2015 Summary

Supporting Chemical Safety
through Electronic Information



For more information, contact:
Ralph Stuart, Chemical Hygiene Officer, Physical Plant, Keene State College
Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety

Leah McEwen, Chemistry Librarian, Cornell University
ACS Division of Chemical Information

Chemical safety in academic research and education laboratories is an issue of increasing national concern. Over the last few years, severe laboratory accidents, including the death of a lab researcher and a series of teaching lab fires in high schools, have prompted reports by the US Chemical Safety Board, the National Research Council (NRC), and the American Chemical Society (ACS). In response, the National Fire Protection Association issued a new fire code in 2015 that outlines specific requirements for instructors to address when managing chemical hazards in both high school and undergraduate teaching laboratories.

These reports and code changes highlight the need for chemistry researchers and students to more effectively use chemical safety information as they plan their laboratory work. In recognition of this, the ACS has identified skills in laboratory safety and chemical information management as critical elements in chemistry undergraduate education. One challenge in effectively addressing this need is timely access to chemical safety information for the wide range of chemicals involved in laboratory work.

To address this challenge, the ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety and the Division of Chemical Information are collaborating to develop a web platform to support more informed assessment and management of chemical hazards. One of the early fruits of this project is the organization of chemical safety information by the National Library of Medicine’s PubChem database in the form of the Laboratory Chemical Safety Summaries, as described by the NRC. This resource is now available for over 3000 chemicals and many more are expected to be added in 2016. This effort won a 2015 ACS ChemLuminary Award.

Next steps involve further development of information tools to improve the utility of this hazard data to help identify appropriate safety measures for the laboratory work being conducted. Moving this effort forward will involve an ongoing conversation among chemists, chemistry educators, librarians, health and safety professionals, and information scientists.

Publications describing various elements of the project include:

McEwen, L.; Stuart, R. Meeting the Google Expectation for Chemical Safety Information. Chemistry International, 37 (5-6), 2015.


Kim, S. et al. PubChem Laboratory Safety Summary. ConfChem Newsletter, American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Education. Fall 2015.


Stuart, R.; McEwen, L. The Safety “Use Case”: Co-Developing Chemical Information Management and Laboratory Safety Skills. Journal of Chemical Education, in press, 2015. This article was selected as ACS Editors' Choice.



iRAMP publications

Two articles about the iRAMP use cases have appeared recently. The first appeared in the September, 2015 issue of Chemistry International from IUPAC. Entitled Meeting the Google Expectation for Chemical Safety Information, it describes how electronic information tools can support Chemical Risk Assessment in Academic Research and Teaching labs.

The second is in the January issue of the Journal of Chemical Education and entitled "The Safety “Use Case”: Co-Developing Chemical Information Management and Laboratory Safety Skills". This one focuses on the connections between lab safety education and chemical information skill development.

In addition, a webinar on “Emerging Opportunities in Chemical Safety Information” will be held on December 4. A recorded copy will be available after the event.


August, 2015 News

It's been a busy summer with lots of exciting progress on the iRAMP project. Some of the highlights:

  •  the August 17 issue of C&E News is a double issue discussing the ways that the Internet has impacted the practice of chemistry at both scientific and operational levels. The guest editorial for the issue, found at http://cen.acs.org/articles/93/i32/Chemistry-Internet.html does a good job of providing an overview of those impacts, discussing some of the key issues that the iRAMP project is considering, such as assessing information quality; supporting more effective peer review; and supporting effective navigation of many different sources of chemical safety information. People interested in an overview of these issues are likely to find the editorial and accompanying articles worth the time to read.
  • PubChem announced the release of a data view for chemical safety information based on the Laboratory Chemical Safety Summary described in Prudent Practices.
  • A full day symposium at the Boston national ACS meeting in August explored progress on many of the ideas the iRAMP workshop participants discussed in the 2014 workshop.

Stay tuned for further updates on this work! Comments and questions can be sent to Ralph Stuart.



Progress since November

The iRAMP project has been making impressive strides since the last posting here in November. Several articles on the project are in press in various chemical professional publications. Links to these article will be published when they are available.

