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Organizing Chemical Information to Support Lab Safety


Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Chemical Hygiene Officer, Keene State College
Secretary, ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety


The Internet provides easy access to a wide variety of information sources relevant to answering chemical safety questions in the laboratory. However, this information is found in a wide variety of formats with varying audiences and intents. This often means that the quality of the information is difficult to evaluate, organize and use to support risk assessment of laboratory work with hazardous chemicals. The ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety and Division of Chemical Information are partnering to address this concern by developing a chemical safety ontology, or structured vocabulary of terms associated with chemical hazards and risk assessment and management. The goal of this ontology will be to enable the organization of chemical safety information in a sustainable, scalable, and transferable way. This paper will describe the conceptual basis of this work, including the key stakeholders involved, the information channels they use, and their roles in conducting and overseeing the chemical risk assessments in the laboratory.


In 1987, OSHA promulgated the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), which established the requirement for chemical suppliers to provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs) to people who bought those chemicals. This standard established the “Right to Know” about chemical hazards in workplaces in the United States. In 2013, OSHA announced the first major revision of this standard by incorporating the UN’s Globally Harmonized System (GHS) into the HCS. This change was intended to incorporate the “Right to Understand” into the “Right to Know”.

The GHS represents a well-defined, user-oriented system of describing chemical hazards, as opposed to traditional MSDS’s, which were generally written “by lawyers, for lawyers”. This legal orientation of MSDS authors often resulted in vague, and often impractical, guidance for the safe use of chemicals. The GHS was developed over a 15 year period by chemistry and safety professionals who recognized that safety information requires both a sound technical basis and good communication practices to be effective.

While the GHS represented a major step forward for the Right to Understand chemical hazards in many settings, it is necessarily built around individual, clearly identified chemicals, used in well-defined ways. These assumptions do not describe many laboratory uses of chemicals, where the concentrations, quantities and identities of materials being used vary widely and change as the laboratory process proceeds. So, while there is significant health and safety information included in the GHS, it identifies the hazards of specific chemicals, rather than providing a hazard analysis of chemical interactions and other safety issues (such as mechanical, equipment, biological or radiation hazards), or a risk assessment associated with specific laboratory work.

Recognizing this problem, the ACS Division of Chemical Health and Safety and Division of Chemical Information have initiated a joint project to help identify electronic information resources available to support a process-oriented approach to chemical health and safety information and to develop a system for providing convenient access to this information for both chemists and the health and safety professionals who support their work. This paper provides a conceptual overview of our work to date and our plans for future development of the ideas discussed.

Part 1: A Clash of Information Models

Traditional laboratory chemical processes tend to involve a number of substances used in irregular ways (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Schematic Overview of a Chemistry Process (Stuart, 2014)
         (Downloadable High Resolution Image)

The purpose of these processes is to generate specific chemical changes in these substances that create new substances and/or release or absorb energy, thereby impacting the constituents and environment of the process. These processes may consist of many steps, but they are designed with a particular endpoint in mind. Thus, the laboratory chemical process represents a complicated knowledge domain, the results of which are largely predictable (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Types of Knowledge Management Domains (Wikipedia, 2014)

While this description of chemical processes is well suited to many activities in the laboratory, it does not describe all work done there. Particularly in the research setting, a chemical process may not have a clear endpoint and unexpected results may arise. Processes with unpredictable results go beyond complicated systems to become complex systems. Happily, many unexpected outcomes of complex systems provide useful results (see the 2014 ACS Reactions Video series for examples). Unfortunately, other unexpected results are less positive (see the US Chemical Safety Board’s (CSB) 2011 “Experimenting with Danger” report for three examples).

This clash of information models means that it is necessary to step back and take a broad view of the goal of the risk assessment in order to develop a sustainable information process to support this work. The National Research Council describes this goal as “prudent” chemical practice, as outlined in its Prudent Practices in the Laboratory publication. Both practically and legally, such prudence is established by effective documentation of the hazard identification, risk assessment and risk management processes. Such documentation can be used to support the writing of the Standard Operating Procedure and emergency planning guidance required by OSHA as part of the lab standard. With the goal of prudence in mind, the information challenge becomes more tractable.

