All posts by Ralph Stuart

The Joint Safety Team at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities: A Model for Student-Led Safety

Taysir Bader
The Art and State of Safety Journal Club
April 7th, 2021

The March 31 and April 7th Journal Club meetings discussed the article The Joint Safety Team at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities: A Model for Student-Led Safety, which is available at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.jchemed.0c00153

Highlights from the table read discussion and the article are below. Taysir’s complete presentation can be downloaded here:

The Joint Safety Team (JST) was an initiative started by students from the Departments of Chemistry (CHEM) and Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (CEMS) with the aim of proliferating a culture of laboratory safety from a bottom-up approach via four main areas: compliance, awareness, resources, and education. The idea of the JST germinated from discussions between both departments, in addition to the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS) at the University of Minnesota with guidance from the Dow Chemical Company in 2012. The departments sought to embrace safety standards prevalent in industry while establishing a culture of safe practices in academic laboratories. Additionally, the JST team was expected to supplement the efforts of the faculty-led safety committees of the two departments to ensure compliance of laboratory practices with government regulations.

Since its initiation in 2012, the JST has taken great strides to be recognized as a leader in student-led safety. The safety endeavor has been well supported by the two departments which have enabled the JST to think of short and long-term safety goals. In 2015, as the initial members who had visited Dow were graduating, both department heads agreed to an ongoing investment in the organization to encourage committee participation and address some concerns from principal investigators about student time being taken away from research[a][b][c][d][e].[f][g][h][i][j][k]¨C11C¨C12C¨C13C¨C14C¨C15C The funding was utilized to provide stipends to JST committee members to ensure prolonged participation in the organization¨C16C¨C17C¨C18C. Furthermore, additional funding from the Dow Chemical Company and the Valspar Corporation (now Sherwin-Williams) was acquired in late 2015, which bolstered JST activities. The financial support from the departments and industrial partners has been critical for the ongoing success of the organization.

The current pyramid structure of the JST (Figure 1) is based on a strong foundation of volunteers[t][u][v][w][x][y] and laboratory safety officers (LSOs) who are responsible for daily implementation of safety practices in their respective research groups. Graduate students and postdoctoral associates assume the role of LSOs of individual laboratories by expressing their interest to the principal investigator of the research group and are assigned by the latter. Typically, laboratories involve two LSOs, a junior (first or second year student) and a senior (student in at least their third year or a postdoctoral associate) member of the group to enable efficient information transfer.

The Administrative Committee (AdCom) was formed as a part of the initial JST and included seven members in 2012. Presently, it is led by the president of the JST and includes the chairs of three subcommittees (E&R, A&C, PR), a Finance Officer, a Technology Officer, and representatives from the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS) at the University of Minnesota. After a collaboration with the Valspar Corporation (now Sherwin-Williams) was established in 2014, monthly AdCom meetings also included a representative from the company. The frequency of the meetings was chosen to ensure that the time committed by graduate students and postdoctoral associates to JST activities was limited and their primary focus lay in research. The member of the DEHS provides expert advice on policy and regulation issues regarding safety while the Sherwin-Williams representatives contribute industrial level expectations to strive toward. [z][aa][ab][ac][ad][ae][af][ag][ah][ai][aj]¨C36C¨C37C¨C38C¨C39C¨C40C¨C41C¨C42C¨C43C¨C44C¨C45C

The AdCom meetings create accountability for ensuring smooth functioning of the subcommittees and aim to provide vision and ideas for future events and activities. The members of the AdCom Committee identify departmental safety weaknesses that need to be addressed in the CEMS and CHEM departments. The president sets and enforces the agenda of all AdCom meetings and is responsible for filling the open positions in the subcommittees.

The JST website (www. jst.umn.edu) has been instrumental in communicating safety in the two departments, in addition to being the face of the organization as perceived by other research departments. The Technology Officer, in conjunction with the President, is responsible for website maintenance. The website contains access to the LSO guidebook via a university email address, which includes documentation for LSO training, roles and responsibilities, and transitioning between LSOs in a research group. It also includes “safety moments”, which are publicly available slides discussing specific aspects for widespread use among all researchers. Academic presentations in the CEMS and CHEM departments are preceded by a safety moment to instill a “safety first” attitude across students, postdoctoral associates, and faculty. The website also gives access to the Learning Experience Reports (LER) system. A sister manuscript details how LERs have contributed to improving academic safety in the two departments

The Finance Officer manages the JST expenses and projected budgets including printing and safety awards and also ensures enough funds are present. Additionally, the officer is also responsible for preparing the annual budget describing all expenses incurred, which helps the JST obtain future funding. The officer also contributes to AdCom discussions that are aimed at determining the financial feasibility of JST events and prizes. The expenses of the JST have varied through the years around a mean of $1500.[au][av][aw][ax][ay][az][ba][bb][bc][bd]

The Education and Resources Committee: The Education and Resources (E&R) committee oversees the organization of safety events for the LSOs of the CEMS and CHEM departments. The events are held every other month during the academic year and culminate into a grand annual safety event in August, open to all members of both departments[be][bf][bg][bh] (staff, graduate students, postdoctoral associates, and professors). The committee members (one chair, four paid members, and an unlimited number of volunteers) determine the topics of each event and are responsible for the content and the subsequent organization of the events. The E&R committee has evolved from its initial role of solely providing safety information to that of organizing events that train researchers in several practical aspects of safety. The first academic meeting held in October typically covers the roles and responsibilities of LSOs as the meeting coincides with the most frequent LSO transition period.

Topics covered at the other meetings change every time and have included round-table discussions and other interactive activities to engage and maintain the interest of the attendees. Often, we ask the participation of professors either for specific training or for sharing their approach to safety (e.g., evolution of safety over the years since the 1950s by an Emeritus Professor https:// youtu.be/HwXQPdhToec). Additionally, the E&R committee manages and updates the Laboratory Safety Officers’ guidebook. This document explains the roles and responsibilities of the LSOs in their laboratories and contains hyperlinks in order to effectively provide the LSOs with all the resources necessary to support them in their function. Feedback[bi][bj][bk][bl] from participants is constantly sought to gauge the interest generated by a specific safety training and its format as well as to determine safety topics of interest ensuring true peer contributions. We found that interactive and entertaining activities help deliver safety messages efficiently.

Analysis and Compliance: The Analysis and Compliance (A&C) committee is devoted to preparing methodologies which promote safe behaviors and work environment in individual laboratories. he A&C committee coordinates the biannual peer-to-peer safety walkthroughs of the 53 experimental research laboratories[bm][bn] within the CEMS and CHEM departments aimed at evaluating laboratory safety compliance. The committee also administers the departmental safety surveys to encourage dialogue involving safety within both departments. The safety walkthroughs are peer-to-peer safety inspections organized in October and April every year and conducted by the LSOs. For the fall walkthroughs, LSOs from three to four groups are randomly teamed up, whereas in the spring, teams are selected based on the hazard classification. By randomizing the teams, the LSOs are better informed about hazards which they do not commonly encounter. Consequently, they engage in safety discussions and learn how specific hazards are dealt with (e.g., radiation, large scale reactions, high pressure reactors, biological hazards). The reports are then shared with the respective principal investigators and discussed with researchers within individual research groups. Deficiencies are expected to be addressed before the next walkthrough. Even though these walkthroughs[bo][bp][bq][br][bs][bt] do not obligate any safety improvements, we have found that comments and suggestions are generally followed, and overall safety improvement has been observed and noted in the laboratories compared to previous walkthrough assessments. A comparison of the safety areas which “need attention” between 2012 and 2019 show that the number of laboratories showing inadequate levels of safety has drastically reduced (Figure 6).

