Students taking toxicology come from a range of disciplinary backgrounds, and the Audit is a hands-on study which the student can tailor to their own professional needs, making it an important part of their transcript and employment applications. Experiential work is often highly regarded when applications for employment are being made.
For the Audit, the student chooses an operation, industry or premises with the aim of assessing and reporting on aspects of the:
-production, handling, transport, storage and use of poisonous substances
-hazard associated with products and processes
-existing safety precautions and the improvement of these procedures
Fundamental to the audit is the identification of a suitable premises or operation by the student. There are many premises to choose from because almost every type of human activity has its associated chemicals, many of which are toxic if humans are exposed to them in the wrong way or at the wrong dose. A horticulture student might, for example, select a flower nursery with its multitude of herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers, while a medical science student might want to choose the hospital pharmacy or oncology research unit to carry out the audit. An environmental health practitioner might chose a chemical manufacturing plant, service station or hardware warehouse, while an animal scientist might chose a horse unit with its range of drenches and other treatments, or even a unit in which poisonous snakes are handled. You will find managers and staff to be generally supportive with regard to your assessment and if you require a letter of introduction from the University, this is available. While University laboratories have their share of poisonous substances, these premises have been over-studied by toxicology students, with similar, repetitive reports being presented each year on the same conditions and hazards. Because of this lack of originality University laboratories are seen to offer a situation with minimal original investigation potential for the Audit, and are likely to receive lesser recognition during the marking process than audits carried out in more original or challenging settings. Your own home is also not a suitable subject for the audit, but a business in which you work or a high school which you attended might be. You are covered by university insurance while carrying out this work but should you enter areas which are not normally public domain, or well-covered by safety requirements of the operation under consideration, then a risk assessment form submitted to your lecturer is a requirement. Please note that there will be no marks awarded for completion of this document.
It is essential that a real premises in the Sydney Western Metropolitan suburbs ; it is not adequate to give generalizations about a generic type of premises or operation as actual hazard depends very much on local conditions.
5.2.1 Suggested approach
- Think of a number of premises which might give you access to information relating to substances used or stored. Visit a number of these places and make contact with the person in charge to assess feasibility of an investigation. Sometimes it is better to build up cooperation in a stepwise fashion, and this likely to be more productive if the student presents themselves in a professional way (eg: making an appointment, introducing themselves confidently with a handshake, having read up on the situation so that intelligent questions can be asked and time is not wasted, and dressing like a professional).
- To develop a background knowledge, carry out a literature search to orientate yourself to the process and substances at the premises. This could be done by calling-up abstracts of some relevant papers from the e-collection on the Library site (Science Direct and Scopus are useful).
iii. When premises are selected take an inventory of all the substances at the premises which may be toxic. Keep in mind that almost all substances can be toxic but this is dose dependent. Think laterally because some common substances which might be taken for granted are hazardous when the risk (the product of probability and consequence of exposure) is great. Plan your visits with lists of items you want to see to ensure the visits are efficient and systematic. Draw up questions for your contact person in the industry, some of which could be Emailed for them to answer when convenient. Keep in mind that questions relating to their personal feelings or beliefs are unacceptable as these would require UWS Ethics Committee approval, and that information obtained should be of an objective or factual nature only relating to substances handled, processes used, etc. In this regard asking for hand-outs or manuals on process or products could be productive.
- The name, telephone number or email, and name of the business relevant to this contact person must be provided. A mark will not be returned for the work unless this contact information is provided in the front of the Audit, after the cover sheet.
- Select four substances which pose the greatest risk to employees or the public (probably not both) under the pertaining environmental and operational circumstances, for study in detail. Your reasons for selecting these as the most hazardous will need to be carefully explained in the audit, and reasoning should not be based on intrinsic toxicity alone. This concept will be explained during the course of the lectures/modules. You will need to build a knowledge of the toxicity and health impacts of these substances, as well as a knowledge of how they should be handled. Do not merely draw on MSDSs in this process, although they can provide a useful starting point. You will probably need to revisit the premises to see how they actually are handled. Please note that this is not a social survey or personal opinion survey in which staff are subjected to assessment or required to complete a questionnaire, which would require ethics approval. Information should be gained from your contact person and from your direct observations.
- Carry out separate short reviews of three relevant journal papers (they could be on the substances or on process, handling, physiological effects, case studies of poisoning, etc.) These reviews should be included in your submission as an Appendix, clearly indicated so they can be easily identified by the marker. It is not necessary to reference or cross-reference the reviews, which should be carried out separately. The four reviews do not have to relate to the four main substances. One, for example, could be on general hazards in that industry, another on worker exposure to general hazards in that industry, and two on the chemistry or pathophysiology of relevant chemicals. Each review should be in three sections, which will be treated equally for marking purposes:
- a summary, being a précis of the content of the paper (do not merely copy the abstract, though abstracts can be useful in guiding your summary)
- analysis of the content, being a critical evaluation of the paper’s strengths and weaknesses. Some guidance can be obtained by considering if the six interrogative questions addressed in the report (who, what, where, how, why, when)? Did it clearly articulate information to the reader? Were there any flaws when compared to other sources? It is not necessary to reference your three journal reviews.
- relevance of the paper to your chosen field of investigation for the audit. Each of these three sections carries equal marks, and equal attention should therefore be given to each. See Procedures for guidelines on this type of reporting.
Abstracts from each paper (but not the entire paper) should also be submitted in a separate Appendix.
vii. Complete the Audit report for submission by the deadline indicated in the Study Planner.
5.2.2 Material to include
In summary, the Audit report should include:
- A comprehensive list (inventory) of all hazardous chemicals found in the operation or on the premises, or in the section or operation studied, with trade names, generic names, toxicity data (eg: TLVs, LD50s) where available, and uses in the premises.
- A list of four which appear to present the greatest risk with a well-motivated discussion explaining why these four were chosen, with regard to the local setting (this should include a discussion of their intrinsic toxicity, the potential for exposure, the existence of “sensitive” individuals (eg: children, pregnant women), or any special circumstances relating to handling, storage, production practice or use which make them particularly hazardous in that local setting. It is important that discussion relating to their choice refers to the local setting, and is not merely based on general concerns.
iii. A description of the:
- a) chemistry of each of the four substances, their groups and individual nature, physiological reasons for their toxicity, etc
- b) the potential route into the body in that specific industry,
- c) potentially effected organs or tissues (‘targets’), given exposure action on relevant bodily structures or functions. Comments on their action on Most Sensitive Individuals (MSIs), such as pregnant women, and Most Exposed Individuals (MEIs), such as chemical handlers. In this regard information in Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs), which are produced for every chemical supplied by bulk suppliers, can give useful guidance. Do not, however, merely “lift” information from MSDSs as they are lay documents written in a very abbreviated style and most parts of the audit required consideration and discussion of a range of information.
- d) Uses of the substances in the actual premises or operation, with details of production, handling, storage and transportation procedures, and possible hazards presented.
- e) A set of guidelines for hazard reduction in those specific premises (ie: not in general).
- Three journal reviews relevant to the selected substances, or to other aspects of the Audit.
- Any diagrams or photographs (which you have been permitted to take at the premises) to illustrate points made in the Audit.
- Do not forget to include the supportive sections of a report, such as title, table of contents, introduction, and (very important) references used. When you are writing the report try to imagine you are writing it to a management person or client who has asked for the Audit to be carried out, as the Audit will be marked from this professional perspective.
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