The safety dance

Derek Lowe‘s blog entries in the “”">Things I Won’t Work With" category

– the explosion at the National Institution of Higher Learning in Chemistry at Mulhouse (which killed chemistry professor Dominique Burget)

Karen Wetterhahn’s tragic death in 1997

Chemistry just seems more dangerous than other scientific disciplines…

In the June 1st issue of Nature, Mark Peplow and Emma Marris investigated whether or not chemistry deserves its “reckless reputation.” They talked with a number of safety officers from several universities, many of whom think that the dangers of chemistry are a bit exaggerated:

“A lot of it is reminiscence to ‘the good old days’ of chemistry,” says Alan Kendall, safety officer at the University of Oxford, UK.

“There’s a public perception that is years behind the reality,” agrees Richard Firn, a biologist who chairs the laboratory safety committee at the University of York, UK. “Things have changed a lot in the past 10 to 15 years” … “People’s risk perception is skewed by the drama of an explosion” …

But Mark and Emma acknowledged that it was “surprisingly difficult to get national statistics on scientific accidents … [the UK Health and Safety Executive], for example, groups all its accident figures for schools, colleges and universities into a single number, making it difficult to discern safety trends or to tell if one type of lab is more risky than another.”


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)