The A&C committee also conducts anonymous departmental safety surveys every semester including staff and faculty of both departments. The goal of these surveys is to obtain feedback about the general safety climate, specific aspects of laboratory safety, general suggestions, and for people to raise any other safety concerns. The results of the surveys are summarized and discussed with department heads for further discussion among the departmental faculty-led safety committees. For example, teaching assistants in the CHEM department had raised concerns about lack of adequate training for medical emergencies in a teaching laboratory setting. As a result, a step-by-step procedure highlighting the decisions to make and explaining the steps to take in the case of an emergency has been established and given to teaching assistants. [bu][bv]

Public Relations: The Public Relations (PR) committee was formed in 2013 as an addition to the E&R and A&C committees of the JST. Conforming with the informal JST motto of “making safety cool”, the PR committee functions as a medium of communication to establish safety as a common topic of research conversation. In addition to maintaining an active social media presence on Twitter (@UMNJST), the PR committee has utilized a variety of innovative means to inculcate safety into researchers. In 2016, the PR committee started publishing “stall wall moments”, which are letter-sized safety posters installed in the restrooms of both departments. A repository of all publications from the PR committee can be easily accessed through the JST website. The PR committee has also installed large (3 feet × 2 feet) safety posters across building hallways, stairwells, and common areas describing general safety procedures such as hazard pictograms, glove choices, data management, and building emergency evacuation plans. The committee strives to promote colloquial safety-related readings to encourage daily communication to further strengthen the safety culture. Surveys have consistently shown that “stall wall moments” and posters are efficient means of communication which convey available safety resources and provide commentary on relevant safety incidents to the student body on a daily basis. The PR committee has allowed the JST to become the visible face of safety in the two departments making it easier for all researchers to approach safety, not with apprehension, but with an inherent curiosity to learn and implement self- and community-wide safety improvements

Promotion of the Safety Culture[bw][bx][by]: Academic safety is known to lag behind industrial expectations due to the lack of dedicated resources and enforcement as well as a deficiency of a strong safety culture. The JST periodically organizes industrial visits to the DOW campus in Midland, MI and the Valspar Corporation (now Sherwin-Williams) corporation in Minneapolis, MN. The visits bolster the attitudes of the visiting students about safety and provide them with opportunities to gain insights into developing new safety protocols at their home laboratory. Furthermore, this JST peer-to-peer model has inspired departments at other universities to set up analogous organizations to promote safety through a similar model.

CONCLUSIONS AND OUTLOOK[bz][ca][cb][cc][cd][ce][cf][cg]

Although the JST is a well-established organization in 2020, several challenges inherent to academia remain unaddressed. The high turnover of laboratory members makes it difficult to perpetuate the safety culture and good safety practices. Enhancing participation from LSOs and non-LSOs in safety meetings also proves to be a difficult task. [ch][ci][cj][ck]The JST continuously works toward the development of innovative means to make “safety cool” and hence sustain the safety culture. The “inform and reform” model, i.e., the “Minnesota model” has been well supported by the feedback mechanisms to improve the information that is conveyed to researchers as well as ensure constant improvement in safety standards in the CEMS and CHEM departments. The feedback mechanism itself presents a new set of challenges including excess or lack of specificity of the questions[cl][cm][cn][co][cp][cq] and encouraging thoughtful feedback from researchers in addition to evaluation[cr]¨C96C¨C97C¨C98C¨C99C¨C100C¨C101C¨C102C of the JST activities provided solely based on a point scale¨C103C¨C104C.

[a]This work will hopefully be considered an added value to a person’s research education.

[b]I completely agree!

[c]Agreed!  

And again this is another area where I feel that funding mechanism influences the degree of latitude afforded to graduate students in relation to their time allocation.  Ones being supported off the research grant are often given less leniency for time spent not solely in pursuit of the grant deliverables.

[d]Agreed. Where you put the money is what gets the attention. Either (a) grant funders need to make safety education part of the grant or (b) the uni admin needs to step up and fund these efforts as part of functioning in the uni.

[e]Absolutely. The fact that we can allocate stipends for volunteers signals to everyone that this taken seriously and being supported by the higher ups

[f]Did anyone feel these concerns were legitimate? i.e. did someone has evidence that time was actually taken from research? Or was this just a general statement?

[g]Safety should be part of the research work. Tilak

[h]@jessica.a.martin@uconn.edu. While I wasn’t there at the time, I know of professors who in recent times have been worried about their students participating in student organizations in general. I think this worry comes up when students are involved in one of the JST committee’s rather than when serving as LSOs

[i]Jen Heemstra makes the point that the faculty member’s commitment should  be to the student’s professional development, not the amount of lab time the students put in. JST committee work is an important professional asset when it teaches administrative skills (leadership, budgeting, communication)

[j]I know of advisors who don’t support their students taking up leadership positions outside of the lab. I am not surprised some of the faculty members started complaining about the time their students spend out of the lab.

[k]Agree with Monica. This varies quite widely. In terms of Ralph’s comment, it does come back to questions around the purpose of the institution: As a PI, are you primarily there to deliver students or primarily there to deliver data?

[l]I think many would default to the later response, as it influences future funding.

[m]I think that is the sad reality. Grad school on paper is about getting a degree and growing as an individual, but not every PI sees it that way

[n]I think it depends on how broadly you are considering the picture. This is constantly talked about in organizational literature. If you focus on product, you will make money in the short-term. If you focus on supporting your employees, you will typically make more money in the long-term. Better environment = more productivity if you are looking at the long game.

[o]The ACS did a study in 2014 of graduate education that is very interesting to read in light of this issue. The study was led by corporate science leaders and voted strongly for broader education rather than data-oriented training

[p]That is really interesting Ralph. Do you have a link to that study?

[q]What is the value of these stipends? For example, do the members do the JST activities INSTEAD OF teaching? Or are they additional supplements to standard funding mechanisms?

[r]Also, is there a means of judging whether or not paid JST members have “earned their pay” so to speak?

[s]The stipends are $200 per semester, so they do not replace teaching. The committee chair keeps track of attendance to committee meetings, of which there are usually five each semester. The member loses $40 for every meeting missed

[t]Are these solely researchers, or have there been other univ admin staff joining too?

[u]They have been solely researchers. We have tried to ensure that we stay student led so far. We do have a DEHS personal and department staff who support us, but at the end of the day the team is researcher led

[v]We have found that participation of and leadership from more permanent staff is quite useful.

[w]While it is important to have more permanent members stay up-to-date and interested in the LSTs, the thing that sets the LSTs apart from other types of committees is that it is graduate student and postdoc led. This has been incredibly important in order to encourage honest conversation and evaluation from those on the frontline in these labs.

[x]I agree with Anthony in that I’ve found substantial value in engagement and involvement with more permanent staff.

I’m not recommending a change in structure from a leadership and organizational perspective.  But I do feel that having engagement and participation from career staff is value-added and can serve in areas of continuity and knowledge transfer.

[y]Our old DEHS staff representative was very essential to our success as well, and we felt a big hit when she left the university. Having that reperseenitve be present at our meetings and advocate for us was extremely helpful. The most important distinction is that they serve in a supportive role, but the organization as a whole is still researcher led

[z]Who does this representative tend to be? A scientist? Administrative staff person?

[aa]It is a DEHS administrative stuff. They usually have some background in science however

[ab]Additionally, do you have any sense what is “in it” for the company to be this involved? I have found that we struggle to get much traction in building relationships with local companies – beyond giving us tours of the facility (which is usually thought of as a recruitment opportunity to them so is typically run through HR).

[ac]I think it is more or less PR for them too. They employ a lot of grad students, so it does help them to have their future employees trained in proper safety practices

[ad]I suppose it may depend on how heavily they anticipate recruiting for 1 particular program at 1 particular school…?

[ae]Yeah they are very involved in the two department where we operate. They have recruitment events and even collaborations with some of our faculty

[af]At Cornell, I was able to arrange a safety-oriented tour of Corning labs for chem engineering students. They were disappointed that they didn’t get to hear about cutting edge research (aka trade secrets) as well as working expectations…

[ag]Well – if they thought they were going to hear trade secrets, they may need a bit more education on how companies run :). I have been on tours in which they were essentially led by HR & we didn’t get to see anything cool which were terrible. I have been on other tours that have involved researchers and we got to actually go around the facility and discuss details of the work. If our questions go to something proprietary, they would say essentially, “can’t answer that – but here’s what I can say.” Those were extremely valuable tours in terms of thinking about how companies operate and what possibilities existed for career options for researchers.

