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Exposure in Labs (help)

Cynthia J. Gibas cjgg1584 at uxa.cso.uiuc.edu
Wed Jun 22 16:44:07 EST 1994

ebarak at NSF.GOV writes:

>The assumption here is that violations have occurred, that laws were 
>broken, that crimes were committed.

>Did any violation occur?  I see no evidence.  Were laws broken?  I 
>seen no evidence.  Were crimes committed?  I see no evidence.

Whoa--no one's *really* assuming anything.  But when a student asks for
help on a public forum because she feels that her mentor doesn't seem to
take her safety concerns seriously, it doesn't seem unreasonable to ask
if he could be giving her poor guidance.  Nobody is really talking about
*crimes*, but about occupational hazards to a student that might be caused
by her advisor's unwillingness to comply with what he might consider
'overcautious'.  No one's putting him on trial in the real world...

>The relative anonymity that is afforded by e-mail sometimes leads 
>people to write things for public dissemination that they would not 
>say in other communication modes.  I really recommend caution in what 
>you write.  

Internet is still a pretty informal place, and people are generally allowed
to speculate wildly.  That P. Ford speculates that the mentor in the case
might be irresponsible and asks 'what are real-world means for dealing with
such a situation?' is hardly a slander of a particular person.  Nor is it
a topic that should just be dismissed. 

I've seen stuff that should be specially handled go down the drains in
college chemistry labs; I've been advised to handle substances with extreme
care in one laboratory only to be told not to worry about them in the next,
and vice versa.   Safety hazards exist in the lab, and the people in charge
aren't always knowledgeable or willing to comply with precautions.  Why 
shouldn't one ask what to do about occupational safety violations in the
university?  Why should students have less protection of this sort than
people with jobs?   I have never been informed of what procedures to follow
if I discover an occupational hazard in the labs I've worked in.  I suspect
few other students have been informed.   The only type of safety hazard I've
ever seen a lab at U of I checked for is radiation--nothing much else seems
to be monitored.  So the only way labs are forced to be safe is if the 
students/workers know what to look for. 

Maybe that's why it's not so easy to find out.

>I originally browsed this newsgroup because I am interested in the history 
>of women in science, but this topic is fascinating.

>What about Right-to-Know laws?  To whom does one report violations?  Does 
>that vary state to state?

>What about the students who trust the mentor and don't ask questions?  This 
>is why I suggested writing a letter to the editor.  Perhaps there are other 
>students in other classes who should be asking questions but trust the 
>authority figures in the lab to insure their safety.

>Finally, if you witness a crime, what do you do?  Is breaking laws designed 
>to protect people's health any less important than, say, burglary?

>Just wondering, PF
Cynthia Gibas                       4223 Beckman Institute 217-244-2894 
cgibas at wraightc3.life.uiuc.edu      162 PABL 217-333-8725
cgibas at silibio.ncsa.uiuc.edu        Univerity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
"What we have in our hands is always enough" -- Paul Bowles _The_Sheltering_Sky

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