The combination of hazard identification and risk analysis is an organized effort to pinpoint weaknesses in the design and operation of processes that could lead to accidental or unintentional chemical releases, fires or explosions. These studies assist organizations with the goal of improving safety and managing the risk of operations. However, reported data on incidents in academic chemistry laboratories indicates that the accident rate is 10 to 50 times higher than that in industrial laboratories. These data suggest that risk reduction efforts in academic laboratories are managed differently and arguably with less successful outcomes. The layers of personal protection and equipment safeguards, typically found in academic research laboratories, are often much less sophisticated than those used in industrial facilities. Moreover, hazard or risk analyses, ubiquitous in chemical manufacturing, are rarely performed for laboratory operations. When an accident occurs in an academic laboratory, involving loss of containment, chemical exposure, explosion or fire, people are often seriously and sometimes fatally injured. The subsequent investigation findings often point to the absence of a risk analysis as a root cause factor.
This paper describes a straightforward technique designed to identify and assess the hazards of conducting a chemical synthesis in the R&D environment. The approach highlights potentially hazardous situations that could arise from the use and handling of chemicals employed during the synthesis. Thirty three parameters, indicative of one or more hazard properties of molecules or operational conditions pertaining to the synthesis, are used to characterize the hazard potential of the synthesis. The result is three one-word hazard ratings for each of the reagents being used for the synthesis step, for the overall synthesis step, and for the reaction conditions. Lab-HIRA also provides a checklist of safeguards, relevant to the chemicals and conditions being used, that should be in place and functional, before work commences. If a Severe rating has been assigned by Lab-HIRA a recommendation is presented regarding the need to perform a risk analysis before starting work. Some well-established risk procedures have been adapted, and described here, to the task of hazard identification and risk assessment in the chemical R&D laboratory.
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