Integrating safety into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum

Integrating safety into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum

FEATURE Integrating safety into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum Improvements have been made to the Laboratory Safety Program at Hendrix Colleg...

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Integrating safety into the undergraduate chemistry curriculum Improvements have been made to the Laboratory Safety Program at Hendrix College in response to the 2008 Committee on Professional Training (CPT) guidelines for American Chemical Society (ACS) approved departments. These modifications and additions have greatly enhanced the integrated system that has been developed over the last 15 years to teach undergraduates the skills necessary to work safely with chemicals in the laboratory. The changes made to this program have served to increase the safety and knowledge base of the students, provide them with an opportunity to perform hazard assessment, give them valuable skills utilizing safety resources, and allow the assessment of their proficiency with these skills. This increased understanding of chemical safety issues will better prepare them to continue their careers in industry, graduate school, or professional school.

By Shelly Bradley


The ability to work safely in the laboratory with hazardous chemicals is a necessary skill for a chemist. At Hendrix College, a primarily undergraduate institution with approximately 1,400 students, laboratory experiences are an integral part of the chemistry major program. As of Fall 2010, the Chemistry Department will consist of seven tenure track faculty positions, one visiting faculty position, and one part-time and two full-time staff positions. The laboratories in the Chemistry Department follow the traditional classroom/laboratory model with weekly laboratory periods of 3 hours. A student majoring in chemistry seeking an American Chemical Society (ACS) certified degree at Hendrix will take a minimum of 10 semesters of laboratory courses as shown in Figure 1. The upper-level laboratory Advanced Techniques in Experimental Chemistry (ATEC) is an integrated Shelly Bradley is affiliated with the Chemistry Department, Hendrix College, 1600 Washington Ave., Conway, AR 72032, United States (e-mail: [email protected]). Tel.: +1 501 450 3812; fax: +1 501 450 3829.


laboratory course that incorporates traditional experiments in Advanced Analytical, Advanced Inorganic, and Physical Chemistry.1 This lab component is taken concurrently with Physical Chemistry I and II and meets for 3 hours laboratory periods twice a week both semesters. Taken together, these courses represent a total of 546 hours of laboratory time for a chemistry major during their college career. This corresponds to a significant amount of time during which a student could potentially be exposed to hazardous chemicals. To quantify the potential for chemical exposure of all students taking these courses, the 2009–2010 enrollments shown in Figure 1 were tallied. They represent more than 27,000 student hours of possible contact with chemicals. Added to this are an additional 2600 hours of laboratory time for non-science major and service courses. These numbers clearly signify the importance of a successful laboratory safety program throughout the curriculum. Working safely with chemicals has always been taken very seriously in the Hendrix College Chemistry Department, and all safety materials have been prepared with due consideration and concern for the well-being of the students, faculty, and staff. Since the creation of the Laboratory Coordinator position in 1994, safety has been a

ß Division of Chemical Health and Safety of the American Chemical Society Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

priority that has received constant attention and sustained steady improvement. Continuing efforts have been made to engage the students’ interests in their own safety and to instill safety practices that go with them beyond the classroom. Safety lectures at the beginning of each semester have been presented in a manner to reflect the increasing expectations of the students as they proceed with their coursework. As new experiments are implemented, hazard information is incorporated into the laboratory handouts to alert students to chemical risks. This hazard information is prominently displayed on all reagent bottles, and all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) is available and required of all persons in the laboratory. The safety information has been prepared and is conveyed to enforce the understanding that each chemistry major in the upper-level laboratories has a high level of personal responsibility for her or his safety.


The 2008 ACS – Committee on Professional Training (CPT) guidelines include an expectation of laboratory safety as a skill that students must master to ‘‘allow them to become successful professionals’’. Students ‘‘should develop a high degree of safety

1871-5532/$36.00 doi:10.1016/j.jchas.2010.09.004


Figure 1. Laboratory courses for ACS certified chemistry degree (2009–2010 enrollments in parenthesis).

awareness, build a health and safety information knowledge base, understand safety procedures and processes, and gain experience in handling hazardous materials safely’’.2 The new CPT guidelines provided an impetus to reevaluate the Hendrix College Chemistry Laboratory Safety Program and determine areas that needed improvement. The following areas were identified: (1) a health and safety knowledge base, (2) hazard assessment, (3) use of safety resources, and (4) assessment of safety skills. Beginning in Fall 2009, modifications of existing program elements and the creation of new components have addressed these areas to teach the necessary skills and ensure a safer laboratory environment.


