May 17, 2012
EHS encourages daily lab safety
USU's Environmental Health and Safety division offers frequent and comprehensive courses on laboratory safety and chemical hygiene, but EHS staff say that safety discussions should be occurring far beyond the initial and refresher courses.
"Fostering a culture of safety within the academic laboratory involves consistent effort on the part of the senior lab personnel," said Steve Bilbao, director of the Environmental Health and Safety division in USU's Office of Research and Graduate Studies. "Hazard recognition, evaluation and control should be frequently reviewed in the lab setting."
A lab safety mindset is especially important in research settings, said Bilbao. Unlike laboratory coursework, where training comes primarily from repeating well-established procedures, research often involves making new materials by new methods, which may pose unknown hazards. As a result, workers in academic research laboratories do not always operate from a deep experience base.
"Responsibility for safe laboratory practices extends beyond EHS," said Rachel Curry, EHS safety and industrial hygienist. "All senior researchers should work to promote safety and set a good example for their associates on a daily basis."
EHS provides the following tips for encouraging a culture of safety within an academic laboratory:
- Make a topic of laboratory safety an item on every group meeting agenda.
- Periodically review the results of laboratory inspections with the entire group.
- Encourage students and laboratory employees to contact the EHS office if they have a question about safe methods of handling hazardous chemicals.
- Require that all accidents and incidents, even those that seem minor, are reported so that the cause can be identified.
- Review new experimental procedures with students and discuss all safety concerns. Where particularly hazardous chemicals or procedures are called for, consider whether a substitution with a less hazardous material or technique can be made.
- Make sure the safety rules within the laboratory (e.g., putting on eye protection at the door) are followed by everyone in the laboratory, from advisor to undergraduate researcher.
- Recognize and reward students and staff for attention to safety in the laboratory.
- Rachel Curry