The laboratory incidents highlighted by the CSB have sparked significant interest in improving the level of laboratory safety education in the college chemistry curriculum (see ACS report on Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences) In particular, industrial employers of chemists are concerned that this curriculum currently provides insufficient education in the process of chemical risk assessment. Unfortunately, conducting and teaching such risk assessments are more of a challenge than they should be. This is for several reasons:

·         Common approaches to managing complicated information processes do not transfer smoothly to the complex situations found in many laboratories. The impact of this challenge is indicated by the fact that research laboratories are four times more likely than teaching laboratories to have accidents that require emergency response from public agencies. Research shows that such laboratory emergencies occur three times a week, with widely varying impacts.  See my 2012 article in the Journal of Chemical Health and Safety for details of these findings.

·         Another aspect of the lab safety challenge is represented by the risk assessment and management paradigm itself. Because of the broad range of laboratory hazards, this approach is necessarily broad and relatively simplistic, based on a hierarchy of controls. A more detailed, but still broad, risk assessment process to conduct a chemical risk assessment is described at the UK Health and Safety Executive’s COSHH site.

·         Also, hazard identification is based on standard hazard data generated outside the laboratory context, so it must be reinterpreted for the laboratory setting, based on the concentration of chemicals, their quantities and environment they are used in.

Information system tools developed over the last decade provide the opportunity to address many of these issues.

Part 2: The Stakeholders

A key element in developing any information process includes careful consideration of the various stakeholders managing and using the process. For simplicity’s sake, we identified six broad groups of stakeholders in the laboratory risk assessment process:

1.    Bench Chemists are the people who physically perform lab processes by implementing procedures appropriate to the result desired.

2.    Laboratory Supervisors are people who plan laboratory activities and provide oversight for bench chemists.

3.    Chemistry Librarians provide access to and help with use of chemical information sources for the chemists working in the laboratory

4.    Chemical Information Scientists develop information management systems for chemical data, publications and information.

5.    Chemical Health and Safety Professionals help identify hazards associated with laboratory processes, evaluate risks associated with specific use of the chemicals, and provide advice about appropriate protective measures to control those hazards, including planning for emergency response in the laboratory.

6.    Environmental Health and Safety Staff merge information developed by Chemical Health and Safety professionals with specific information about laboratory activities within their organization to develop safety programs that serve diverse laboratories in transferrable, scalable and sustainable ways. EHS Staff generally focus on the information needed to provide specific services such as laboratory waste management, safety educational programs and emergency response planning for the universe of laboratories they support.

Most people associated with laboratories play more than one of these roles. For this reason, it’s important to note that each of these groups work with different kinds of chemical information and need access to different types of health and safety data and literature. Table 1 outlines this landscape from the various stakeholder perspectives.


Key Information Channel(s)
(see Figure 3)

Bench chemist

Primary sources (raw data, specific Safety Data Sheets, other process specific hazard and biosafety information)

Laboratory Supervisor

Secondary and tertiary sources (Experimental protocols, safety conditions oversight information, skill level of bench chemists they oversee)

Chemistry Librarians

All levels of information sources, including chemistry information tools, such as literature indices; development of search strategies for appropriate safety information

Chemical Information Scientists

Primary and secondary sources (general chemistry as well as machine analysis of specialized information)

Chemical Health and Safety Professionals

Tertiary safety sources (hazard and process information and facility specifications to evaluate risks specific to the process of concern)

Environmental Health and Safety Professionals

Primary safety sources (rosters of chemicals, workers and spaces associated with laboratory work in their jurisdiction; emergency plans appropriate to this work)

The diverse nature of this landscape explains why people in multiple roles often find working with safety information a frustrating experience as they try to answer what appears to be a simple question.  As Figure 3 illustrates, safety information is associated with different literature sources, which cannot be used interchangeably. For example, the Texas Tech explosion documented in the CSB report demonstrated that the answer to a question about explosion hazards cannot be based only on the name of the chemical and past experience with that chemical, but also the quantity of the material being worked with.


Figure 3: Overview of Chemical Safety Information Sources (Li and McEwen, 2014)
             (Download High Resolution Image)


Fortunately, emerging electronic tools, if well planned, will allow the development of more convenient ways to access this information, with some level of intelligent relationships provided to the system. However, because the goal of laboratory safety work is to address unexpected outcomes, there will always be a layer of complexity that requires human judgment beyond the scope of electronic logic, whose strength is found in complicated settings.

