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Lab safety committee created after explosion

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Posted: Monday, February 15, 2010 12:00 am

Texas Tech officials have decided to form a laboratory safety committee to evaluate the procedures used at the university after an explosion in the Chemistry building severely injured a student Jan. 7,

According to a letter to the research community from Robert Smith, provost and senior vice president, and Taylor Eighmy, vice president for research, Tech officials are using the situation to begin campus dialogue about laboratory safety awareness among staff, faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students working in the laboratories.

Eighmy said Tech officials already have established a high-level committee to look at all aspects of laboratory safety training and awareness and use pending investigations by the Chemical Safety Board, the federal sponsor of the research and U.S. Department of Homeland Security to address possible improvements in practices, procedures and polices.

The accident, Eighmy said, allows everyone to remember care must always be taken and that applying simple practices and procedures will minimize the chance for faculty, staff and students getting hurt.

"Good organizations always try to improve and learn from these sorts of accidents," he said, "and we will too."

The Chemistry and Biochemistry Department also has been discussing the incident, Eighmy said.

"If we can learn from this unfortunate accident, then there is an increased chance that this new awareness will translate into greater accident prevention," he said.In the letter, Smith and Eighmy asked deans to work with department chairs involved with research and education involving laboratories to clarify all personnel working in or using laboratories have taken the appropriate online laboratory safety training module.

Randy Nix, executive director of Tech Environmental Health and Safety, and his staff are available to recommend the relevant modules and to assist deans with this request.

"Our letter to the community requires that all faculty, staff and students working in laboratories go through training or refresher training," Eighmy said.

The university has good laboratory safety training programs, he said, and the training should be practiced and adhered to in the laboratory environment.

Nix said he does not think laboratory safety procedures will change as a result of the accident as much as the procedures already in place will be implemented more.

"Not so much changes as things already in place getting emphasized," he said.Tech has a good training system in place, Eighmy said, but the university is prepared to make changes based on what is learned from the U.S. Chemical and Safety Board, the internal investigation and work done by the committee.

"We have reached out to the entire university community," he said, "to ask faculty, staff and students to reaffirm their commitment to ensuring that laboratory safety practices are in place and implemented."

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