The revised safety program is being implemented in all laboratory courses. It has been designed to inculcate the skills necessary to work safely with chemicals at Hendrix, to develop the knowledge required to assess the inherent hazards of chemicals used in the future, and to educate the students with regard to green chemistry principles. The goal is to ensure that students will have the basic knowledge to work safely with chemicals and the attitude to become environmentally responsible chemists and citizens. Students are exposed to safety information from multiple sources and by several different techniques that serve to relay and reinforce knowledge through repetition. The following are some of the enhancements that have been incorporated into the program: (1) regulatory information, (2) green chemistry, (3) hazardous waste issues,

(4) student assessment of hazards, and (5) assessment of student knowledge. Safety Lecture

The laboratory students’ safety training begins with a basic lecture at the beginning of each semester before the first experiment. This has been improved from a safety talk specific only to their laboratory course, to a PowerPoint presentation that is broader in scope with Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Laboratory Standard information included to expand the students’ knowledge base. The topics covered are the following: (1) regulatory requirements, (2) hazard identification, (3) Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) and other resources, (4) chemical handling, (5) personal and community safety, (6) hazardous waste, and (7) emergency response. The format is progressive, with each semester building on the previous one. Additional regulatory information is included in subsequent courses to develop the safety knowledge base. The upper-level laboratory students are given additional information pertaining to the increased hazards and greater responsibility (more independence) that are expected in their experiments. As the students progress in their coursework, the format for this initial safety training will become increasingly more interactive with an expectation for the students to recall information from previous semesters’ safety lectures. Laboratory Handouts

Safety information specific to each experiment is conveyed to the students with multiple tools. Laboratory handouts are the first of these. The majority of experimental procedures at Hendrix

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are written in-house, making inclusion of pertinent safety and hazard information especially easy. The General Chemistry laboratory handouts are the first that have incorporated the information necessary to ensure the safe use of chemicals and equipment in each experimental procedure. This information is written to call attention to the chemical hazards using [TD$INLE] , bold, or italic font. Warnings that are especially important regarding the safe use of hazardous chemicals are placed in text boxes [TD$INLE] to make them more conspicuous. This information and safe techniques for avoiding chemical and procedural hazards are reinforced by the faculty during pre-laboratory briefings. The necessary modifications of laboratory handouts in all remaining courses will be updated prior to conducting each experiment during the 2010–2011 school year. Safety Quizzes

Web-based Course Management Systems (CMS) are common. These tools provide a convenient means to convey information to students and acquire feedback from them. Educator is the CMS used at Hendrix, and is utilized for disseminating laboratory materials. Methods were explored to compel the students to read relevant safety information prior to lab. The goal is to force the students to locate and read the applicable safety sections. Actual evaluation of their knowledge is secondary. The quiz feature in Educator has been useful for this purpose. This has proven to be an easy and effective means to confirm the transfer of information required for the students’ safe laboratory experience and to begin assessing their safety knowledge base. Quizzes consist of five questions (primarily multiple choice) and are given only in the weeks of chemical usage. They are available online beginning no later than two days before the laboratory until 5 min before lab time. Questions designed to asses the students’ knowledge base are incorporated when possible. Safety quizzes were initially implemented in General Chemistry in 2009–2010 on a trial basis. Even though they were nonmandatory and did not contribute to the student’s lab grade, the graph in


[()TD$FIG] depositing their waste in a container that simply disappears. For instance, laboratory procedures have been updated to require General Chemistry students to perform their own elementary neutralizations. Other courses also include specific hazardous waste information in the materials. By involving students in this process, they become more aware of the ethical and legal consequences of working with chemicals and become more cognizant of the green chemistry principles that have long been a cornerstone of the Chemistry Laboratory Program at Hendrix. Green Chemistry

Figure 2. Safety quizzes – student participation and perfect scores.