Part 3: Information Management Processes

Based on the considerations above, there are two key elements necessary to provide the foundation of a chemical safety information management system. These are ontologies and a curation process.

In a 2014 publication, Colin Batchelor of the Royal Society of Chemistry describes an ontology as a “machine-readable account of what [elements are present] in a given domain and how the things there relate to other things, not necessarily in the most metaphysically general way, but in a way that is consistent with how practicing scientists in that domain understand the relations”. An example of an ontology in action was given in Figure 1.

Curation is a process of expert human review of information according to established guidelines. Such curation often involves manually tagging of specific entities in the ontology to relate them to other items in the system or to information outside the system in ways that machine logic would not identify. This process can become expensive as its scale increases, although new developments in social media present interesting opportunities to address this concern.


Figure 4: Schematic Overview of Curation Process (Li and McEwen, 2014)
         (Download High Resolution Image)


In the safety information context, the ultimate purpose of curation is to produce professional safety advice that supports an operational decision. This judgment is necessary to address the complex (i.e. unpredictable) aspects of the risk assessment process, and, at the professional level, particularly focuses on balancing the costs of managing hazards with the magnitude of the risks they present and identifying specific emergency planning and waste disposal requirements. At a more local level, this information is used to address questions such as matching personal protective equipment requirements to specific laboratory settings.

Developing an information system that incorporates these two elements in a way that matches the expectations of chemists in terms of usability is a challenging task. However, we believe that careful planning of how these elements are implemented is essential to allow such a system to be sustainable as new information technologies become available. Discussions of this project as it proceeds can be found at the iRAMP blog.

Part 4: Two Use Cases

To help make these conceptual considerations more concrete, let’s look at two potential use cases for a Chemical Safety Information System. One is the development of Lessons Learned from laboratory accidents; the second is developing a scalable risk assessment tool that can support review of laboratory chemistry for hazard identification and risk management purposes.

Lessons Learned Development

This summer, the National Research Council published a report entitled Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research. One of the recommendations of this report was:

Recommendation 7: Organizations should incorporate non-punitive incident and near-miss reporting as part of their safety cultures. The American Chemical Society, Association of American Universities, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and American Council on Education should work together to establish and maintain an anonymous reporting system, building on industry efforts, for centralizing the collection of information about and lessons learned from incidents and near misses in academic laboratories, and linking these data to the scientific literature. Department chairs and university leadership should incorporate the use of this system into their safety planning. Principal investigators should require their students to utilize this system.

A variety of professional organizations and academic institutions have begun development of such systems for laboratories. However, the challenges of developing an organizational system and curation process has made it difficult for such systems to be scaled up in a sustainable way. In order for the NRC recommendation above to be acted upon, the ontology and curation elements described above must be developed with a work flow such as outlined in Figure 5 in mind.


Figure 5: Lessons Learned Collection Workflow (Stuart, 2014)
       (Download High Resolution Image)

An example of an ontological approach to the Lessons Learned workflow is provided in Figure 6.


Figure 6: Ontological analysis of Lessons Learned Workflow (Batchelor, 2014)
 (Download High Resolution Image)


Scalable Risk Assessment

A second use case for a chemical safety information system is in planning laboratory activities and the safety measures they require. This practice involves several distinct steps for the laboratory supervisor: compilation of data and information to identify the hazards, including properties associated with chemicals and equipment; analysis of the hazards relevant to the specific activities at hand; assessment of the risks within the overall local environment, including training level of the bench chemists; and association of protective measures with various steps in the chemical process.  

An interesting aspect of this use case is that the appropriate level of detail for this work to be considered “prudent” will vary based on the risks associated with the procedure being reviewed. The ACS’s Committee on Chemical Safety report “Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories” to be released later this year (the link is to the draft version currently available) identifies five such levels of detail (see Figure 7).


Figure 7: Levels of Detail of Risk Assessment (Stuart, 2014)
 (Download High Resolution Image)


These approaches range from relatively simple (for the users) approaches such as control banding to highly detailed approaches such as HAZOP analysis (also known as a “what if” analysis). As an example, the hazard analysis step in the HAZOP workflow is outlined schematically in Table 2.





