Unlike many of your students, my sophomore-level General Chemistry students don't handle highly toxic substances. It's their use of concentrated acids and bases (in very small quantities)that makes me very vigilant during labs. What makes me most worried, however, is what in my opinion is a greater hazard in the lab than typical toxics, corrosives and irritants that cannot be addressed with SDSs. That hazard is that too many students don't take the time to read and to read well. I make this statement based on their failure to follow oral and written directions-even simple ones-about performing steps in the experiment.These are not stupid or non-English comprehending people as quite a few will ultimately be accepted to CalState and UC schools. I don=E2=80™t question the importance and utility of SDSs. What I question is that students will read them or modified forms of them properly without guidance and supervision. This applies also to graduate students and research assistants. It is my experience in both academia and industry that SDSs, as signs and placards, become invisible like wall paper to both the trained and the novice. I believe that whatever the safety instructional format, it is ultimately up to the instructor, TA, or PI to monitor students' compliance with safety rules and procedures.
Melvin R. Kantz, Ph.D., Lecturer
El Camino College
Natural Science Div., Chemistry Dept.
Preferred email: drmelk**At_Symbol_Here**verizon.netRalph.Stuart**At_Symbol_Here**KEENE.EDU> wrote:
My thanks to everyone who responded to my SDS inquiry earlier this week. I'd like to share some context and thoughts in response to the many helpful comments..
1. The document that sparked my inquiry is a new document describing Green Chemistry alternatives for undergrad organic chemistry teaching labs. For reasons that are not clear to me, the authors developed a novel hazard identification and assessment system that includes a variety of sources rather than relying on GHS information. Since GHS information can be expected to be directly available to people working with chemicals, I think that it is important to use GHS as the starting point for discussions of chemical risks. The authors then threw in the "Read the SDS" disclaimer with no explanation of what would be found there that would improve upon their system.
More information about the Green Chemistry publication can be found at
2. As was indicated during the discussion, there are many efforts underway within various ACS groups to better identify what laboratory safety skills students need to develop and many helpful supporting materials (guidelines, technical articles, popular articles, etc.) can be found by starting a search at http://www.acs.org/safety
People interested in practical aspects in teaching SDS interpretation are well-served by using "Sigmann" as a search term.
In the context of those resources, the relative values of an SDS, a GHS label, and more inclusive chemical safety information as education and operational tools is a topic of active ongoing research within various ACS groups. As was suggested, some of us think that a mini-SDS might be a helpful educational tool in approaching this in teaching settings. We expect to continue exploring what opportunities this approach presents within the Committee on Chemical Safety's Safety Advisory Panel.
4. As several people pointed out, the ability to critically read an SDS is as important as for any other literature. One teaching tool to support this is the CRAP test that librarians have developed for helping 21st century students assess web-based information. See for example,
Perhaps this can be extended to more specifically applied to SDS's?
5. The primary Lesson I Learned from the discussion is the reminder that a single SDS, or simply collecting SDSs for a chemical process will not serve as an adequate risk assessment. In my view, the role of the SDS and other safety reference materials is to start a fact-based discussion of the safety aspects of lab chemistry that gets beyond the traditional rules-based approach to lab safety. These live discussions are where safety culture and technical safety skills meet and safety education occurs.
Thanks to everyone for sharing their thoughts on this topic. I'm sure that this will be a topic of continuing interest, as Neal indicated, for as long as we have jobs ;).
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
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