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Using Material Safety Data Sheets To Teach Laboratory Safety

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.695.1 - 5.695.4

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Paper Authors

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Ben Humphrey

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3226

Using Material Safety Data Sheets to Teach Laboratory Safety

Ben Humphrey Parks College of Engineering and Aviation of Saint Louis University

Modern life thrives on, but is also threatened by, the constant development and use of chemical concoctions. Many are benign. Some are very dangerous. A few are deadly. But more dangerous than the chemicals we contact every day is the rampant ignorance of their hazards. It seems to be a firmly entrenched trait of human nature to ignore the risks involved in substances to which we are in constant contact, especially if those substances are provided for us by others. The millions of dollars spent to remove asbestos from our living and working environments, is evidence of what ignorance can lead to. How true it is that "Near acquaintance doth diminish reverent fear."1 In the face of strong evidence, we ignore obvious connections between illness and even death and unprotected use of chemicals. "There is nothing more terrible than ignorance in action"2

Endless volumes of regulations have been written for industry about the workers’ "Right-to- Know" the risk under which they work. In 1970, with passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, standards were set up for industry "to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions"3 . Two main agencies were established by the act: the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). By setting up processes for injured workers to receive due and punitive compensation for physical damages, OSHA exerted economic motivation on employers to implement preventative safety measures.

NIOSH was assigned the task of determining the toxicity of existing and newly developed chemicals as well as the concentrations at which they become toxic4. But even in 1992 C. Noble writes, "OSHA standards lag far behind professional recommendations and leave major hazards unaddressed."5 Every year thousands of new chemical products are developed and turned loose on the unsuspecting and trusting public. "He who wishes to cure his ignorance must first confess it"6

An important part of any college education must be the realization of hazards and the means to protect oneself from them. Depending on the area of study, students handle many hazardous substances. OSHA and NIOSH have no jurisdiction in the academic community. And yet, the academic community has neglected developing their own standards for safety in the laboratory environment. Do students have any less "right-to-know?" Students, like workers in industry, deserve to know the risks to which they are subjected. They deserve to be equipped to make knowledgeable decisions concerning their personal safety. They deserve ready access to critical safety information. In the absence of standard regulations, it falls to the teachers to seek out proper resources and provide that access. The standards instituted by OSHA and NIOSH provide excellent resources for academic laboratory use, especially in the form of Material Safety Data Sheets. Knowledge of safety factors is not only important for the students, who contact substances for a short time at most, but also for the teacher who continues to work in a

Humphrey, B. (2000, June), Using Material Safety Data Sheets To Teach Laboratory Safety Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri.

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