[ah]I have found that it takes an entirely different vocabulary to say what you are interested in doing in academia versus what you are interested in doing in industry.

[ai]Yes, the grad students were disappointed that they were being educated  about safety vocabulary rather than technical fields where their strengths already were. With this in mind, I could have done a better job in setting expectations for the visit.

[aj]The unhappy response was “well, I missed a day in the lab for this”

[ak]I have found that our lab tours attract far more international students than domestic students. Everyone has expressed appreciation for the tours and the ability to connect – I definitely do realize that the students are going on the tours to make connections in companies (not for the love of learning about safety), however, I also think it is good that the two (safety + employability) are being shown together and necessarily connected to each other.

[al]We usually organize tours to Sherwin Williams that along the same lines. It about highlighting the safety practices there and also a recruitment event for the the company. We have gotten mixed responses are well in the past

[am]Employability = meeting industrial level expectation = part of a person’s research education?

[an]I think in an ideal world it would be, but safely safety adherence gets often overlooked in academic settings

[ao]There are also quite a few PIs who do not think of it as their job to prepare their students for work  in industry.

[ap]There are quite a few PIs who wouldn’t know what industry needs. My master’s adviser went on sabbatical year to an industrial position and came back 6 months early because he and the corporate world didn’t get  along

[aq]Do we even have a “definable” idea of what industry is looking for? Safety is too broad for those academics who have never worked in industry.

[ar]While I think that it is a good idea to get a feel for the “definables”, I also think a lot of the problem is actually centered around the basics: wear your freakin’ PPE; don’t do stuff in the lab without telling other people what you will be doing.

[as]Yeah I think the main thing that we got from DOW and Sherwin Williams was to have researchers go with a safety oriented mindset, and being willing to adhere to safe practices outlined by the companies. That is why the core of what we advocate is the safety culture above everything else

[at]Personally, it was weird for me to go from undergrad where you are constantly watched to grad where you are NEVER watched. The companies I have worked with, there was an expectation that people were going to be around sort of keeping an eye on you, but it was also your job to be an adult and communicate with others. Personally, I found this REALLY GREAT because I learned so much more from the people around me.

[au]This seems like a very doable, yearly investment. Any idea on ROI?

[av]Are there any critical “donations” of space, resources, etc?

[aw]I am assuming that this amount does not include the stipends. 🙂

[ax]What do you mean with ROI? In terms of space, we have not needed any dedicated space so far. Any supplies that we have needed to keep we have kept in a box that one of the committee members keeps in one of their offices.

[ay]Yes that is correct Jessica

[az]ROI = return on investment

[ba]I would imagine that all of the press and attention UMN gets for this work is likely the ROI to be expected – and all of this attention resulting from a few thousand dollars is likely viewed as remarkably good ROI.

[bb]I agree with Jessica. I think the department is very happy with the exposure that we get and uses us a recruitment device. I also think the simple fact that people generally feel safer in their lab spaces is well worth it

[bc]Are these costs solely operational/administrative, and not reflective of any other incentive expenditures (e.g. monetary awards)?

[bd]The costs are split between posters, awards, and food. There is a figure in the paper that breaks these down in more detail

[be]Is space limited?  If not, is there interest for participation from other departments/organized research units?

[bf]The space is not at all limited. We have currently started a new committee dedicated to outreach, and we plan to start inviting students from local PUIs

[bg]Excellent, I hope that others find value and choose to participate.

[bh]I hope so as well!

[bi]It would be interesting to see the list of topics covered where student interest was the greatest. Also, are these meetings mandatory or optional for students in these departments?

[bj]We do send out surveys after these events to gauge interest, but we do not get a lot of response. These events are mandatory for LSOs, but open to all researchers

[bk]While I know it doesn’t “feel” like data gathering, I have found it far more useful to have our JST members (and EHS staff) floating around during events eavesdropping on conversations and explicitly asking for people’s feedback rather than handing out surveys. Not only do we get more response, the responses are actually much more useful and informative – especially when I engage people who have been “voluntold” to be there but are clearly not enjoying it. You gotta be ready for the real criticism with that approach though :).

[bl]Yeah I try to do this during our events where we have group discussions. I participate as a researcher and not as the president of the JST, and I think that helps me gauge people’s attitudes a little bit. This was easier when everything was in person though

[bm]Is this lab spaces or lab groups? (i.e. my 1 lab group has 3 separate lab spaces that are all situated next to one another – the 3 spaces are inspected separately by EHS).

[bn]We do it by groups. The idea is that each group gets a review of how safe they are that they can discuss together afterwards

[bo]Is there is any checklist for the walkthrough, how do you gauge the safety improvements

[bp]Yes. We have a sample sheet in the SI. It is constantly being revised and each category has a detailed rubric. The A&C committee also analyze the results each year and reports that information to the heads of the two departments

[bq]Have these results been used to identify department-wide pain points or issues that are more appropriately addressed on a department level or university level – rather than just individual lab issues?

[br]We have identified issues on the department level that we have addressed or are currently addressing. One big issue in the past was cluttered which we did an event targeting in the past and did a good job of minimizing. We have also had issues come up with electronics and old waste, and so we have brought up those issues in our events. We are currently working on creating hazard specific walkthrough rubrics

[bs]This is an excellent program!

[bt]Thank you!

[bu]It is really good to see that this produced an effective feedback loop.

[bv]Yes we are very lucky in that we have a lot of support from the departments, and that they are willing to listen to the issues that we bring up and try to address them

[bw]Have there been or are there plans to expand to other departments?

[bx]We are currently working in talks with the college of pharmacy to try to implement a safety team there. There are the closes to us in terms of research, but they have their own set of challenges such as being spread out all over campus

[by]This is an interesting example, in that pharmacy’s have product safety certification requirements as well as lab safety concerns. This might provide another angle to foster in that department

[bz]The ultimate purpose of a JST is to inculcate safety into the students as they progress in their careers. With about 8-9 years history in this project, is there any follow-up of graduates who are now a few years into their post-graduate career?

[ca]Great point!

[cb]I don’t know a lot of the original organizers, but I do know of a few. One of the DEHS positions have been field with a previous member of the JST, and there is actually another DEHS position that I know a graduating member of the JST is seeking. I also know that several members ended up in different industries where they continue to advocate for safety in their new roles. Good point though, I will try to reach out to some of the past members though and compile a list of stories

[cc]This is a really good idea. While it is neat to see some of these folks become safety professionals, I think it would be really important to see some of them go into more traditional roles but have their JST experience influence how they act in that role.

[cd]Are the opportunities associated with JST involvement discussed with potential students? Or when recruiting new faculty?

[ce]I hope, and the reason I strongly support JSTs, that the next generation of PIs and lead scientists include safety in their science view. Measuring that will have a strong indication of the success of the JST endeavor.

[cf]@Ralp Stuart, One of our biggest recruitment tactics is to say that involvement in the JST looks great on a resume and allows you to network with safety professionals.

[cg]@Neal I completely agree. We have gotten to the point where the JST is embedded into the fabric of the two departments and taken for granted. Our biggest measure of success has been the surveys that we send out, and how people feel about the safety conditions of their work environments

[ch]What kinds of things have you tried?

[ci]More interactive activities such as safety demos was a big hit. We have also tried to do hazard specific panels as well as invite outside speakers. According to our rules we are supposed to penalize LSOs who do not attend, but we have not implemented that because we didn’t want to add another source of stress to our LSOs during a pandemic

[cj]I would think it wouldn’t make sense to have penalties for non-attendance – goes against the spirit of the whole thing! I recall Texas A&M’s team used “Safety Moments” to start meetings that were focused on a particular technique or piece of equipment – for example, they started with glovebox safety. After kicking off with the Safety Moment, they would open it up for everyone to share questions, ways they had dealt with different challenges, etc. I really liked this idea because it was more specific for people who had those particular challenges so I would think they would get more from it as opposed to always focusing on the safety stuff that all of us share.

