Safety Day Sets the Standard for Incoming Chemistry Graduate Students

Man putting out controlled fire with fire extinguisher
October 7, 2021

Outdoors, in the fire extinguisher training station, incoming graduate students hoisted red canisters of carbon dioxide to snuff out flames in a burn pan. Inside, in the pyrophoric reagents station, they witnessed a safe transfer of a highly flammable chemical from one flask to another via a Iuer-syringe and balloons. And at the gas cylinder station, they watched gas escape from a pressure vessel – a potential hazard for fires, explosions, poisoning, and cold or chemical burns.

Dangerous scenarios were staged across the six teaching labs and courtyard of the Sterling Chemistry Laboratory (SCL) on Aug. 30 for the 7th annual Safety Day, emphasizing an eye-opening reality: chemists must practice safety precautions vigilantly when conducting hazardous research.

“Safety Day is an annual event put on by the Yale Chemistry Joint Safety Team (JST) and Yale Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) to promote safety culture through resources, demos, and trainings,” said Jessica Freeze. “For the incoming graduate students, it is their first exposure to safety in the department and serves to set the standard they should expect throughout their time here.”

-          jessica freeze, fifth-year phd candidate, president of jst, and event co-chair

The experience, like all health, safety, and environmental protection at Yale, was a team effort.

A crew of 13 EHS staff, organized by Chemistry’s Safety Advisor Anna Kim, trained students on waste management, chemical inventory, and the proper use of personal protective equipment. They also offered students a trendy line of safety glasses to choose from to wear in the labs, from pink-trimmed to black Warby Parkeresque frames.

Yale Fire Inspectors Mark Lessandrini and Eric Kettunen led the fire extinguisher training in the courtyard, explaining the different classes of fires and what to do if there is one. Before students smothered a controlled fire with a full canister of CO2, Kettunen described the order of operations.

“You’re going to use the acronym PASS: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep,” said Kettunen. “You’re going to pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, then squeeze the handle. Slowly, slowly sweep from side to side.”

-          eric b. kettunen, fire inspector, office of the fire marshal

Back inside SCL, small groups of socially distanced students visited one of the 12 stations led by student members of JST and staff from EHS. In the clean areas and contamination station, they practiced taking off dirty gloves by pinching, peeling, and wadding the soiled sides in on themselves. In a teaching lab, Senior Scientific Glassblower Daryl Smith lightly tapped chemical glassware with a wood mallet to demonstrate one of the many ways to loosen hardened chemicals.

At another station, student volunteers lectured about the proper use and maintenance of a laboratory bench and chemical fume hood, a floor-to-ceiling exhaust ventilation system that controls inhalation exposures to hazardous substances. Meanwhile, in the emergency response protocol station, a fire scenario on a screen spurred a group discussion.

The last stop on the safety tour was the JST table. Decorated with safety posters, stickers, and QR codes, it promoted the team’s website resources and safety modules.

Through comprehensive training in safety and protection, the team of Yale safety experts and student enthusiasts equipped the newest cohort of chemistry graduate students with the skills to embark on careful research.

Jessica Freeze and Jennifer Troiano led the event as co-chairs, alongside a team of Michael Burke, Matt Capobianco, Noreen Gentry, Robert Hale, Abi Heuer, Eddie Knab, Sarah Ostresh, Brahmmi Patel, and Haomiao Su.

Resources

The Yale Chemistry Joint Safety Team is a group of graduate students and postdocs from the Department of Chemistry and staff from Yale Environmental Health & Safety who cultivate a safety culture. Explore both websites for safety resources.

Check out the Yale University Scientific Glassblowing Laboratory for a full catalog of services to benefit the research community.

View the photo slideshow of Safety Day.