Figure 2 illustrates impressive participation and performance on the three quizzes conducted in the spring semester. The first columns of each pair designate the percentage of students out of an enrollment of 140 that completed the safety quiz for the indicated experiment. The second columns are representative of the percentage of those students that correctly answered all of the questions. Online safety quizzes were determined to be an efficient and effective method of ensuring the transfer of safety information to the students. Beginning in the Fall 2010 semester the General Chemistry safety quizzes will be mandatory for each experiment and will contribute to the lab grade. Similar evaluation materials are planned to be implemented in courses department-wide. In partnership with the faculty, formats are being considered for assessment of the students’ prelaboratory knowledge of hazards in Organic Chemistry and the upper-level labs. The goal is to determine the best options for evaluation tools for each experiment during 2010–2011 with implementation in place throughout the curriculum no later than Fall 2011. Laboratory Environment

Identification of the chemicals that possess hazards is a crucial component of any safety program. The means by which students access chemicals in the


laboratory at Hendrix has been designed to call attention to the chemical hazards referenced in the handouts and tested in the safety quizzes. All chemicals are labeled with their specific hazard. Secondary containers are utilized to prevent accidents in the event of the failure of a primary container. For example, liquid reagent bottles are placed in beakers and are dispensed from fume hoods. Supplies are available to deal with small spills of corrosive chemicals. Eye protection is required of all students in the laboratory and gloves are available when needed. The laboratory environment is utilized as an opportunity to teach by example. Faculty, staff, and student lab assistants throughout the department also observe all PPE requirements and strict adherence to all safety rules. Hazardous Waste

The Hendrix College Chemistry Department implemented waste minimization strategies many years ago to reduce the risk potential in the laboratory and to decrease any negative impact on the environment. Efforts are now made to provide students a basic understanding of how waste is handled and what is required for disposal.3 Students have become an integral part of the waste minimization and disposal strategies instead of just

The twelfth principle of Green Chemistry reads: ‘‘Substances and the form of a substance used in a chemical process should be chosen so as to minimize the potential for chemical accidents’’.4 A mindset that minimizes chemical accidents is a valuable addition to any chemical safety program. Green chemistry principles – originally initiated in the Organic Chemistry Program as early as 19885 – have permeated the entire curriculum. Experiments are chosen, modified and/or created to use chemicals with fewer hazards, and volumes are reduced as much as is feasible. In addition, the Organic Chemistry experiments are written to call attention to the green adaptations (chemicals and techniques) that have been made by comparing and contrasting the green experiment with less green forms of the reaction. Students are required to evaluate the ‘‘greenness’’ of their experiments by considering specific green/ not green features and incorporating green metrics calculations into their laboratory reports.6 Employing green techniques without discussing the decision-making progress deprives students of a valuable learning opportunity. Being more intentional about teaching students not only what to do in lab but why these decisions have been made encourages them to become environmentally responsible chemists. This green chemistry awareness technique is already being incorporated into applicable General Chemistry lab handouts (described in Green Chem-

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istry Education: Changing the Course of Chemistry7) and the experiments in upper-level courses with an estimated completion date of Spring 2011. ATEC Laboratory

For a chemistry major at Hendrix College the culminating experience in her or his course-specific laboratory requirements occurs in ATEC. The student’s level of responsibility for project design and safety in this project-based integrated laboratory is greatly increased from previous laboratory courses. With regard to safety, students are more involved in hazard assessment and disposal determinations. Because the journal articles and/or outline form handouts that are provided have sparse hazard and disposal information, students are responsible for making the initial hazard assessments. Subsequently, all safety considerations are discussed with faculty before the use of chemicals can begin. The Independent Research Initiative (IRI)1 is the final project in this integrated laboratory and provides an opportunity for students to put into practice all of the safety skills they have learned. Each student designs her or his own experiment and is responsible for completing hazard assessments utilizing a variety of chemical hazard and safety resources. Preliminary approval must be granted in the first of two required meetings with the Chemical Hygiene Officer (CHO). Students must obtain and evaluate MSDSs and additional information as appropriate from available resources listed in Table 1. During this initial discussion, chemicals and quantities must be considered for possible modifications following green principles and all potential waste streams are evaluated.12 A final meeting with the CHO is required to cover any additional safety information and devise a plan for safe work and recovery of hazardous waste. The final pro-