[ck]That’s an interesting idea. We try to start our events with safety moments, and all of our departmental seminars also begin with safety moments, but we do not open the floor for discussion afterwards. In the past we have had specific topic events such as Schlenk lines, glove boxes, vacuum pumps, etc, and those we do get good attendance for

[cl]This is a core skill for professionals in general and safety professionals in particular to develop. It is not easy and is done by trial and error. So it is good to hear that this is being experienced at the grad student level

[cm]Yes we are constantly improving our skill level. The big issue is that a lot of the lessons that we learn get lost due to the high turnover rate that we hava

[cn]There are commercial half day and full professional development courses around these issues available that can be useful in the early stages of ones career. Perhaps the departments could support scholarships to them.

[co]That would be an awesome way to bolster the “value” of high participation in the JST as well.

[cp]That is a good idea. I think the department is not willing to pay any extra money right now due to budget cuts and COVID, but potentially when the pandemic is over we could pursue that route

[cq]There is also the possibility of seeking out what is already happening and then inviting/incentivizing your LSO folks to go. So many of the issues that come up for JSTs have to do with communication, handling difficult conversations, managing up, etc – and I certainly know there are other departments at UConn who do a much better job of creating these events than my department does. The events are typically open to all departments – although I have been at PLENTY of these types of events/trainings in which I am the sole Chem person (even though we are one of the largest departments on campus) and sometimes even the sole STEM person. If my Chair actually valued this type of training, even light encouragement from him could increase those numbers.

[cr]How did the recent incident impact the JST? Was there a sense of failure?

[cs]Which one are you referring to?

[ct]dec 4 2020 chemistry explosion?

[cu]Yeah there was definitely a sense of failure as a result of that incident. One the biggest one was that it took a lot of time for anyone to communicate what happened with  us, and so it was months after before we could say something to the LSOs about it, which angered a lot of people

[cv]What was the cause of this incident, can you briefly explain

[cw]The fact that this delay in communication angered a lot of people is in itself progress! Stuff happens in our department all the time that doesn’t get discussed or shared in an official capacity – and no one is angry about it because it is just so normalized for us to not be in that conversation.

[cx]The researcher ran a Fischer esterification with two new substrates on a 35g scale. They felt safe because they had runt he reaction with different substrates on a similar scale in the past. The reaction involved adding propargyl alcohol to a sulfuric acid mixture and heating to 70C. after 30 minutes the reaction detonated. The researcher did not have a lab coat on and had several cuts and burns. Luckily there were other group members there who helped the researcher use the safety shower and then seek emergency help

[cy]I agree Jessica. It definitely is a step in the right direction. There is still room for improvement though!

[cz]Have you made any efforts to encourage feedback by a mechanism other than surveys?

[da]We have recently started doing a semesterly LSO forum. This in an event where all LSOs are invited to come together and share any issues that they are encountering

CHAS at a Glance, Spring 2021

The CHAS at Glance handout for the Spring 2021 ACS National Meeting is now available

Highlights of the program for this meeting are:

  • 3 Chemical Health and Safety Symposia on Thursday, April 8
    • Systems Thinking in Chemical Health and Safety
    • 2020 Chemical Health and Safety Awards
    • Safety Across the Scientific Disciplines: Where are the Successes, and What Needs Improvements
  • 4 Cannabis Chemistry Symposia on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, April 5-7
    • Advancements in Cannabis Analytical Methods 
    • Women in Cannabis: Shaping an Emerging Industry
    • The 2021 ElSohly Award Symposium Sponsored by Heidolph North America
    • Cannabis Derived Treatments for Specific Medical Conditions: Macromolecular Interactions and Justifications
  • 3 SCI-MIX papers on Friday, April 9
  • The CHAS EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE MEETING on Thursday, April 15. 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. PDT.
  • CHAS DISCUSSIONS and NETWORKING EVENTS
    • DCHAS Networking, April 8
    • Getting the most out of professional events, April 12
    • Preparing your NSF GRFP application, April 14
    • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in health and safety, April 21
    • Writing safety statements for publication, April 22

Please join us for any of these events that interest you!

ACS CHAS Workshop: Empowering academic researchers to strengthen safety culture

This 4-hour workshop is primarily directed at frontline researchers in academic institutions: graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and undergraduate students. Faculty and safety staff are also very much encouraged to participate.

Workshop goals are to:

  • Educate participants about the value of risk assessment
  • Guide participants towards gaining awareness of safety culture messages from the leadership at their institutions
  • Empower participants to expand their safety networks and develop laboratory safety teams.

The next workshop is scheduled for Saturday, June 5, 2021 from 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM Eastern Time. The workshop is $25 per participant. To register for this workshop date, please follow this link to our Eventbrite registration page. If you have any questions about the workshop, please email lstworkshop@dchas.org. 

For more information:

To see our Zotero list of Lab Safety Team resources. visit this page.

For information about the history of the workshop, visit this page.

Anaphylaxis Induced by Peptide Coupling Agents

On WEDNESDAY, March 24 the CHAS Art and State of Safety Journal Club discussed the paper “Anaphylaxis induced by peptide coupling agents: Lessons learned from repeated exposure to HATU, HBTU, and HCTU.” 1st author Kate McKnelly led this discussion on this paper.The full paper can be found at this link: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.joc.9b03280. Comments on the table read are found below.

INTRODUCTION After working for years with peptide coupling agents HATU, HBTU, and HCTU[a][b],[c][d] a twenty-seven-year old female researcher (K.J.M.) developed life-threatening anaphylaxis. She began working with the aforementioned peptide coupling agents in May 2015. During the next few years, she worked heavily with these uronium peptide coupling agents. In March 2016, she began developing allergy symptoms of sneezing, coughing, and a runny nose. During the next couple of years, her symptoms progressed[e] to the point of anaphylaxis. These coupling agents are especially insidious because a severe allergy developed slowly over the course of three and a half years of exposure to the point of a life-threatening incident.

About one and a half years after beginning to work with these coupling agents, she noticed she had allergy symptoms when she weighed out coupling agents and Fmoc-protected amino acids for use in solid-phase peptide synthesis. In July[f][g] 2018, she began suspecting she was becoming allergic to coupling agents because she experienced sneezing and a runny nose immediately after spilling HCTU onto her glove. It was not until September 2018 that she experienced her first brush with allergy-induced anaphylaxis. She was at the weekly research group meeting in a seminar room down the corridor from the laboratory, and she began wheezing slightly. The wheezing was fleeting and went away after the group meeting when she left the building. A couple of weeks later, she started wheezing as she drove two labmates home. This time, the wheezing was louder—her labmates could also hear it—so she took the antihistamine diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) to stop the reaction. Within 20 min, she could no longer hear wheezing.

Finally, in late October 2018, the researcher sat down at her desk in the lab and almost immediately began coughing, sneezing, feeling tightness in her throat, and subsequently wheezing. She attempted to remove herself from whatever she was exposed to in the lab and moved down the hallway to an office outside the lab. Once there, she continued reacting, and the wheezing progressed until she could hear a rattling wheezing sound when breathing through her nose. She immediately left the lab to obtain diphenhydramine. As[h] she exited the building, her symptoms stopped progressing. An hour after taking diphenhydramine, the wheezing subsided completely. In hindsight,[i][j][k] she should have called 911 for emergency medical help, because a throat-closing anaphylactic reaction can occur quickly, sometimes so quickly that there is barely enough time to avoid fatality.

How did this happen? How could this have been prevented?[l][m][n][o][p][q][r] We have been tackling these questions since the incident occurred. We provide this case study as a cautionary note about the potential hazards from chemical exposure that can develop over time and sneak up on a researcher. We first sought to determine what caused this anaphylactic reaction to occur. We then adjusted how peptide coupling agents were handled in the lab to minimize exposure and attempt to prevent other researchers from becoming sensitized as well. In sharing our experience here, we hope to contribute to the widespread implementation of standard operating procedures for peptide coupling agents and protect others who work with them.

