Hugh Cartwright rewiews this engaging safety text

Robert H Hill and David C Finster
Chichester, UK: John Wiley 2010 | Pp546 | £40.50 (SB) | ISBN9780470344286
Reviewed by Hugh Cartwright

Cover of Laboratory safety for chemistry students

Few chemists find that laboratory safety sets the pulses racing. This seems to be particularly true of undergraduates, who may regard a knowledge of safety procedures as just one more hurdle to be jumped over on the way to getting their chemistry practical course out of the way.

The omens look poor, then, for this book, especially since texts that focus on the undergraduate laboratory do not have a strong record of commercial success. But Hill and Finster's book is a pleasant surprise. No superficial scan of safety topics, or a dull recitation of rules and legislation, this substantial and engaging text offers a wealth of practical advice.

Each section opens with a sketch of a real incident, from minor fires to serious accidents in which workers suffered disabling injury or death. These sobering, and occasionally catastrophic, incidents serve to focus the reader's mind on what went wrong and what can be learnt. There are sections on ionizing radiation, incompatible chemicals, bioaccumulation, protective gloves, mercury poisoning, ventilation, cryogens, solvent fires, and many more topics.

Each section concludes with references and a set of questions, which can be used to test whether the preceding discussion has been fully understood. The authors are American, so where legislation is discussed there are occasional differences between US and European practice. Any differences do not divert attention from the fundamental aim of the book, to explain how students can identify and manage safety concerns.

This authoritative and clearly-written book is full of relevant and important material. Every undergraduate laboratory, and, ideally, every undergraduate chemist, should have a copy of what is, by some distance, the best book I have seen on safety in the undergraduate laboratory.

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