SPOTLIGHT ON SAFETY by Chris Pitoscia, Manager of Research Safety

Accidents can happen at any time and to anyone. Even highly trained researchers with years of education and experience can find themselves confronted with a spill.  Would you know what to do if you or a colleague were in danger?

 For this edition of Spotlight on Safety, EH&S spoke with Anne, a fourth-year Columbia MD/PhD student.  On a Monday afternoon last November, Anne was working on a DNA extraction - a procedure she completes on a weekly basis – when her pipette tip caught a test tube she was using and knocked its contents, a phenol-chloroform solution, onto the bench and her legs.  Thankfully, she was wearing long pants and a lab coat, both of which she was quick to remove. Anne has since fully recovered, and told us about the experience:

“When the spill happened, I immediately let everyone in the lab know. My Lab Manager was calm, was able to quickly access the Safety Data Sheet, and helped respond.  Another lab member literally carried me to the sink to rinse off the area.”

 “It made me realize that we might not consciously understand that we are responsible for one another in the lab, but we are.  I’m glad that collectively we were able to recall our training, think clearly and react. EH&S responded within minutes, as well.”

When asked about whether the incident has changed her approach in the lab, Anne replied that she is very careful to not become lax about working with hazardous materials. She now takes additional time to think about her experiment and consider whether she is prepared, whether she is wearing the right clothing (a pair of long pants or the equivalent, with closed toe shoes!) and personal protective equipment, and even considers standing, versus sitting, at the lab bench to remain agile.

Finally, Anne reflected on how the incident could have been different, especially if she had been working alone. “I hope people read this and pay attention. Remind yourself of the hazards of the materials you are using, and don’t become complacent.”

These excellent pointers are useful for anyone, regardless of experience level.  Stay informed and aware; your safety or that of your colleague may depend on it!

Laboratory Laser Safety Update by Ian Broderick, Associate Health Physicist

EH&S is beginning to re-energize its LASER safety program. A collaboration is underway between EH&S’s Radiation Safety and Research Safety Programs to refresh the class 3b and 4 LASER inventory University-wide.

Safety concerns related to Class 4 LASERs are particularly important as their hazards include fire, as well as potential eye and skin damage; even an indirect beam exposure can be dangerous. These hazards will be evaluated during the inventory effort and EH&S will review proper safety measures, such as protective equipment, geometry, authorization, training and periodic inspections.

Information on LASER class hazards, equipment registration and the University’s LASER Safety program and policies can be found on EH&S’s webpage at

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