Research Labs
6:17 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

National Report Led By Wash U Provost Promotes Chemical Safety At Universities

A new national report says more should be done to promote the safe use of chemicals at universities.

Credit U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Washington University Provost Holden Thorp chaired the committee that wrote the National Research Council report.

He said the group sought to take lessons learned from safety incidents in fields such as health care, aviation and manufacturing, and apply them to academic chemistry research.

Thorp said with so many academic researchers in St. Louis working with potentially hazardous chemicals, it's critical that local institutions encourage students and staff to report potential problems.

"When you have an organization where those kinds of things can be discussed, you have an organization where, according to the safety culture experts, people feel safe talking about the hazards that they may be working with,” Thorp said.

The report recommends keeping track of what Thorp called “near-miss” incidents ― something he said Washington University already does.

He said there is a history of serious incidents involving the use of chemicals in academic research – though none here in St. Louis.

And he said safety isn’t just an issue in chemistry labs – chemical accidents can happen in many different university settings: “In biological research labs, which we have a huge number of in St. Louis, and even in arts and performing arts, where you are creating things that may involve substances that could be chemical hazards.”

Thorp recommends that universities create what he called a “safety culture” focused on preventing major chemical incidents.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter@KWMUScience