In addition, several of the project partners gave presentations on their work related to the project at the Special Libraries Association national meeting in Boston in June. You can find the slides from there presentations at the SLA's Chemistry Division web site 

The presentations of specific interest to this project are:

Information Resources:

The Laboratory Use Case in Higher Education

Stay tuned for more upcoming news!


Organizing Chemical Information to Support Lab Safety

I submitted a paper to the ACS Committee on Computers in Chemical Education fall 2014 discussion. The paper provides an overview of the information management aspects of laboratory safety information for the chemical education audience.

It discusses:

  1. the challenges associated with the nature of current chemical safety information,
  2. the stakeholders in laboratory safety and the way that they use chemical safety information
  3. two information tools that can make this work easier; and
  4. two sample use cases for this information.

You can download the paper and follow the discussions of it at http://confchem.ccce.divched.org/2014FallCCCENLP6

Many of the ideas found in this paper were discussed at a workshop hosted by the Royal Society of Chemistry in Cambridge, England. More content from those discussions will be available over the next few weeks.


The Semantic Web and GHS

This summer, the Journal of Cheminformatics published an article describing work that applied the tools of the Semantic web to the Globally Harmonized System for Chemical Hazard Communication. The article is interesting from several viewpoints:

  • technically, it provides a glimpse into the logic and power of these tools to a specific use case of interest to the professional safety community;
  • practically, it provides a glimpse into the logic with the development of the GHS system; and
  • legally, some of the concerns that arise when information tools are repurposed for real world uses.



GHS logic


July iRAMP presentations

Leah and I gave presentations about the iRAMP project to three distinct audiences in July:

  • Leah spoke to her library colleagues at Cornell about the genesis of the project and the chemical information tools we're using in approaching the problem. Leah's iRAMP presentation to Cornell librarians
  • Ralph spoke to the IUPAC International Conference on Chemical Education in Toronto. This was at the invitation of Bob Belford of the Univ of Arkansas, Little Rock, who is interesting in exploring the use of cheminformatics as a core tool of the chemist in the 21st century. A PDF of Stuart ICCE iRAMP presentation is here. I gave a similar presentation, in somewhat more detail, to a group of staff at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Safety and Health as well.

The key element that came out of these presentations was the contrast between the way the chemists see their process compared to how a safety analysis models the process.

Generic model of a chemical process
Generic Chemistry process model
Risk Assessment process model
Risk Assessment Model

The Difference Between Information Architecture (IA) and Navigation

There's a very helpful article on The Difference Between Information Architecture (IA) and Navigation on the Nielsen Norman Group blog this week. As an example, they provide a diagram of their website's information architecture:

information architecture image

It describes the importance of thinking through the information architecture associated with a web site before building or re-building the site with new user interfaces. This article explains why we're taking the approach we are to the iRAMP project, beginning with the structure of the data sources and the logic needed to support chemical risk assessments before moving on to the user interface questions.


Sigma Aldrich's Green Chemistry initiative

In follow up to interest from Sigma Aldrich in presenting at the SF ACS national meeting this summer, Ralph and Leah talked to Jeff Whitford from Sigma Aldrich about their Global Citizenship initiative, particularly as regards Green Chemistry. A PDF of the powerpoint file he used is available here. Jeff also provided us a contact for the chemical safety regulatory information portal.



DuPont's SafeSpec Chemical Protection Platform

At the UCLA Lab Safety Center meeting last month, Ralph and Leah had a brief discussion with Dupont representatives there about their SafeSpec 2.0 Chemical Protective Clothing web platform. We followed up with one of their technical representatives, who provided an overview of the platform.

A PDF version of the powerpoint file can be found here: DuPontSafeSPEC



JHA in the teaching environment

Our neighbor at the LSC poster fair was Sammye Sigmann from Appalachian State University. She is a chemistry faculty member there who has become involved in CHAS activities over the last few years. Specifically, she worked on the Job Hazard Analysis chapter in the ACS 2013 publication and is now teaching a JHA workshop at national meetings. I attended this workshop at the Dallas meeting and it was quite interesting to see her approach to this process.