posal must include a complete list of chemicals needed with their significant hazards, and approval of the project with all safety issues considered must be obtained before work can begin. Additional meetings are conducted as needed and are common. It is anticipated that the recent inclusion of additional safety information in the first- and second-year courses will make the IRI experience more productive in the future. Students will already have much of the knowledge base necessary to make this culminating experience one that will better prepare them for the next step in their careers. One of the components that was determined to be missing from our previous safety program was assessment of the students’ acquisition of safety knowledge throughout their course-specific laboratory courses. Beginning in the Fall 2010, ATEC requirements for the laboratory notebook will include a safety section. This section will require the students to describe any chemical or procedural hazards, green chemistry principles that were utilized, the waste stream(s) generated, and hazardous waste measures taken during the experiment. This added component will reinforce the knowledge gained previously by the students, assess their ability to use this knowledge, and educate the department on potential missing components in our program. Directed Research

The capstone of the laboratory experience at Hendrix College is Directed Research. Upper-level chemistry majors (usually seniors) seeking ACS certified degrees are required to conduct Directed Research for two semesters completing 126 hours of research under a faculty supervisor. While chemistry students often begin research earlier working either in the summer and/or school year on grant

Table 1. Available Safety Resources.

Additional safety resources Prudent practices in the laboratory: handling and disposal of chemicals8 Hazardous chemicals desk reference9 Hawley’s condensed chemical dictionary10 A comprehensive guide to the hazardous properties of chemical substances11

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support or on a voluntary basis, the senior chemistry major is expected to have a much higher level of understanding and responsibility regarding laboratory procedures, safe chemical handling, and disposal issues. To enroll in Directed Research, they must have a level of laboratory maturity that allows them to be an important contributor to the professor’s research program. The level of safety knowledge and chemical handling ability is expected to be at its highest point yet. All students conducting research (including those not enrolled in Directed Research) are required to attend departmental safety training similar to that in ATEC. They are also given additional safety information from the professor that is pertinent to the specific research program. Safety training for the summer research program has been in place for several years. Training will be required beginning Fall 2010 for all students conducting research that were not involved in the previous summer’s research programs. Assistance will be provided to the faculty to initiate the following program expansions: (1) a more formalized method of conveying specific safety information, (2) requirements for student hazard assessment, (3) independent waste determination, and (4) other safety skills similar to those required for the IRI. Means of assessment of these skills will also be developed.


Implementation of a safety program with several components for every course, and that requires coordination of efforts with multiple faculty, has proven to be a challenging task. The timeline shown in Figure 3 is being utilized to make the transition and monitoring of progress proceed smoothly in manageable pieces. This is designed so that information specific to each experiment such as lab handouts and safety quizzes, will be incorporated into existing procedures prior to the execution of each experiment during the school year. Each component is an important piece of the inte7


Figure 3. Safety program improvement implementation schedule.

grated program and must be implemented to obtain the maximum benefit. Milestones are indicated at the completion of the enhanced components for each course. To ensure faculty buy-in, research programs, courses that are upgraded with completely new components, or that undergo frequent experiment changes will be monitored and analyzed during the 2010–2011 school year to determine, in cooperation with the faculty, the best way to incorporate each feature into that particular course. Those improvements will be implemented the following year. For a successful safety-program revision of this magnitude, faculty invest-

ment and cooperation are crucial. The mindset of the faculty is reflected in the Hendrix College motto, ‘‘Unto the whole person’’. Once they were convinced of the value of the knowledge contained in the four major areas of the CPT supplemental information, little persuasion was necessary.


The implementation of a laboratory safety program that is integrated across the chemistry curriculum has presented unique challenges. The most

important issues have been time and presentation of material. It takes a significant amount of time to incorporate safety information throughout each course, and the additional information being conveyed takes up more time in the laboratory. The presentation of material has proven to be challenging in two ways: (1) In order to ensure that all of the information is conveyed, there needs to be strong consistency in the content delivered if there are different presenters. (2) It has become apparent that the volume of information requires delivery to be in pieces small enough for the students to digest. It is anticipated that more challenges will arise as additional components are

Table 2. Breakdown of Components and Associated CPT Guideline(s).