Possible Causes and Consequences of:



















































Table 2: HAZOP Logic Schematic

Many of the hazardous chemical uses in the laboratory situation do not require the level of detail provided by the HAZOP analysis because the risk they present is limited by the amount of chemical used, the predictability of the chemistry or the amount of supervision provided to the people performing the work. However, even in cases of routine lab-scale chemistry, documenting the risk assessment is a key step in maintaining a safe laboratory. Developing an electronic information system that assists the user in working through this process at the appropriate level of detail will require significant planning and usability testing, but tools appropriate to supporting the development of such a system are becoming more available each year.  The first step is to support better linking and searching across the information sources that are available, the first objective of the iRAMP project. 


Supporting safe chemical use in the 21st Century laboratory is a complex challenge. A chemical safety information management system can be an important tool in meeting this challenge if it is carefully planned to take advantage of modern information tools in a way that meets chemists’ and support needs relative to specific use cases defined as part of the process of developing a prudent laboratory.


My thanks to participants at the 2014 Royal Society of Chemistry Chemical Safety Ontology workshop for discussion of these ideas.

Diagram References

Li, Y.; McEwen, L. "Establishing and Enriching Chemical Safety Ontology - How to Use Literature Sources?" Chemical Safety Ontology Workshop, Cambridge, UK, November 11-13; Royal Society of Chemistry.

Batchelor, C. "Chemical Safety Ontology" Chemical Safety Ontology Workshop, Cambridge, UK, November 11-13; Royal Society of Chemistry.

Stuart, R. "Supporting Risk Assessment in the Chemistry Lab" Chemical Safety Ontology Workshop, Cambridge, UK, November 11-13; Royal Society of Chemistry.


1.  Wikipedia article on GHS

2. Wikipedia article on Cynefin

3. ACS Reactions Video

4. Chemical Safety Board report on “Experimenting with Danger”

5. ACS report on Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences

6. “Learning opportunities in three years of hazmat headlines”

7. OSHA hierarchy of controls

 8. UK COSHH Risk Assessment site

9. Prudent Practices in the Laboratory

10. Chemistry Ontologies

11. The iRAMP blog

12. Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research

13. DCHAS Lessons Learned web page

14. ACS Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories

15. Wikipedia article on Control Banding

16. Wikipedia article on HAZOP analysis

11/20/14 to 11/22/14


Bob Belford's picture

Dear Ralph,

Thank you for presenting this paper. You really have some ambitious projects going on, but have also provided a wealth of up-to-date information resources on contemporary chemical hygiene and safety programs and services.

Now around a decade ago my students would look up the MSDS of potassium permanganate, and I would ask them if they should induce vomiting if a child ingested it. We purchased the compound as a solid, and that MSDS says do not induce vomiting, (note, I would also stress they needed to get professional help)

But one of my students used an MSDS for the solution we used, (not the solid we bought), and that said induce vomiting. (note, these are not the original links-but say the same thing).

That got me thinking, and so I went on the DCHAS list and asked, which MSDS should I keep in the prep-room, the one of the solid or the aqueous? I was told the law required me to use the MSDS of the solid, even though I had made an aqueous solution. Which really seemed stupid to me, but that was the law. This leads to my question. I am assuming your chemical safety ontology would be able to provide an instructor with access to the correct information in the context of the actual lab experience (it was aqueous, not solid, and so the information should reflect aqueous, not solid), but is that legal? I am sort of asking multiple questions here, all dealing with the liability concern. As you say, MSDS were generally written “by lawyers, for lawyers”. How do ontology users handle information validation? And what are the legal implications of using this information?

Thanks for contributing such an information packed article.

Bob Belford

Sorry, I am trying to do too many things at once.

10 years ago my student had found a potassium permanganate MSDS that said "induce vomiting", and the one I submitted above did not say that!

I just realized my mistake, and so went and found one which does.

Here is the quote
Ingestion: Call Poison Control immediately. Rinse mouth with cold water. Give victim 1-2 cups of water or milk to drink.
Induce vomiting immediately.

(but this mistake does get to the essence of my question).

> I am assuming your chemical safety ontology would be able to provide an instructor with access to the correct information in the context of the actual lab experience (it was aqueous, not solid, and so the information should reflect aqueous, not solid), but is that legal?

