Taking cues from the ‘Cobalt 60’ fiasco, the new head of the University of Delhi’s chemistry department, Prof AK Bakhshi, has laid out a plan to ensure safety in the varsity’s accident-prone chemistry laboratories.
The university has charted out a three-tier approach for this endeavour.
At the first level, the Institute of Life Long Learning (ILLL) will put up posters with messages aimed at sensitising staff and students about safe laboratory practices.
Additionally, to avoid accidents, each bottle of chemicals will have labels with the chemical’s attributes, such as toxic, radioactive or flammable.
“There are more than 100 chemistry laboratories in DU’s colleges where minor accidents are the order of the day. On occasion, an acid spills on to a student’s lab coat while on other occasions fumes from chemicals cause fainting spells. We want to develop a culture of lab safety,” says Prof AK Bakhshi.
ILLL will also issue a 186-page safety manual, which will lay out guidelines for handling commonly used chemicals.
It will bring better awareness of health hazards associated with various chemicals. The manual will also give details of safety procedures and the safest way to store chemicals.
The second phase of this safety drive will comprise holding workshops for chemistry teachers.
The faculty will, in turn, share tips with lab assistants and students.
Work has been also been started to upload the entire set of lab safety tips and tricks on ILLL’s website. “(The set of procedures) will have all the dos and dont’s. For example, some students use strips of paper to light Bunsen burners. This is a strict no-no. On the same lines, students will be advised on the ideal way to conduct experiments,” Bakhshi says.
Though the study of these safety measures will not initially become part of curriculum, the university authorities are contemplating allocating 10 per cent of practical marks for following safety measures properly. This will make students more accountable towards safety.
“Lab safety measures are too important to be ignored. In several universities abroad, one can’t even enter a laboratory meant for PhD students unless they pass a lab safety test,” says Bakhshi.