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Beryl Lieff Benderly

New Source for Free Online Lab Safety Training

A recently launched Web site,, offers free, short safety training courses to scientists everywhere. It is a joint project of the New Hampshire IDeA Network of Biological Research Excellence (NH-INBRE), a consortium of 10 New Hampshire colleges and universities that is funded by the National Institutes of Health; the Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) office at Dartmouth College; and BioRAFT, a company providing lab safety monitoring and compliance software systems that we have previously mentioned. The site is primarily aimed at students and the courses are open to scientists at any stage and any age who wish to use its materials. 

The courses range in length from about 20 minutes to 2 hours. Successfully completing a quiz on the content qualifies the student for a certificate, which colleges can choose to accept as proof of knowledge of safety procedures. Michael Blayney, head of Dartmouth EHS, played a major role in developing the content. BioRAFT provided expertise in online preparation and NH-INBRE provided inspiration and funding.

To get an idea of the style and level of the presentations, your reporter watched the 20-minute video on safely transferring pyrophoric liquids, the process that UCLA lab assistant Sheri Sangji was attempting when she sustained the burns that two weeks later took her life. Clearly and deliberately, in language fully understandable to this non-chemist, the video explains and demonstrates the proper preparation, equipment, procedures and safety precautions necessary to carry out this potentially very dangerous task safely. 

The video emphasizes the need for proper personal protective equipment; a nearby partner, fire extinguisher, shower and eyewash; meticulous preparation of the appropriate equipment and materials; careful attention to technique; and a deep respect for danger. In short, it constitutes a virtual catalog of everything Sheri was not taught about pyrophorics. Those 20 minutes of detailed explanation, one suspects, might have saved her life. One wishes safe and successful work to the many young scientists the Web site’s creators hope will watch.