Your question points to the nub of the challenge when we discuss organizing safety information. In addition to the relatively straight-forward task of identifying hazards through physical properties such as pH, flashpoint or reactivity information, or the somewhat more difficult task of identifying health hazards from animal testing data, we have to consider the more complex, if not chaoitic, issues of practicality and legality. In your example, it's likely that you'll get different answers from chemical safety professionals as to which MSDS is appropriate to have on hand. My advice would be to err on the side of retaining useful information, because a useful MSDS is more likely to prevent an injury; whereas the probability of having a useful MSDS on hand turning into a legal problem is very low. 

Another example of the complexity of safety information is shown by a question that appeared on the DCHAS list this week. A faculty member wanted to know whether, since methylene chloride is recognized as a carcinogen, it must be used in a fume hood. The list's answers varied from "yes" to "maybe, you'll need to do air sampling to find out" to "stop using methylene chloride". The reason for the variation in this answers can be found at the OSHA web site describing methylene chloride at , where five different levels of acceptable airborne methylene chloride are identified, ranging from 125 ppm to the "lowest feasible concentration". 

These examples illustrate that while computer tools can deliver information to be considered, they can't interpret that information to do a risk assessment of the local situation. This assessment requires human intelligence, informed by data and documented, prudent reasoning. The latter two elements are where the computer can assist.

I would note that those latter two elements were missing in the recent legal cases brought around laboratory accidents: the UCLA prosecution and this year's high school methanol fire in Colorado. Those cases illustrate that the liability rests with the people responsible for conducting the work rather than the systems that supply information to inform decisions those people make.

Does that clarify your question?

Bob Belford's picture

Hi Ralph (and anyone else),

Now I may be wrong, but I am of the opinion that most educators today do not understand what an ontology is, or how they will impact education. Your paper is the first I have seen in the chemical education literature specifically dealing with ontologies, and although you did give an informatics based definition (Colin Batchelor’s from the ACS Symposium Series Book, “The Future of the History of Chemical Information), as an educator I found that a bit hard to follow.  So I am going to ask you to define ontology from a different philosophical perspective, which is, why do we need a chemical safety ontology?

Now I may be showing my ignorance here, but I am also going to make a statement/prediction that I hope brings relevance of this discussion to the chemical education community.  That is, I am of the opinion that the next generation of chemistry textbooks will be ebooks that utilize ontologies to integrate into the text information (both tabulated and real time) from disparate resources. That is, the OWL (Ontological Web Language) RDF (Resource Descriptive Framework) Triple (Subject-Predicate-Object) based schema has the potential to change the nature of the textbook.

So I would like to ask you from a philosophical perspective, why are you pioneering a chemical safety ontology?  I am not asking you what is an ontology, but what can you do with one that you cannot do without one.  That is, why make an ontology?

Bob Belford

 > So I am going to ask you to define ontology from a different philosophical perspective, which is, why do we need a chemical safety ontology?
A more familiar form of an ontology is the Periodic Table of Elements. It identifies the constituents of the system and provides key data pieces (atomic numbers, atomic weights, periods and groups) that can be used to logically connect these constituents. One can't predict all of chemistry from the periodic table, but it gives a chemist clues about specific chemical questions that they can act on to address those questions. 
It's important to note that the Periodic Table is an extensible ontology; when new elements are discovered, they can be included in the periodic table and predictions about their properties can be made from this information. I suspect that the Periodic Table is even more valuable as a teaching tool than as a prediction tool in that it helps to organize a large amount of chemical data into a coherent collection of information.
Similarly, the Globally Harmonized System is a first attempt at organizing an ontology for chemical safety and health information. The interesting difference between the Periodic Table and GHS is that whereas the constituents of the Periodic Table are independent entities, the components of the GHS include contextual information and thus the GHS organizes process information

For example, methanol has a flammable designation in GHS, but it doesn't catch on fire spontaneously. But if the other pieces of the fire process are in place (O2 levels, a spark, improper procedures etc.), an uncontrolled fire can result. This means that a health and safety ontology organizes process information, which is a different task from the ontologies we are currently used to, which organize constituent information. This is why it's not obvious how to construct one.

