Laboratory Safety

K N and P J Harris ecoli at cix.compulink.co.uk
Wed Oct 15 16:36:11 EST 1997

Lab Safety,

I agree that modern pipetting devices with sterile disposable tips have 
made many of these operations very much more safe and have rendered 
mouth pipetting a thing of the past. There was however a nasty 
intermediate period when dreadful gadgets were "stuck" on the end of 
glass pipettes in the interests of "perceived safety" and did just the 
reverse. Our laboratory accident book rapidly filled with incidents of 
glass pipettes breaking and causing nasty wounds when students attempted 
to apply the "aid". There were no similar quantities of mouth 
pipetting accidents. They were unreliable and caused lots of spillage 
due to leaking.

There is however a fallacy in the assumption that all practical science 
can in some way be rendered totally risk free. Many student scientists 
are being trained for research. By definition, research is the 
examination of the unknown. The unknown is risky.

What is being lost in all the dumbing-down of current science teaching 
is respect for the innate properties of materials, some of them 
dangerous, but which we have struggled for years to handle.

If the safety requirements now being expected of University Science 
teaching were applied to the construction industry, no new buildings 
would ever be erected. If applied to the road we would all drive at 2mph 
in vehicles surrounded by layers of foam rubber and only during daylight 

Peter Harris,
Reading University,

I'm all for safety, but safety through knowledge not diktat.

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