LITERATURE SEARCH

We first scoured the literature for information on sensitization by peptide coupling agents HATU, HBTU, and HCTU and Fmoc-protected amino acids. Information regarding sensitization varied among chemical supplier material safety data sheets (MSDSs). HATU is reported to cause skin, eye, and respiratory irritation and is denoted by an exclamation mark hazard symbol. HBTU is reported to cause respiratory sensitization. HCTU is not reported to have known toxic effects. [s][t][u][v][w][x][y]We found only nine published cases of sensitization by the uronium coupling agents HATU and HBTU and none by HCTU or by Fmoc-protected amino acids. The first reported case implicating uronium coupling agents as chemical sensitizers came in 2003. Yung et al. described a researcher at a university that first developed eye irritation, a runny nose, and coughing (rhinitis) after weighing HBTU. Her symptoms progressed over the course of 2 weeks, developing into chest tightness, a cough, and skin rashes (urticaria) and culminating in sore, red itchy eyes, coughing, sneezing, and urticaria within 1 h of being in the laboratory. The researcher was tested with skin prick tests for allergies to HATU, HBTU, and HCTU because all chemicals were present in the lab. She tested positive for sensitivity to HATU and HBTU but negative for HCTU and various Fmoc-protected amino acids[z][aa]. Because the researcher did not exhibit sensitivity to HCTU, the authors suggested that this uronium coupling agent may be a safer alternative for widespread use. Other publications report that HCTU is nontoxic and nonirritating.

The other published instances of chemical sensitization to uronium coupling agents have involved HBTU exclusively. In 2003, another researcher, this time in a pharmaceutical plant, developed occupational rhinitis and bronchial asthma from HBTU and TBTU, which is identical to HBTU except for the counterion. The allergies were confirmed by positive skin prick and nasal challenge tests. In 2005, Bousquet et al. reported a chemistry researcher who developed allergic rhinitis and dermatitis on the hands and fingers which then progressed over the course of a year to include his face, upper back, neck, elbows, and ankles. The authors confirmed the researchers’ sensitivity to HBTU through patch testing and found he was not allergic to dimethylformamide, dichloromethane, acetonitrile, triisopropylsilane, HATU, or BOP. From 2006 to 2010, six more instances of chemical sensitization from HBTU were reported with similar respiratory and skin reactions. One example, in 2006, involved a university researcher developing an anaphylactic response to HBTU over the course of three years, similar to the case reported in this paper. All of these examples were published in allergy and other medical journals, which are not generally read by researchers who use peptide coupling agents.[ab][ac][ad][ae][af][ag]

EXPERIMENTAL CONFIRMATION

We suspected that peptide coupling agents caused K.J.M.’s allergic reactions. An allergist and clinical immunologist (W.S.) tested the researcher for allergies to a panel of over 60 allergens by skin prick tests to determine if common environmental allergens accounted for her anaphylaxis. She was only slightly allergic to two environmental allergens, but not so allergic that they would cause anaphylaxis. Skin prick tests were then performed to determine if she was allergic to HATU, HBTU, HCTU, DCC, Fmoc-leucine–OH, Fmoc-phenylalanine–OH, and Fmoc-asparagine(Trt)–OH. The researcher worked with most of the canonical amino acids in their Fmoc-protected forms, so three were chosen as representative amino acids. DCC was included as a control because it is a notorious sensitizer that the researcher had never previously worked with.

As hypothesized, the researcher had severe positive allergic reactions to uronium peptide coupling agents but only mild responses to Fmoc-protected amino acids. The coupling agents HATU, HBTU, and HCTU all caused the formation of large hives, comparable in size to those formed by the histamine positive control. DCC did not cause any reaction, which is not surprising as the researcher was never previously exposed to DCC. Fmoc-leucine–OH, Fmoc-phenylalanine–OH, and Fmoc-asparagine(Trt)–OH all elicited minor reactions and produced hives much smaller in size than the histamine positive control. The lack of a strong reaction to the Fmoc-protected amino acids is not surprising, as they are not known chemical sensitizers.

ANALYSIS

This paper serves as the first reported case of chemical sensitization resulting in anaphylaxis from three common uronium coupling agents: HATU, HBTU, and HCTU. The sensitized researcher (K.J.M.) can no longer work in her research lab. She cannot go into the building where the lab exists; the hallways, rooms, and common spaces all cause her to react, first with a runny nose and throat tightness and then with wheezing.[ah][ai][aj][ak][al][am] Her allergic response is so severe that she risks anaphylaxis whenever exposed to these coupling agents, and she now must carry an epinephrine autoinjector (generic EpiPen) as a safety precaution whenever she is near researchers actively working with peptide coupling agents. She has become sensitive to colleagues who have been in her research laboratory and must be careful to ask them to change their clothes and in some cases wash or cover their hair to prevent her exposure to the pervasive coupling agents. These events prompted the research group as a whole to re-evaluate how the group handles peptide coupling agents and to change their standard operating procedures to prevent group members from becoming sensitized to coupling agents.

Chemical sensitization causes an immune response in the form of reactions as mild as seasonal allergy symptoms, like rhinitis, and as severe as dermatitis and anaphylaxis. Many[an][ao][ap][aq][ar] chemical sensitizers are chemicals that can modify human proteins. All reactive compounds that can modify proteins should be treated as potential sensitizers unless they are known with certainty to be safe. In spite of this hazard, most researchers do not treat compounds that can react with proteins with proper precautions. Peptide coupling agents are prime examples.

Peptide coupling agents induce the formation of an amide bond from the reaction of a carboxylic acid group with an amine group. The coupling agents react with the carboxylic acid and activate it for subsequent attack by a nucleophilic amine. After the amine reacts with the activated carboxylic acid, an amide bond forms. Human proteins display multiple carboxylic acid groups (e.g., glutamic acid and aspartic acid) and amine-containing groups (e.g., lysine) in the form of amino acid residues at protein surfaces. The reactivity of coupling agents toward amino acid residues primes them to cause sensitization by modifying proteins in the human body.

The carbodiimide coupling agent DCC (dicyclohexylcarbodiimide) is a notorious chemical sensitizer with a long history of causing sensitization. DCC was first reported as a peptide coupling agent by Sheehan and Hess in 1955. It quickly grew in popularity due to the ease with which it induced the formation of peptide bonds. Soon after its introduction, a publication reported that DCC caused three cases of allergy-induced skin rashes (contact dermatitis) in 1959. Zschunke and Folesky subsequently reported seven cases of DCC-induced contact dermatitis in a pharmaceutical plant in 1975. In 1979, two independent cases of DCC sensitivities were published in the journal Contact Dermatitis. In one case, a lab worker developed a blistering eruption rash on his hands and forearms, and in the second case, a research chemist developed a rash over nearly his entire body that persisted for five days before he was hospitalized. Since 1979, 11 more cases were reported of DCC causing similar skin contact allergic reactions. In one of these cases, the researcher also developed sensitivity to diisopropylcarbodiimide (DIC) and suffered a vesiculopapular rash on his cheeks and the backs of his hands from both DCC and DIC. The authors of each of these reported cases confirmed sensitization with skin patch tests.

The many reports of DCC sensitization lead to toxicology testing to confirm the hazard it poses to human health. DCC and DIC were nominated for testing by the National Toxicology Program in 1993. Hayes et al. then tested DCC and DIC on the skin of mice for their potential as sensitizers and in 1998 reported sensitization at concentrations as low as 0.006% (w/v) for DCC and 0.3% (w/v) for DIC. Another report in 2002 confirmed DCC and DIC as sensitizers to mice when examining the mechanism of DCC- and DIC-induced chemical sensitization. In 2011,[as][at][au] Surh et al. further characterized DCC and DIC for toxicity and carcinogenicity and determined that both DCC and DIC caused skin sensitivity in rats and mice, but only DCC exhibited carcinogenicity. The detrimental health effects of the peptide coupling agents DCC and DIC are worrisome for anyone who handles them.

