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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Better Living Through Chemical Safety?

Actually, that headline is a take-off on the long-time Dupont slogan, but it encapsulates the possible result of a pilot program announced 31 April by the Dow chemical company and the University of Minnesota to improve safety in the university’s chemistry and chemical engineering labs.  As Jyllian Kemsley reports at Chemical & Engineering News, the program will focus on “building and sustaining a good safety culture,” although “neither Down nor UMN comes to the program with the expectation that the university will duplicate Dow’s safety program.”

“This unique safety partnership”–in the words of a university release–will extend to through the summer and will try to address, among other issues, the training problems caused by the high rate of arrivals and departures in academic labs. The program will also involve a “Joint Safety Team” composed of safety officers from every chemical engineering and chemical research group on the campus and will expose university people to Dow’s best practices, with the goal of adapting them to academic research.

With industry widely recognized as enforcing much higher lab safety standards than academic institutions, this effort appears to hold real promise for improving safety practices at UMN, and perhaps even as a model for other institutions. We will never how many hideous incidents the program may prevent, but the students, postdocs, and researchers who improve their practices because of it might wish to consider a paraphrase of another advertising slogan long popular in days gone by:  The lives they save may be their own.