New initiatives promote laboratory health and safety

Campus's 1,000-plus labs submitting self-inspection surveys Nov. 1
By Cathy Cockrell, Public Affairs

11 OCTOBER 00 | A few months back, Steve Pederson, the College of Chemistry's health and safety director, had a scare, when a grad student in one of the labs found a white spot on his finger. The suspect was hydrofluoric acid - "HF" for short - a powerful acid used for etching glass.

In contact with the skin, this calcium-seeking substance makes a beeline for the bones, performing some painful, sci-fi flesh liquefaction on the way.

Luckily, the exposure was minute - presumably a few drops left on the outside of a vial - and Pederson had a vial of calcium gluconate cream and a pair of disposable blue gloves for application.

"I applied it to the finger. You want to get calcium gluconate on your skin as quickly as possible," he said.

By the time the student got to the Tang Center, the white spot had disappeared.

The topical antidote that saved the day came from a simple wall-mounted kit that the Environment, Health and Safety office provided to each campus lab that uses hydrofluoric acid.

The kit is one of several new programs EH&S has launched to help remedy, and prevent, safety hazards in the more than 1,000 campus labs.

One is a revamping of the laboratory self-inspection checklist, a questionnaire devised to help investigators evaluate potential health and safety hazards in their labs - from blocked exits to improper chemical storage and high-voltage equipment.

As a result of a the campus policy requiring campus departments to pay for any Cal/OSHA violations they incur, "people are paying a lot more attention to lab safety," says Mark Freiberg, head of the EH&S health and safety program.

This year, for the first time, submitting the lab self-evaluations is mandatory, not optional; departments are required to submit their questionnaires, and initiate any necessary correction actions, by Nov. 1.

By tallying the results, the campus Laboratory Operations and Safety Committee hopes to get a more accurate picture of common and difficult-to-remedy lab safety issues across campus and will report the results to senior campus management.

EH&S has also overhauled the chemical hygiene plan required for each campus research team that uses hazardous materials - creating an easy-to-use flip chart that must be posted in each lab.

And it is working with the city of Berkeley Fire Department to create a door sign summarizing the inventory of chemicals used in each laboratory. As each updates its inventory, EH&S is creating a sign to be posted outside so that, in an emergency, firefighters can tell at a glance what substances to expect inside.


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