HATU, HBTU, and HCTU were developed between the late 1970s and the early 2000s and are now widely used as coupling agents in peptide synthesis. Despite being implicated as sensitizers in at least ten reported cases, including the current one, they have not been rigorously tested for their immunogenic and toxicological properties.

LABORATORY ACTION PLAN

In response to the sensitization of K.J.M., we developed standard operating procedures to handle HATU, HBTU, and HCTU more safely. We found guidelines for handling sensitizers, which recommended never opening sensitizers outside of a fume hood and minimizing exposure if handling them outside of a fume hood. Our lab dedicated a portion of a fume hood to weighing out coupling agents and amino acids and placed a balance in the hood[av].[aw][ax][ay] A waste container was placed in this fume hood as a receptacle for weighing paper and other materials contaminated by coupling agents or Fmoc-protected amino acids. Coupling agents and amino acids are transferred into sealable containers before removal to individual researchers’ fume hoods. As with other standard operating procedures for handling hazardous chemicals, personal protective equipment (PPE) in the form of a lab coat, eye protection, and disposable gloves [az][ba][bb][bc][bd]should be worn at all times when handling coupling agents. We anticipate that these procedures will reduce the risk of other researchers becoming sensitized in the future.[be][bf][bg][bh][bi][bj][bk][bl][bm][bn][bo]

Any research lab that performs peptide synthesis should take extra precautions to avoid exposing researchers to coupling agents. The Supporting Information provides a standard operating procedure to handle peptide coupling agents more safely in the research laboratory by minimizing exposure[bp].

CONCLUSION

Peptide coupling agents, regardless of whether they are carbodiimide reagents, uronium reagents, phosphonium reagents, etc., all perform the same chemical function of facilitating amide bond formation and therefore can all covalently modify human proteins. If a chemical can modify human proteins, it is a prime candidate as an immune sensitizer, even if it is not a known sensitizer. We hope that our laboratory’s experience of the hazards of HATU, HBTU, and HCTU will serve as a cautionary note to those working with any peptide coupling agents.

[a]I see that PF6- is frequently the counter ion. Was this tested as an allergen?

[b]In second paragraph of the literature search part they mention a researcher who became sensitized to both HBRU and TBTU, which has a different counter ions, so while it sounds like the counter ion wasn’t tested for specifically, it doesn’t seem to be the culprit here. This makes sense since the counter ions do not partake in the coupling reaction and only has a slight influence on coupling efficiency

[c]What is the best practices to handle these coupling agents? Tilak

[d]This is discussed towards the end – also if you are interested in the protocol they shared, that is in the SI if you follow the link to the paper.

[e]Why it is important to pay special attention to unusual symptoms.

[f]and report symptoms

[g]Reporting symptoms early is also important for legal (i.e. Workers Comp) reasons

[h]Another scenario I have seen a lab worker suffer was a techinician in a electron microscopy lab. She accidently brushed her hand against a container of an epoxy they used to set up samples for the microscope and didn’t think anything of it. The next day when she can to work, her fingers started itching and keep getting worse for a week. She eventually had to leave that job.

The difference from this report is that it was a single exposure that led to the sensitization rather than repeated exposure over time.

[i]Why it is important to keep an eye on our colleagues as well and ask questions. As wild as this sounds, it is so easy for us to dismiss our own symptoms as minor even if we would be incredibly concerned about those same symptoms if we observed them in another person!

[j]A lab tech reported to me a situation in which she and a colleague were transferring insect samples between killing jars which contained 70% ethanol in the open lab. After about half an hour, she noticed that her partner was getting goofy. She then realized that they were both getting drunk from breathing the ethanol that was evaporating as they did the transfers. It’s not likely that she would have noticed this without seeing that her partner was being affected.

[k]Really good point. Also, would she have noticed her own symptoms if she had been working alone? Could’ve just interpreted this as tiredness.

[l]Would a system where researchers can report any symptoms as soon as they occur would have prevented it from getting worse?

[m]I suppose it depends on whether or not people use the system, how easy it is to use, who they are reporting to – as well as how seriously the person themselves takes their own symptoms.

[n]There are many places the someone can be exposed to allergens and the pattern they describe in the paper is more evident in retrospect than as it occurs. Animal care workers have prospective monitoring for allergies to the mice, etc. they work with, but that doesn’t prevent many from having to retire from this profession due to allergies acquired over time

[o]When I was working at the USDA, I learned of multiple people who developed allergies to moth scales over time due to a protocol in regular use that essentially required them to gently suck moths into the tip of a tube in order to move them. Gross to think about now (I never did this), but it was standard practice for a long time and many still do it this way.

[p]I have seen similar techniques outside of the chemistry lab setting. I haven’t had any lab person defend mouth-pipetting of chemicals to me since about 2005; perhaps it is a past practice, at least in academia? I’d like to think so.

[q]I knew people doing this when I was working there up through 2016!

[r]I’ve never actually seen anyone mouth pipette chemicals, so I believe the campaign against that has been a bit more effective.

[s]So “looking up the SDS” provided no information in this case.

[t]GHS SDSs should include information about sensitization, but I suspect that a chemical supplier wouldn’t add that content to a SDS based on “anecdotal evidence”. I suspect that there would need to be a published peer review study before the information was added to a SDS.

[u]Well – that is my point. We are here working on the cutting edge, but official documentation like SDSs will be necessarily behind. I cringe every time a grad student tells me “well I just looked up the SDSs and carried on” w/o having talked to ANYONE ELSE about their projects.

[v]Toxicology studies will always lag behind the introduction of new reagents. Maybe it would help to have a recognition of what classes of chemicals could be potent sensitizers and apply the precautionary principle to those.  Here’s an example: “First, a chemical with dermal sensitization potential has to be able to penetrate into the skin—meaning it must have a low molecular weight, usually less than one kilodalton—and induce or elicit an immune response by being chemically reactive and electrophilic with skin proteins.”  (from: https://synergist.aiha.org/201911-dermal-sensitizers)  I understand that the above is broad, but it’s a start.  Peptide coupling agents certainly fit the bill.

[w]It is interesting that in most cases there was little allergic reaction to HCTU, but much more severe reactions to HATU and HBTU. I wonder if once one is sensitized to the latter there is an allergic reaction to HCTU? This was the case in this study.

[x]It is also so hard to know how many people experienced these symptoms and did not connect them to exposure to these agents – so they have effectively gone unreported.

[y]I think form a chemical standpoint that would make sense. HCTU is essentially HBTU with an added chlorine, so it’s not a stretch to believe that the immune system recognizes both of these reagents in the same manner

[z]Anyone doing work with coupling reactions for peptide. peptide-mimics ought to have training on sensitizers since most of these are amines which cause sensitization

[aa]Who determines this? When I sent this article to our chemical safety specialists, they were surprised to see it! As were the members of the 1 lab I know in our building that works with these.

[ab]Another frustration with “the literature.” Safety information about chemicals doesn’t seem to have a home – it is scattered throughout so many different places that it can be easily missed by the people who need to know the information. Case in point: This case study was published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry!

[ac]These should have been posted in C&EN. That was often done during that time period as a way to alert the general chemical community. Part of the other problem is that many biochemists don’t read ACS publications.

[ad]https://cen.acs.org/safety/lab-safety/Peptide-coupling-agents-cause-severe/98/web/2020/01

[ae]It took until 202 for this to come out in C&EN?

[af]2020

[ag]While it made the rounds at the time, there are plenty of undergrads and grads working in labs who aren’t reading C&EN. C&EN is a pretty specialized resource. When I was working in a molecular genetics lab, I hadn’t even heard of C&EN.

[ah]Is there that much of the sensitizer floating around the building? Why weren’t they working with this in the hood???

