The Daily Tar Heel

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Wednesday December 8th

UNC laboratories encourage safety procedures

Tim Merkel, PhD candidate in Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, demonstrates some of the technology used to create a novel type of artificial blood cell in the lab on Jan. 12.
Buy Photos Tim Merkel, PhD candidate in Chemistry at UNC-Chapel Hill, demonstrates some of the technology used to create a novel type of artificial blood cell in the lab on Jan. 12.

Posters encouraging the use of personal protective equipment will soon be in all laboratories on UNC’s campus, said Mary Beth Koza, director of the Department of Environment, Health and Safety.

Koza, who presented to the faculty executive committee on Monday about the importance of safety in laboratories, said the poster would focus on personal protective equipment because of recent accidents at university labs across the country.

In 2008, a graduate student at the University of California-Los Angeles died from injuries sustained in a chemical lab fire.

UCLA reported that the woman’s burns were so severe because she wasn’t wearing a lab coat. The university was fined $31,875.

In 2010, a Texas Tech University graduate student lost three fingers, burned his hands and face and injured an eye.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board investigated the incident and attributed the accident to a lack of safety management accountability.

Incidents like these demonstrate the need for UNC to put preventative measures in place and learn from each incident that does occur, said Catherine Brennan, chemical hygiene officer for the Department of Environment, Health and Safety.

“Anytime an incident like that happens it reinvigorates our efforts,” she said.

The department has a laboratory and chemical safety committee that deals with issues of health and safety in the laboratory environment. The committee meets quarterly and discusses all work-related incidents in labs.

The department also conducts an annual safety inspection of all labs on campus. It conducts these inspections during lab classes and focuses on personal safety, Brennan said.

“The importance of (personal protective equipment) is often overlooked. But the more we talk about safety and emphasize the need for (personal protective equipment), the safer we’ll all be,” Koza said.

Both Koza and Brennan stressed that non-compliance with safety protocols isn’t a huge problem, but rather it’s often about forgetfulness.

“People are usually good about wearing gloves but safety glasses are often overlooked,” Brennan said.

She said UNC has a very good safety record in labs.

“We have never had a severe accident,” she said. “But we do see minor accidents like eye splashes that occurred because students weren’t wearing eye protection.”

Professor Matthew Redinbo, chairman of the chemistry department, agreed.

“Our labs are impressively safe given the number of students who matriculate through the teaching labs, and the quantity and quality of work conducted in our research labs,” he said.

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