>why are you pioneering a chemical safety ontology?
As with the Periodic Table, I expect this ontology to be used both as a teaching tool and an operational tool. Without an organizing paradigm, teaching chemical safety and health is a hit and miss project. GHS by itself is not an organizing paradigm for the chemcial safety process, the RAMP risk assessment process described in Hill and Finster is necessary to make effective use of GHS informationin specific situations. Unfortunately, in the chemical safety world, the "misses" are more noticeable than the hits. Fortunately, those misses can be used as important learning opportunities, which is why there is so much interest in a Lessons Learned database which can effectively organize those opportunities.
As you indicated, the operational aspect of the ontology will be its ability to enable information management techniques such as OWL RDFs to deliver appropriate information to the chemist and then allow the chemist to curate that information by attaching notes appropriate to the local situation to it. Participating in this process will help chemists minimize their liability associated with purchasing and using hazardous chemicals.
Thanks for very interesting questions, Bob. They are helping me to think about our work and where it's going.

Overnight, two other examples of potential uses of a chemical safety ontology occurred to me: 

The first is an operational example: OSHA is currently undertaking a project to review its process for updating its Permissable Exposure Limits for workplace air concentrations of specific chemicals. These limits are seriously out of date and OSHA is looking for alternatives to the current regulatory model of setting these limits on a chemical-by-chemical basis. A well-developed chemical safety ontology, which not only includes hazard information, but also management strategies and related cost data, would enable OSHA to reason by analogy in revising its PELs, rather than conducting literature searches and economic analyses on each chemical separately. Similar work in developing chemical safety characterizations is underway in China, as described by a recent article in Proedia Engineering entitled "Study on safety capacity of chemical industrial park in operation stage".

An application for an ontology in the teaching environment is illustrated by an article from J Chem Ed this week entitled "Chemical Fabrication and Electrochemical Characterization of Graphene Nanosheets Using a Lithium Battery Platform". The exercise is described as "suitable for a wide range of students with a general chemistry background". It describes the preparation of carbon nano sheets from graphite in a process that uses concentrated sulfuric acid, sodium nitrate, potassium permanganate, and 30% hydrogen peroxide. The process consists of 9 steps with varying degrees of risks associated with each step.

The hazard management advice provided in the supporting information is

"Safety and Hazards

"Students should receive instructions for chemical safety, hazardous material handling, and personal protective equipment use. Potassium permanganate, sulfuric acid, and 30% hydrogen peroxide are corrosive materials that cause burns upon contact with skin and eyes. Proper laboratory apparel, including gloves, goggles, and laboratory coats must be worn at all times. Labeled waste containers should be made available for all solutions. The chemical solutions should be prepared in a chemical fume hood to avoid breathing the vapors of these chemicals."

I’m not sure that an audience as diverse as one having a "general chemistry background" provides an adequate safety skill set for working with these chemicals, as well as with equipment such as hot plates, autoclaves and precision disk cutters. It would be prudent to carefully describe the required qualifications of the students who will be conducting this work using the terms defined in a chemical safety ontology.

Hi Ralph,

In your paper you give a link to the iRAMP blog, . Would you tell us a little bit about what iRAMP is? I know in the earlier day's there was a vision where a high school teacher could take a written laboratory experiment type of document and parse it through a technology like the WikiHyperglossary, , and then be provided with some form of report providing input on various issues of safety and chemical hygiene. Is that still part of the vision? Could you tell us a bit on the types of user interfaces that might evolve, and how a high school teacher with minimal resources might find this technology of value? I realize this is a very ambitious project and you are far from the so-called "production" phase, but are there ways people like high-school teachers can provide input at this stage?

Thanks again for sharing this incredibly ambitious project with us.

>Would you tell us a little bit about what iRAMP is?

The short answer is that the iRAMP project is exploring how to implement the RAMP paradigm described in Hill and Finster I mentioned in an earlier response.

The ultimate goal is, as you described, to enable pasting a laboratory procedure into a text box and have the system respond with a hazard identification report based on the information provided. The next step will be for the system would be to provide templates for the next steps in a risk assessment, which are be prioritizing the hazards identified and then assigning protection strategies for addressing those risks. The chemist using the system would need to "curate" the information provided to set the priorities and assign the strategies, but the output would be a report that demonstrates that prudent safety issues were considered in planning the work.

As you suggest, this support would be especially important in the high school setting, as demonstrated by the recent rash of fires associated with demonstrations in this setting. The recent US Chemical Safety Board warning against use of methanol during laboratory and classroom combustion demonstrations has raised the bar in terms of what is considered "prudent" for this type of activity. So, in addition to supporting safer experimental planning, the system would reduce the liability of the people conducting the work.