[ai]Hoods are not black holes. For example, when it comes to powders they can disrupt use of the material because of the air movement in the work area

[aj]We have seen similar reports in other settings. Usually anecdotal and not as clearly documented as this. Review the literature on “multiple chemical sensitivities”. I frequently have trouble with these reports as the claims seem very wild. However, we know that sub-picomol levels of agents such as we are discussing here can induce an allergic Rx in hyper-sensitive people.

[ak]Taysir shared a comment below on why these are difficult to work with in hoods.

[al]Agree with Ralph.  The appropriate engineering control for working with or weighing powders are enclosures with HEPA filtration design for that purpose, not fume hoods.

[am]Like Neal, I remember the emergence of the idea of Multiple Chemical Sensitivies and how much this confused the EHS world. There was a weird mix of science and pseudo-science that we were required to react to in addressing situations both in the lab and outside it

[an]A question this paragraph raises for me as a trainer is whether I should call attention to the chemical properties of the material the way this article does or whether I should alert people to the symptoms that they should be alert to as warning signs. The OSHA lab standard suggests training peiople on “signs and symptoms” rather than focusing on chemcials

[ao]Would it be better to do both? If one knows the symptoms but not the agent, then there could a wide range of things that could lead to these symptoms, even some not in the lab. It seems like there really needs to be causality established.

[ap]I would also think that this would be considered when discussing the design of experiments and lab protocols. You don’t want to wait until someone is having symptoms to do something about it.

[aq]I feel like the safety aspects of the research carried out in the lab doesn’t get discussed enough , even in group meetings. It’s only after something terrible has happened. I’m wondering how this culture can be affected.

[ar]Monica – that is a fundamental point of the increased interest among grad students in safety. As they move on to their careers they will become the safety leaders.

[as]1955 to 2011 – it is pretty wild to see how long it can take for a regularly used chemical to be recognized for the harm it can cause. This is important to keep in mind as we work on the cutting edge of scientific experimentation!

[at]Part of the problem, again, may be in the communication forums used during that time. I wonder if some of the more common social media will make this easier now…

[au]I may not be following the correct social media, I don’t see a lot of lab procedure information there. Where would one look for these stories?

[av]The measures taken are pretty basic – and involve things that are now available in virtually ALL labs. This is another important consideration.

[aw]Is there a process for decontaminating the balance and hoods in place? Can the agents be deactivated by other chemicals?

[ax]I believe bleach will not work with these chemicals, may be cleaning by ethanol is the best solution

[ay]We generally use methanol followed by water

[az]Since some of the agents are known to cause respiratory distress, would a face mask or any type of respiratory protection help?

[ba]We have been using N95 masks when working with these reagents. I don’t have any data to support this practice though

[bb]This will need fit tested

[bc]Yup, DEHS at my institution provides that testing

[bd]I suspect that the allergeric reactions could be triggered by skin exposure and other environmental contamination as much as respiratory exposure. The NP95 masks will help by avoiding cross contamination from your hands to your face, which may be helpful

[be]As a result of this paper, I convinced my group to buy a new balance to keep in the hood for weighing out HCTU and to follow the suggested protocol. The issue we ran into is that due to the hood flood it takes a very long time for the balance to tare. Since our peptide synthesizer is cartridge based we have to weigh the coupling reagent individually for each amino acid. As a result, it now takes days instead of hours to finish weighing all the amino acids. Many researchers in our lab have instead elected to wear N95 masks when weighing the coupling reagent instead of using the hood balance

[bf]That is interesting. We didn’t have any hoods in my lab with balances in them, but I have used them in other labs and had no issues with them taring. I’m wondering now what made the difference.

[bg]Probably due to our hoods being ancient to be honest. I am not happy about this solution, but I understand why people go for it

[bh]generally it is difficult to weigh powders inside the chemical fume hood due to air flow, however, crystalline material is ok

[bi]Housekeeping is very important to handle such chemicals in the lab

[bj]It also takes some time and practice to get used to working with powders and crystalline materials that I don’t think most students really get until they are working in a research lab. Working a hood does add to the complexity of this.

[bk]The lab I worked in in the 80’s had ventilation weighing station for working with silca and asbestos dusts. It takes a very careful ventilation design for sensitive balances to be able to operate in a wind current. We also had a special table which was very heavy to provide a steady surface for the balance.

[bl]A weighing enclosure will also work for this purpose

[bm]I agree with Jessica about the practice/ or hands-on on weighing

[bn]We just use a three side piece of acrylic around the scale and have no problems. As an alternative, you could teach people in the lab to weigh out chemicals using analytical subtractive techniques. This is the fastest method by far. (weigh out your vial, add some chemical to the vial in the hood, put the lid on and weigh again, add solvent to desired concentration)

[bo]Was working only with solutions considered? I.e., upon receipt of a new bottle of coupling agent, dissolve it in a solvent to a known concentration, then for each use, volumetrically measure what’s needed and then dilute? Wet methods are excellent for controlling exposures to dusts/particulate. Look at construction sites during large-scale demo…you usually see a big hose running to minimize dust.

[bp]We use a synthesizer often. All chemicals are weighed out and diluted in the hood. The sealed bottles are then transferred to the synthesizer. A tube is then use to carry any escaping vapors back to the fume hood.

CHAS Spring 2021 Professional Workshops, APril 1 – April 2

To register, scroll to the form at the bottom of this page

NEW for 2021: Half-day workshop on
Writing Safety Statements in Publications

Thursday, April 1, 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time, $150

The ACS now requires that authors include a statement of safety concerns in manuscripts submitted to ACS journals. The 2020 edition of the ACS Guide to Scholarly Communication, section 1.3 (Communicating Safety Information) provides guidelines to developing appropriate information for scholarly communication, but there are no complete examples provided, only excerpts. Furthermore, the chapter provides only information—it cannot impart the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out the instructions in the section. The purpose of this workshop is to put into practice the guidelines for writing effective safety statements based on the science and the intended audience using risk assessment.

Presented by: Sammye Sigmann, Leah McEwen, Daniel Kuespert

Laboratory Waste Management 2021, $300

Thursday, April 1, 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

CHAS offers the Laboratory Waste Management workshop to assist participants with the various regulatory requirements that apply to laboratories which generate hazardous waste, as well as to provide insight into the options for on-site management and off-site disposal. Includes details on the Hazardous Waste Improvement Rule and how it impacts laboratories. Focus will include discussion on recycling/ reclamation techniques, economical handling of wastes and liability issues. There is extensive opportunity for questions both during the workshop with follow-up by phone and email.

taught by Russ Phifer, WC Environmental

How to be a more effective Chemical Hygiene Officer, $300

Friday, April 2, 11 AM Eastern Daylight Time

CHAS offers the How to be a more effective Chemical Hygiene Officer workshop to provide participants with a detailed analysis of the CHO position and to prepare for the NRCC Chemical Hygiene Officer Board Certification exam. Participants receive a clear perspective on safety issues in the laboratory, focusing on what the CHO does and how to do it better. OSHA, EPA & DOT regulations that impact laboratory operations are included in the discussion.

The workshop covers the content areas of the NRCC certification exam, including a sample test in the same format as the real one. Whether you are a new Chemical Hygiene Officer or an “old” one, you will find something to put to real use in this fast-paced presentation. There is extensive opportunity for questions during the workshop and with follow-up by phone and email.

taught by Russ Phifer, Jim Kaufman
(Note that the Chemical Hygiene Officer certification exams are offered online. These exams are managed by the National Registry of Certified Chemists. Visit their web site at http://www.nrcc6.org for further information.)

Registration Notes:

One person may register for multiple workshops on a single Registration form. If you have more than one person to register using the same credit card or billing method or if you need help with the registration process, please contact Russ Phifer at 610-322-0657 or rphifer@wcenvironmental.com 

You will receive a confirmation that your registration has been submitted immediately upon registering. You will be sent a confirmation of registration email as soon as your registration is reviewed. Please contact 610-322-0657 if you do not receive the confirmation within four working days.

