Tuesday, July 23, 2024

PSUC prioritizes lab safety practices

A strict adherence to proper safety procedures keeps faculty prepared for emergencies, so students continue to be safe in Plattsburgh State’s laboratories.

University Police reported an incident in which a student got splashed with chemicals in Hudson Hall, and another in which a student had a metal fragment lodged in his eye while using a grinder in the Myers Fine Arts Building.

UP Chief Jerry Lottie said that although accidents occasionally happen, two isolated incidents do not constitute a pattern.

Nephew said that both students have recovered and are well.

She said that the student who used the chemicals was following proper safety protocols at the time, but in a laboratory setting, there is always room for error. While student safety is her top priority, she said that this is not response to the two incidents.

She said safety procedures largely depend on the chemical that is used, but if an accident happens, the instructor must first get other students out of the room because they are not trained for emergencies.

Nephew said each lab in Hudson Hall is equipped with a safety shower and an eye wash station so that students who are exposed to chemicals can rinse them off as soon as possible. If a student has chemicals in his or her eyes, he or she is advised to rinse them out in the eye wash station for approximately 20 minutes to ensure that eyes are kept well-hydrated and that all chemicals are cleaned out. Any student with chemicals on his or her body can do the same with the safety shower as well.

Nephew said students who wear contact lenses are not allowed to do so in the lab.

“There have been incidences that there are certain chemicals that could get between the contact and the eye,” Nephew said.

She said all chemistry classes all abide by the same lab safety rules. At the bottom of the laboratory safety rules document, which students must sign, states, “Failure to follow any of these rules, will, at the discretion of the instructor, result in your expulsion from the laboratory and a grade of zero for the day’s work.”

Some of the rules require that students wear safety glasses, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, closed shoes in the lab at all times. The rules also ban eating, drinking, smoking and tasting chemicals in the lab.

The rules say that, in case of fire, students should step back and leave the room. The instructor will seek medical care for students in the case of any emergency.

Nephew said she keeps signed documents from students of years past.

“You save them for an extended period of time, so you have them on record,” Nephew said. I have them from — years back — of teaching.”

In addition to safety showers and eye-wash stations, labs are equipped with spill kits and fume hoods. A spill kit is a bucket of materials used for chemical spills.

Fume hoods are large units that filter harmful fumes out of the building.

Nephew said these fume hoods are not used for storage, and using them as storage cabinets runs the risk of fumes coming back into the building and contaminating the air. A fume hood has doors in front that slide both horizontally and vertically. When working with chemicals, students are encouraged to place their hands into the fume hood, but they are built so students aren’t breathing in the fumes.

Environmental Health and Safety Director Cathleen Eldridge said faculty who teach students in labs are the first line of defense against accidents.

“We try to find out about all accidents,” Eldridge said.

Her office receives reports from UP regarding accidents on campus.

Eldridge said students should take advantage of a program called MSDS Online, for which the office of Environmental Health and Safety is responsible. Students can access it through a folder, “PSU Shortcuts,” on the desktop of every computer on campus. By using this program, students will be better equipped to handle certain chemicals.

MSDS Online is a database that students can use to look up Safety Data Sheets for different chemicals. The idea is that, by doing this, students can be better informed about what to do in case of emergency.

Safety Data Sheets are documents that chemical manufacturers are legally required to distribute. They contain information such as the name of the product, first-aid measures, fire-fighting measures, handling and storage precautions and other information, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“We’re changing our strategies,” Nephew said. “The more people we can get to read the safety challenge and think about it, that increases our culture of safety at Hudson, and that’s our main goal.”

Email Tim Lyman at news@cardinalpointsonline.com

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