Her poster at LSC described how she uses the JHA approach in overseeing undergrad student research projects. Her approach connects to the feedback that Marjorie received at Wright State. You can download Sammye's poster here:

Job Hazard Analysis Poster
Sigmann JHA Poster


The Safety Case approach to Risk Assessment

At the Lab Safety Center's conference that I attended this week in Irvine, California, Stephen Rottler from Sandia National Lab talked about his two year old initiative to move the lab's safety program focus from a work planning and controls approach, which is based on the 60 year old tradition of the laboratory to a engineered safety approach built on a systems approach to evaluating hazards. He is leading this change because of his experience as VP of science for the lab in reviewing a serious incident which resulted from fairly simple oversights in the operating process.

To my ears, this approach sounded similar to the safety case approach that the Chemical Safety Board has been advocating for industries after reviewing specific accidents in the chemical industry.

At Sandia, the safety case approach involves 3 decision points at which 6 questions are asked:

Three formal decision points

  1. Is the reason for the work good enough to accept the project?
  2. Is the safety case for the project adequate?
  3. Does the manager accept the go forward decision based on the safety case?
The six questions asked at these points are:

  1. What is the system?
  2. Who is the decision maker?
  3. What are the unacceptable outcomes?
  4. How can the system fail?
  5. What if it does fail?
  6. How do you know it will work as intended?

The challenge presented by the new approach is that it is more subjective than the traditional approach, and thus hardy to assess for compliance by oversight authorities. Dr. Rotter feels that the advantages of this approach make the extra oversight effort worth the time.

Coincidently,  I talked with Alice Young from Texas Tech University, who mentioned that chair of the Mechanical Engineering Department there teaches energetic chemistry work with thermite to students there uses a similar approach to teaching and overseeing safety practices in her work. A paper describing her use of the system will be published soon. thermite fire

Report on reactions to the poster from Wright State

Ralph and Leah,

The poster was displayed for the Department of Chemistry’s Posters in the Hall.  The session had approximately 7 posters, so it was a small event for a Friday evening on the last day of the semester before finals.  (The department picnic was at 5 pm.)  I did spend time explaining the reason and the concept to the poster visitors.

I asked two groups group of students (mixed graduate and undergraduates, mostly organic chemistry-focused) if they thought the concept or the tool would be useful.  They responded that they thought their first source of such information would be their lab mates.  I asked why and they said because they had already been working with the materials and processes.  They would seek information directly from people before consulting a web-based or computer tool.

After hearing their responses, I think that if the tool was integrated into the curriculum or marketed well that the resource would be more available.  The professors seems more interested saying that the tool would be useful.  They thought the idea was visionary and innovative!

I enjoyed presenting the information and getting the feedback from some of the stakeholders.  If you have specific questions about the session, just let me know.

Thank you for allowing me to share the information.

I will let you know if I get additional feedback.

Best regards!


Marjorie M. Markopoulos

Wright State University

3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy.

Dayton, OH




Project Name?

Quick comment/question - is this ultimately going to be iRAMP or iRAMPP?  The URL is IRAMPP, and the section on the RAMP paradigm in the upper right has 6 (iRAMPP) steps, not 5.  Just a consistency thing.



Safety Emporium - Lab & Safety Supplies featuring brand names

you know and trust.  Visit us at  http://www.SafetyEmporium.com

esales@safetyemporium.com  or toll-free: (866) 326-5412

Fax: (856) 553-6154, PO Box 1003, Blackwood, NJ 08012


ICCE abstract

Leah and I have an abstract for a presentation at the 23rd International Conference on Chemistry Education (ICCE) 2014 in Toronto in July accepted. The theme of the conference is Developing Learning Communities in the Chemical Sciences

The presentation will provide a general description of the iRAMP concept. Here's the abstract.

