is inside the hoods in his lab. The person in charge at the University level just gives the lab a quick once over every now and then. This means the people who are suppose to train others in lab equipment are mostly poorly informed graduate students.

2) Many academic labs have a very transient nature compared to industry. There are a lot of undergraduates or passing graduate students who need to use some machine as quickly as possible. They are taught hastily by whoever happens to be around and even then whoever is around probably doesn't want to teach because it's not their job. They're just trying to get a degree, why is it their job to teach some new undergrad/grad a process/equipment? This also relates to item 1.

3) The transient nature of academic labs means that there is no one around who consistently knows everything and there are few people who you can reliably turn to.

4) The professor doesn't care until someone fucks up. Lab practices slowly degrade until someone fucks up and makes the news. The professor then get angry, yells at grad students which subsequently prevents nothing because those grad students are replaced soon anyway.

5) Academic labs are poorly or unevenly funded and most have no dedicated staff outside of graduate students who are very busy, unsupervised, and feel very little obligation to help others.

To sum it up, the poor funding, lack of dedicated personnel, and transient nature of many academic make them more likely than their industry counterparts to be more prone to lab accidents.

Let me give you an example. A new international student got permission from a bioengineering research lab I used to work at to work there as part of a project he was doing. The professor gave the ok, a quick tour of the lab and that was it. The student didn't talk to anyone else in the lab and immediately started his experiments. He setup a large beaker on a hotplate with some very nasty chemicals in it for his experiments. He walked away to his desk while the large solution warmed up. It turns out that he set his experiment up next to someone else was using a pryogenic material with a relatively low ignition temperature. The international student's boiling hot mixture bubbled over the side and hit the other students material sending the entire lab hood up in flames. It hasn't replaced to this day (due to funding issues of course).

Another time, someone decided it was a good idea to laminate some FR-4 at a temperature way above it's crystal transition temperature. Why did he doe this? Of course because there was no information on what temperature to put it at, there was no one around who would help and he figured any temperature would do. This caused large bellowing smoke from the lamination machine and everyone went home with some very severe symptoms from inhalation of the fumes.

Safety rules apply to students as well as employee (1)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 5 years ago | (#28072739)

At my university, students are required to complete the same safety training as employees before they are let loose near a laboratory bench. Labs are regularly inspected for to verify that they are following safety standards. Nevertheless, I see no way that university laboratories, which have many graduate students with just a few years of experience, will ever be as safe as industrial labs in which the average employee has much more practical experience.

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