This news blog article by the Nature News Blog features a look at current laboratory chemical safety practices in the US, and what should be done to correct unsafe practices.

A number of devastating and sometimes deadly accidents in laboratories have focused the attention of chemists on dangerous practices. But the problem is rooted in the cultures of many academic institutions, which must be changed from the bottom up, a major conference in Philadelphia heard this week.

One of the most high profile accidents in recent years was the death of Sheri Sangji, a chemist who was killed in 2009 after an experiment went wrong at the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA eventually reached a plea deal with prosecutors over that death although the head of Sangji’s lab still faces charges.

A recent report from the task force produced 17 recommendations to create a proper safety culture in academia. These include proper analysis of the hazards associated with all new lab work, establishing incident reporting systems and data bases and setting up a dedicated budget for safety activities. “You can see some people are going to look at these and they’re going to wince. But this is what you need to do,” says Hill.

Part of the problem, says Hill, is that many current faculty were not themselves trained in safety. “We have to break the cycle,” he says, and suggests that every undergraduate lab session should include something on safety.

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