CPT Major Safety Topics2

Laboratory Safety Program Components Safety Lecture

Hazard identification Health hazards Physical hazards Other hazards Minimize exposure/reduce risk Minimize exposure Hazard evaluation MSDS/CHP Emergency procedures Emergency equipment Hazard and risk information Resources Read and understand information Safety procedures and processes Safety training Risk assessment Accident review

All All All

Laboratory Handouts

Safety Assessment G G

Laboratory Environment

Hazardous Waste

All All

All U, R

All All All All

U, R O, U, R


O, U, R O, U, R

All U, R U, R

Key: G, General Chemistry Laboratories; U, Upper Level Laboratories; All, All laboratory courses; O, Organic Chemistry Laboratories; R, Research Laboratories.


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Figure 4. Results of General Chemistry laboratory exam safety questions.


implemented and adaptations will be made as needed. The changes to the safety program are expected to significantly improve the skills the students will take with them as they go on to professional and graduate schools or enter the workplace. With this enhanced safety understanding they will have the knowledge and experience needed to work safely with chemicals. The objectives of any successful safety program should be the safety of the faculty, staff, and students and compliance with all applicable state and federal regulations. To monitor the additional objective of complying with the CPT, Table 2

below identifies the four major areas outlined in the guidelines and the portions of the program that satisfy those requirements. The major CPT safety areas are listed on the left and the main safety program components across the top. The key at the bottom references the course(s) at Hendrix in which each topic is covered. Several of the CPT areas are addressed in all courses, and all of the guideline requirements are covered by our new safety program. This table will be used as a guide for future changes that might be required based on assessed student retention of knowledge to ensure continued adherence with the guidelines.

Figure 5. Student response to safety question on Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG).

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Designing a program to accomplish a specific goal does not ensure that goal will be met. To determine the extent to which the students have begun to increase their knowledge regarding the safe use of chemicals, questions have been incorporated into the General Chemistry laboratory exam. Some examples of the types of questions that have been used in the past are as follows: (1) appropriate protective clothing, (2) location of safety equipment, (3) symptoms of chemical exposure, and (4) safe laboratory procedures. The data from Spring 2010 in Figure 4 indicate the percentage of students (out of 140) with correct responses to these questions. Greater than 80% of the students answered five of the eight questions correctly. Performance on safety questions is expected to improve with the enhancements to the safety program. The General Chemistry Program utilizes an assessment tool called Student Assessment of their Learning Gains (SALG).13 One of the questions added to this end-of-semester assessment for Spring 2010 reads as follows: ‘‘The safety information and quizzes positively contributed to my overall laboratory learning.’’ The student responses are illustrated in Figure 5. This graph indicates that improvements need to be made regarding student perception of the importance of safety issues.


Ensuring that all of the components are present to meet the objectives is only half of the equation of a successful safety program. For the program to accomplish the desired goal – safe work with hazardous chemicals and a concern for sustaining the environment – it must capture the attention of the students. If the message is not heard, it will not be followed. For this reason, a safety program should be frequently assessed and changed to address weaknesses. Some of the changes currently being incorporated are MSDS exercises, container labeling activities, and proper fume hood use.14 As new ideas for engaging students are discovered, changes and/or additions to the current program will be made. 9

Three ideas are being considered for future implementation. (1) A lab safety scavenger hunt15 would be an effective way to introduce first-year students to the safety equipment available in the laboratory. This activity will be incorporated into the safety program in the near future. (2) Teaching lab safety with comics16 is an interesting idea that will be explored for possible adaptation. Scenes from comic books depicting laboratory settings are used to identify safety violations. Proper choice of scenes will reinforce previous knowledge and introduce new safety issues. (3) Lab Safety Trivia17 is an idea that will be investigated to reinforce knowledge acquired in previous courses for the upper-level labs. The effectiveness of the safety program will be continuously evaluated through student performance in safety quizzes (and other similar assessment tools), laboratory exams, ATEC lab reports, student performance in the IRI, and Directed Research components.


The revised CPT guidelines provided the incentive to examine our Laboratory Safety Program; but the driving force behind the changes was the realization that it could be better and that as scientists and educators with a concern for the safety of all persons in the laboratory and for the environment, we have a moral and ethical obligation


to make it better. Chemistry graduates with an ACS certified degree from Hendrix College can be confident that they are equipped with the skills needed to work safely with hazardous chemicals as they continue on their journey. By incorporating our program across the curriculum we are also educating the non-science majors who will go on to be policy makers and leaders of the future. The health and safety knowledge base, hazard analysis, and risk assessment techniques taught in the Chemistry Department at Hendrix College will be valuable to students regardless of the careers they choose.



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