Eye protection in Cuba lab photos

Cuban chemistry students, who have limited access to safety gear, work on an educational lab at the University of Havana. Credit: Lisette Poole

In a recent cover story about chemistry research in Cuba, C&EN included several photos in which people were not wearing appropriate personal protective equipment–eye protection in particular–in labs. The photos garnered several critical comments, such as:

Please, please, please wear safety glasses in the lab! This should be a minimum requirement for all photos in C&EN. No glasses – no photo.

[T]here is no excuse for conducting laboratory work, or even being in a lab, without proper PPE. … I’m actually surprised to see such photos in C&E News without a suitable editorial comment.

C&EN generally does require that people must wear eye protection at a minimum in photos and video. We probably refuse a few photos a month for that reason alone.

We made exceptions for Cuba story photos for several reasons. One was a sheer lack of resources at the high school and university levels. It wasn’t that people were choosing not to wear eye protection, they simply didn’t have it.

A second reason was that we didn’t want to misrepresent lab conditions. Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology has better funding than the schools, but the lab culture there still didn’t involve wearing eye protection. For the purposes of this story, we thought it was important to show the lab environments as they are rather than how they ideally should be. (Would it have been journalistically ethical to ship eye protection to Cuba in order to get “better” photos?)

Consequently, C&EN decided to show the labs as they were, noting the lack of safety gear explicitly in the body of the story and in a photo caption. We didn’t make the decision lightly, and we realize that some may still disagree with C&EN showing anything but best safety practice. But we also know that our readers value fact-based, accurate journalism–which for this story meant using photos that we likely would not have accepted for labs in a more industrially developed country.

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