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Chemical engineers institute ready to bolster reactive chemical safety education for students (9/23)

September 23, 2009
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The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) welcomed recent recommendations by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) to include reactive chemical safety education for chemical engineering students at U.S. universities.

The CSB recommendations were produced following the investigation of a December 2007 explosion and fire at a Jacksonville, Fla., company. Four employees were killed in the explosion and several people were injured. The CSB investigation determined that the explosion was caused by a runaway chemical reaction that likely resulted from an inadequate reactor cooling system. The company was producing a gasoline additive.

“As this terrible tragedy emphasizes, we agree with CSB that chemical engineering students should learn more about process safety and about chemical reactivity, in particular,” said Scott Berger, Executive Director of AIChE’s Center for Chemical Process Safety (CCPS). “AIChE has been on the forefront of supporting process safety for the past 50 years. We have long believed that reactive chemical safety should be an integral part of chemical engineering curricula in universities.”

Berger noted that CCPS has been producing prepared lectures and teaching materials on process safety for U.S. universities since 1985 through its Safety in Chemical Engineering Education (SACHE) program. Professors can obtain educational materials from a website to use in their classrooms. In 2007, SACHE increased its efforts by offering a process safety certification program directly to chemical engineering students. Students can learn about process safety in online tutorials and receive a certification following an online test.

In its report, CSB noted: “Although both the owner/chemical engineer and owner/chemist held bachelor’s degrees and had prior chemical industry experience, neither had previously worked with reactive chemical processes. Hence, they were ill-prepared to appreciate and recognize the reactivity hazards of the MCMT process.” In response, the CSB called on AIChE and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) to work together to include reactive chemical education in baccalaureate chemical engineering curricula across the country. The CSB also recommended that AIChE inform all of its student members about its Process Safety Certificate Program and encourage program participation.

Berger said AIChE experts will discuss how to increase awareness among chemical engineering students about the online program and encourage participation. Berger added that AIChE officials plan to meet with ABET representatives to discuss the CSB report and its recommendation to include reactive hazard awareness in the baccalaureate chemical engineering curricula requirements.

CCPS has previously published a number of books on chemical reactivity, including “Essential Practices for Managing Chemical Reactivity Hazards,” which is distributed for CCPS by John Wiley & Sons.

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