Bi-Society Symposium on Laboratory Safety Information

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The Chemistry Division of the Special Library Association (SLA DCHE) and the Chemical Information Division of the American Chemical Society (ACS CINF) co-hosted a bi-society symposium on Laboratory Safety Information during the SLA Annual Conference and Info-Expo on June 15, 2015. Librarians and information professionals from academia, industry, and government, cheminformaticians, educators, and chemical safety professionals from both divisions and beyond all gathered in Boston to explore this timely topic. Slides used for the presentations are available on SLA DCHE website at

Due to a few recent high-profile incidents in academic and corporate research labs involving chemicals, creating a safer research environment and culture becomes a priority in many organizations. Providing services and access to chemical safety information more efficiently and effectively could be contributions from librarians and other information professionals to this crucial initiative. The bi-society symposium sessions are dedicated to explore the roles information professionals can play from three perspectives: enhancing access to safety information resources, developing educational materials and sessions, and integrating information systems into lab workflows.

The kick-off session of the bi-society symposium was the DCHE Breakfast and Academic / Corporate Roundtable on Laboratory Safety Information and Practices. Stephanie Publicker (TOXNET), Evan Bolton (PubChem), and Steve Dueball (Elsevier) overviewed three different databases that disseminate chemical safety information. Publicker introduced a suite of resources regarding chemical safety provided by the NIH Environmental Health and Toxicology Information Program, including Guide to Web Resources in Laboratory Safety, TOXNET, Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB), ChemIDplus, Haz-Map, Disaster Information Manager Research Center, and Wireless Information System for Emergency Responders, etc. Content of these resources is either collected by the program or carefully curated, and the resources are designed for a variety of user groups. Bolton demonstrated how PubChem as an archive of the biological activities of chemical substances provided a central location for chemical safety information and data with clear provenance. One of the goals for PubChem in this direction is to provide concise data views for safety information of highly used lab chemicals. Currently, the PubChem team is collaborating with chemistry librarians and chemical safety professionals to create Laboratory Chemical Safety Summary (LCSS) to meet this goal. Dueball mentioned that lab safety information could be found in many Elsevier products, such as Reaxys, Pathway Studio, Pharmapendium, and EMBASE. He focused on Reaxys, which provides easy access to flash points, toxicity, and other lab safety information of chemicals. It can also be used to search specific safety topics such as the right lab coat to choose.

After the talks, participants discussed questions around the librarians’ role in the safety information realm. People mostly shared their experiences with providing access to lab safety information and some librarians mentioned that they participated in reviewing grants for animal research and lab protocols. The importance of chemical identifiers and the threat of their inconsistency were also discussed. CAS Registry Numbers usually get associated with chemicals when people obtain them and they could be a good point of entry to deliver safety information; but these numbers are not always available for other safety information providers to incorporate into the resources. The disconnection is an issue and may be solvable through other machine-readable identifiers of chemicals if they are adapted broadly. The breakfast session warmed up attendees with brain exercises on issues around lab safety information.

The second session, which was entitled “Exploring Safety Information Literacy: Towards a Safer Research Environment,” drew a big crowd. This safety information literacy session provided us diverse perspectives of librarians, chemistry faculty, and environmental health and safety officers, towards the safety information resources and education. Grace Baysinger (Stanford University) introduced a wide variety of resources providing lab safety information and how they can be used in research settings, from chemistry librarians’ perspective, including databases openly available online or subscription based, and traditional handbooks. Baysinger pointed out that data provenance is crucial in determining how useful the data would be and suggested that piping safety data properly into Electronic Lab Notebooks is an emerging need and should be developed in the near future.

Martin Walker (SUNY at Potsdam) shared his perspective as an educator in bridging the hazard information gap between experts and students in teaching labs. He discussed examples of how different types of lab hazard information could become useful in labs. Walker suggested that an open and comprehensive database, that was searchable for different types of hazards, and presented clear information for working chemists and students, had been much needed to fill the gap of hazard information. A predictive tool for prophetic substances and working procedures would be a plus for such systems.

