Ask Linda: Developing a Lab Safety Culture

Incorporate safety procedures into the university course curriculum

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Question

Dear Linda,

Faculty at my university are charged with maintaining the safety of their individual research laboratories. But the time required to do so is limited because of teaching, research, and other responsibilities. As a result, instruments are often broken, misused, or incorrectly calibrated, and frustration builds up among students who do know how to observe proper safety procedures. This makes the likelihood of an incident or accident much greater. Any suggestions for helping faculty teach and enforce safety procedures in an efficient and cost-effective manner?

Hope you can help. Thanks,

Barbara

Answer

Dear Barbara,

My first suggestion would be to incorporate safety procedures into the university course curriculum.

My second suggestion—which other academic institutions have implemented—would be to develop a safety inspection training program. Each month for about one hour, teams comprising both faculty and students would be given a checklist containing the same criteria used by ‘real’ inspectors to review the labs for safety compliance. As the teams perform the activity, both the professors and the students learn what the expectations of U.S. regulatory agencies are and then work together to improve the culture of safety.

My third suggestion would be to seek out an industry partner, from whom students could learn ‘real world’ laboratory safety practices. Such a program would ensure that future scientists and engineers have not only the scientific knowledge but also the safety knowledge to work efficiently and effectively.

Hope this helps.

Cheers,

Linda

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