Lab Manager | Run Your Lab Like a Business
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Lab Manager

Promoting Safe Behaviors and Practices in the Lab

Strategies for building a robust safety culture in laboratories

Lauren Everett

Lauren Everett is the managing editor for Lab Manager. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from SUNY New Paltz and has more than a decade of experience in news...

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Becky Grunewald, associate director of environmental health and safety at UC Davis Health and member of Lab Manager’s lab safety editorial advisory board, brings over two decades of experience to the table. In this Q&A, she shares her journey and insights on laboratory safety, emphasizing the importance of trusting safety professionals and eliminating barriers to safe practices.

Q: What do you wish more people knew or understood about laboratory safety?

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A: I think folks being overly blasé about lab safety has mostly changed in the 20 years that I’ve been involved with it, so that’s a good thing. Now people understand that there are hazards but they are not great at judging risk. So, I wish people trusted the safety professionals and resources they have access to, rather than thinking they are their own risk manager in each situation. 

Q: What’s the biggest lab safety-related lesson you’ve learned in your career so far? 

A: When I was a lab manager, we had an undergraduate volunteer get a chemical eye splash. She was not wearing proper safety eye wear. She was not harmed, but it felt so terrible to feel responsible and guilty for this incident. I knew I had not acted as the best role model because I would occasionally do a quick task without putting on goggles and I would let folks slide on PPE because I didn’t want to deal with the conflict in the moment. The lesson was learning that it was worth any bit of conflict or annoyance to feel confident I had done all I could to keep people safe.

Q: What does a day in the life look like for you as associate director of EHS?

A: In my year here at UC Davis Health, moving over from UC Davis campus, I have found that healthcare is an even more fast-paced environment than research, but in addition to my recent role in the healthcare world I also have a purview over the 100+ research labs we have here at UC Davis Health, so I get some of both worlds. I supervise a team of four with very different expertise, from lab safety to industrial hygiene. 

Headshot of Becky Grunewald
Becky Grunewald

On a typical day I might meet someone I supervise, meet with a clinical lab supervisory team on a training issue, work on writing or revising a policy, lead or participate in one of our many different safety committee meetings, and hopefully have a bit of time in the day for something related to wellness or diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Q: What advice can you give someone looking to establish a better culture of safety within their laboratory? 

A: Twofold: 1. Make sure you have support from the top or your goal will be very, very difficult to achieve. I was lucky enough when I was a lab manager that the principal investigator told everyone, “Becky is in charge, do what she says.” 

2. Make it as easy as you can for folks to do things right. Eliminate any barrier to safety that you can. Don’t stand on principle and think, “Well they should know better, they should do it right.”  Ask yourself why they didn’t. Humans are natural corner-cutters, it doesn’t pay to fight against human nature!

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work? 

A: I love to travel. I missed that so much during the pandemic and have been happy to get back into it. In the last couple of years, I’ve gone to Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Greece, and Germany. I am also a freelance writer, writing about art and culture for Sacramento publications.

Becky Grunewald was a lab manager for 10 years in the lab comparative neuroanatomy lab of Dr. Leah Krubitzer at the University of California, Davis Center for Neuroscience. In her time there she had a broad safety and administrative role in a complex lab that worked with biologically and chemically hazardous materials.

She then moved on to a position as a lab inspector within Environmental Health & Safety, and in her 10 years at EH&S she supervised teams with subject matter expertise in lab, radiation, occupational, and field safety. In 2023, she accepted a position as Associate Director of EH&S at UC Davis Health. She has been enjoying learning about the safety culture within the medical field and continues to oversee aspects of lab safety for the medical researchers who work within the UCDH footprint.

In her free time, Becky enjoys traveling (in 2023 she went to Korea, Taiwan, and Greece) and running. She lives with her husband and cat Babs in downtown Sacramento.