Robin Izzo (Princeton University) spoke on the training needs of graduate students, postdoc, faculty, and research staff from the Environment Health and Safety officers’ perspective. She used several anecdotes to illustrate the variety of issues requiring different types of safety information for different researcher and staff groups. Izzo also highlighted how collaboration between lab safety professionals and librarians could deliver information and solutions efficiently and effectively.

The last, but not least, session of the one-day symposium was entitled “Enriching research management systems with point-of-need information delivery: case studies with laboratory safety information.” The four presentations in this session demonstrated the potentials for chemical information specialists to work with other stakeholders in this area, to create point-of-need information systems and facilitate best practices in the academic, corporate, and government sectors.

Damien Hammond (DuPont Protection Technologies) gave an overview of the DuPont SafeSPEC online product selector tool and guided the audience through use cases of the system. The system incorporated dynamic product data and accessories, literature and videos, technical information, and chemical resistance databases, as well as purchase guides, and FAQs. The database can be searched and browsed by hazards, industry, and existing guide. Users can search up to five hazards at a time. Hammond emphasized that the system was made for easy access so that end-users could directly specify their circumstance to obtain the recommended protection. The system even could remind users to check additional hazards relevant to the circumstance described.

Ralph Stuart (Keene State College), a long-time Chemical Hygiene Officer with experiences in institutions with different sizes, introduced his perspectives on how an information system could make and break lab chemical safety cases. He focused on the collaborative initiative called RAMP (Recognize hazards, Assess the risk, Manage the risk, and Plan for emergencies/Protect the environment) and how a variety of information and information systems could help with each step. Stuart pointed out the next steps of the collaboration between ACS CINF and ACS CHAS (Division of Chemical Health & Safety). The team is organizing chemical safety information on the web using the RAMP paradigm, developing better process descriptors to identify specific points when protections are required, and supporting chemical information literacy through the development of safety rubrics. Jeffrey Whitford (Sigma-Aldrich) introduced his company’s platform for selecting greener alternatives and showed how it leverages green chemistry principles, organizational knowledge base, and local expertise with the system, to enable reengineering of products in a greener way. Quantitative evaluation of the processes before and after reengineering gave concrete evidence for researchers to choose a greener and safer alternative.

Evan Bolton (PubChem) discussed how the rich data with clear provenance in PubChem could be used to assemble concise health and safety information for easy access, create a knowledge map, and add structure to textual data, and classify chemical relativities. The collaboration among PubChem, ACS CINF, and ACS CHAS on the RAMP projects will take these steps to enable and/or create a series of information systems useful for lab safety professionals and lab researchers. Last, the session moderator Leah McEwen (Cornell University) led a panel discussion on the challenges of building information systems that can be incorporated into the workflow of individual labs, through ELNs or other tools.

The bi-society symposium hosted by SLA DCHE and ACS CINF highlighted a variety of information resources for lab safety information, needs in safety information education, and the current status of building information systems. It also planted seeds for future collaborations among chemical information specialists, cheminformaticians, chemical safety professionals, and educators. Many of the speakers and attendees of the symposium participated in the ACS National Meeting in August 2015 and went further with exploring these topics in the CHAS symposium sponsored by CINF.

Ye Li, Leah McEwen, and Amanda Schoen, Bi-Society Symposium Organizers

The iRAMP Chemical Safety Information PrImageoject (, jointly funded by CINF and CHAS, was honored with a ChemLuminary Award at the ACS National Meeting in Boston.

One of the early fruits of this professional community project is the formulation of data views for chemical safety information in the PubChem database (, now in production for over 3,000 chemicals. This data view is based on the Laboratory Chemical Safety Summaries (LCSS) format described in the Prudent Practices in the Laboratory: Handling and Management of Chemical Hazards.

The announcement of the LCSS availability in PubChem is at:
The splash screen for the LCSS views can be found at:

Thanks to our collaborators in the CINF and CHAS communities, and especially the PubChem team, for their help in moving this idea forward!

Leah McEwen and Ralph Stuart