Chemical Risk Assessment & Management Planning Tool for Academic Teaching and Research Laboratories

Ralph S. Stuart, Leah R. McEwen

In 2011, the US Chemical Safety Board released a report on safety in academic chemistry laboratories raising the concern for an organized risk assessment process that meets the needs of the research laboratory. In 2013, the American Chemical Society (ACS) Committee on Chemical Safety appointed a task force on Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories.  The task force developed a report on several methods including the control banding approach, which assigns “Chemical Safety Levels” to laboratory operations to systematize these practices. These Chemical Safety Levels (CSLs) provide general guidelines for safety management practices; these practices can be further refined for application in specific laboratories and lab operations. A significant challenge identified in implementing this concept is the effort required to collect and organize the information necessary to complete a CSL assignment and detail how it applies to a specific laboratory process or setting.

Several other developments over the past five years are helping the chemistry community to meet this challenge, including significant improvements in electronic information handling, promulgation of hazard classification standards, and a paradigm for managing chemical hazards in an academic setting.  In order to bring these elements together to support use of the control banding approach in managing chemical risks, chemical researchers, chemical information professionals, and environmental health and safety professionals were brought together to vet the concept of a web-based chemical risk assessment engine.  This presentation will discuss the strategies of designing a convenient web-based interface that supports chemical safety planning by chemical researchers at the level of individual experiments, leveraging the Recognize, Assess, Manage, Plan (RAMP) chemical risk management model, the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals (GHS), and ChemSpider, the largest aggregation and management system of public domain electronic chemical information data.



Examples of ontologies

See this YouTube for a vanilla clear explanation of ontology:


For an interesting thought-to-ontology exercise for the periodical table, see this blog:







Ontology examples

I went and looked at the OBO Foundry, http://www.obofoundry.org/ and did not see a Chemical Safety Ontology per se.  I noticed there was an ontology of adverse events (AEO), and a different one on adverse event reporting (AERO).

I find the later particularly interesting, with respect to the need for curation.  That is, why is there an ontology on reporting?

I also found this rather neat visualization of ontologies, http://aims.fao.org/community/general-information/blogs/vowl-visual-notation-owl-ontologies




Definition of data curation

FYI, here are a couple data curation definitions from some data minded organizations, UK and US based.  The ICPSR is particularly interesting as another domain oriented use-case.

Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (US) Data Management & Curation (http://www.icpsr.umich.edu/icpsrweb/content/datamanagement/index.html)

ICPSR stores, curates, and provides access to scientific data so others can reuse the data and validate research findings. Curation, from the Latin "to care," is the process that ICPSR uses to add value to data, maximize access, and ensure long-term preservation. Data curation is akin to work performed by an art or museum curator. Through the curation process, data are organized, described, cleaned, enhanced, and preserved for public use, much like the work done on paintings or rare books to make the works accessible to the public now and in the future. With the modern Web, it's increasingly easy to post and share data. Without curation, however, data can be difficult to find, use, and interpret. Through curation, ICPSR provides meaningful and enduring access to data.

Digital Curation Centre (UK)

What is digital curation? (http://www.dcc.ac.uk/digital-curation/what-digital-curation)

Digital curation involves maintaining, preserving and adding value to digital research data throughout its lifecycle. The active management of research data reduces threats to their long-term research value and mitigates the risk of digital obsolescence. Meanwhile, curated data in trusted digital repositories may be shared among the wider UK research community. As well as reducing duplication of effort in research data creation, curation enhances the long-term value of existing data by making it available for further high quality research.

Leah McEwen

Chemistry Librarian, Cornell University

Secretary, Division of Chemical Information, American Chemical Society

Otlet Fellow, Chemical Heritage Foundation lrm1@cornell.edu


Updated iRAMP poster

Thanks to everyone's contributions to the e-mail discussion, I was able to identify a number of typos and layout challenges in the previous version of the poster. The final version (which is off to the printer) is available for your downloading enjoyment here. Feel free to share it with other interested parties; comments and questions still appreciated.

iRAMP poster for UCLA, printed version in PDF

iRAMP poster for UCLA

iRAMP poster in JPEG

Thanks to everyone for their interest in this project!


iRAMP process schematic

Leah and I are going to the Univ of California's Center for Laboratory Safety meeting next week. We're preparing a poster that presents an overview of the iRAMP idea to explain to the attendees the opportunity presented by a cheminformatics approach to laboratory risk assessment. I'd appreciate any comments or questions anyone has about the poster, which can be found at iRAMP poster for UCLA


Back to Top