Note: Conditions and Cancellation/Refund Policy

Upon verified registration, information will be sent to each participant containing specific location information of the workshop. Companies may substitute registrants without prior notice or penalty.

Full refund available for cancellations up to three (3) weeks prior to workshop date. 50% refund up to one (1) week prior to workshop. Cancellations made less than seven (7) days prior to workshop start date will be charged, but an 80% credit may be applied toward a future program. No-shows receive no credit and will be billed.

In the event that the Division of Chemical Health and Safety is forced to cancel a workshop due to lack of registration or other causes, CHAS will notify participants at least ten (10) days in advance by email. We will notify you by email as soon as we know that the workshops will be held, i.e. we have sufficient registrants to present the workshop.

Diversity Equality Inclusiveness Respect On Line Networking Event: April 21

Diversity Equality Inclusiveness Respect

Diversity and inclusion in the workforce brings significant value to the employer[1]. Diversity in society broadens perspective, improves person to person socializing and creates a culture of openness and growth[2]. ACS has pledged to advance and embrace inclusion in chemistry, which includes promoting our core value of DEIR, identifying and dismantling barriers to success, and creating a welcoming environment so that all ACS members, employees, and volunteers can thrive.

The event is co-hosted by:

  • Division of Chemical Health and Safety (CHAS)
  • Division of Business Development and Management (BMGT)
  • Division of Small Chemical Businesses (SCHB)
  • ACS Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS)
  • Board Committee on Corporation Associates (CA)
  • ACS Committee on Meetings & Expositions
  • ACS Department of Diversity Programs

This networking event is a DEIR conversation. Please join us.

When: 10:00 am – 11:00 am PDT, WEDNESDAY 21 APRIL during the ACS Spring Meeting

Where: Meeting Zoom Portal CHAS Networking Link

The event leaders are Dave Finster (dfinster@wittenberg.edu) and Neal Langerman (neal@chemical-safety.com; contact either Dave or Neal for more information).

The agenda is a work in progress. This is an open conversation, with limited formal presentation.

  • DEIR – challenges we must recognize and overcome.
  • Joining a conversation is difficult – we welcome all questions.
  • Recognizing “other” – how to empathize with people who come from different backgrounds.
  • Personal pronouns – how and why to use these.
  • The long haul – improving DEIR in our profession.
  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/rsmdiscovery/2018/08/22/why-workplace-diversity-is-so-important-and-why-its-so-hard-to-achieve/?sh=1e0b284b3096
  2. https://www.uopeople.edu/blog/what-is-cultural-diversity/

Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment: CHAS Journal Club

Climate Survey Team representatives: Rebeca Fernandez (she/her/hers), Tesia Janicki (she/her/hers)

On March 10, 2021 the CHAS Journal continuing our discussion of the paper “Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment.” The original paper can be found at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.jchemed.9b00611 One of the authors, Rebeca Fernandez, led the discussion. Comments from the Table Read (that was led by Tesia Janicki) are also below.

03/03 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club
Excerpts from “Student-Led Climate Assessment Promotes a Healthier Graduate School Environment”

INTRODUCTION


Recent reports have emerged that highlight a prevalence of mental health disorders among graduate students. These studies show that graduate students are disproportionately susceptible to mental health disorders when compared to the general population, due in part to unique challenges associated with the graduate school experience[a][b][c][d][e][f][g]. The majority of incoming students are recent college graduates in their early 20s, and their transition to graduate life is typically preceded by a relocation that separates them from their social networks and support systems[h][i][j][k]. Graduate programs that are able to assist students during the transition into their departments will benefit from a happier, healthier, and more productive group of young researchers. Although it is not universally recognized among faculty [l][m][n]that chemistry graduate programs need to adapt to better support the needs of graduate students, a few departments have initiated major institutional efforts to improve the research and educational climate in graduate school.
Here, we define “climate” to encompass all aspects of the graduate student experience such as research practices, mentorship, social activities, work-life balance, and cultivation of a healthy lifestyle. Along with the general challenges associated with graduate school, each individual department has unique elements that influence its culture, such as size, demographics, geographic location, and whether the university is private or public. These differences notwithstanding, many challenges that graduate students experience appear to be universal[o][p]. The accurate evaluation of graduate program climate and student mental health has been hindered by the transient nature of the graduate student population[q][r], but encouragingly, graduate programs across the country have begun developing metrics to examine departmental climate and the graduate student experience. In 2014, the University of California, Berkeley administered a survey to assess the well-being of graduate students in all departments at the university. In 2018, Mousavi et al. demonstrated the successful implementation of a survey tailored to the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota (UMN). At UMN, the development of a climate survey was initiated by faculty[s][t][u][v][w], with student involvement, and the survey results were used to guide institutional changes to improve graduate student culture. These results are further discussed alongside our Recommendations and Initiatives.

SURVEY PROCESS


Survey Development The UW−Madison climate survey was developed by the Climate Survey Team (CST), a group composed of eight students from different research laboratories[x][y] and years in graduate school who provided unique perspectives on the graduate school experience. The chemistry department at UW− Madison represents one of the largest national programs and has non-uniform demographics throughout the department, i.e., among research groups, across subfields, and between years (the breakdown of department demographics versus survey respondents is provided in the Supporting Information). Given these variations, we sought input from fellow graduate students, faculty, staff, representatives from University Health Services (UHS), and select department alumni, including a human resources expert, throughout each step of the survey design process.
[z][aa][ab][ac]

REPRESENTATIVE SURVEY FINDINGS[ad][ae]

Emotional Well-Being and Work-Life Balance


Graduate students and postdocs were asked what factors influenced their emotional well-being over the course of the previous year. It is clear from these data (Figure 2) that personal relationships, ranging from principle investigator (PI) involvement to peer interactions, have a significant impact on the emotional well-being of students. Notably, the advisor/PI was ranked highly as both a positive and negative influence, depending on the respondent, representing the outsized effect of PI−student interactions on the overall graduate school experience. [af][ag][ah][ai][aj][ak][al]Of the respondents who indicated that their relationship with their advisor/PI had a negative impact on their emotional well-being at least once per month (22%), 5% identified as male and 17% did not identify as male (details of how demographic responses were grouped can be found in the Supporting Information). From this data, it is clear that differences in PI−student relationships may be related to gender; however, we could not elucidate more specific causes from this survey. The significance of the PI−student relationship, regardless of gender, is further supported by a global PhD student survey in 2017 that reports, “good (PI) mentorship was the main factor driving (graduate student) satisfaction levels”.

Work Environment


Demographic correlations regarding perceived mentorship efficacy revealed some dependence on ethnicity. For example, 83% of those who identified as Caucasian experienced effective mentorship by senior graduate students/postdocs compared to only 58% of those who did not identify as Caucasian. Similarly, 90% of respondents who identified as Caucasian reported supportive interactions with their PI[am][an][ao], in contrast with 63% who do not identify as Caucasian. Variations in responses based on ethnicity reflect many factors, such as the diversity (or lack thereof) among the students and faculty members, which will vary across departments and over time. In response to trends revealed from demographic correlations and the negative experiences reported in Figure 3b, we recommend the installation of regular implicit bias training, mentorship,[ap][aq] and conflict resolution workshop[ar][as][at][au][av][aw]s.

Outside the scope of this survey, we and other departments are making a concerted effort to improve minority representation in chemistry[ax][ay][az], necessitating shifts in climate that respect and integrate a more diverse student pool. [ba][bb][bc][bd][be]These data serve as an important baseline from which to gauge the effect of new policies through future assessments. The climate survey administered by the Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley echoes these sentiments and emphasizes the importance of creating a welcoming work environment for women and underrepresented minorities.

Mental Health[bf][bg][bh][bi][bj][bk][bl][bm][bn][bo]

A cumulative 59% of graduate students and postdocs reported feeling depressed or sad (a symptom of depression) at least a few times per month compared with 37% of adults surveyed among a broader population (one-month time frame)[bp][bq][br][bs][bt][bu]. Additionally, high percentages of graduate students and postdocs reported exhibiting symptoms of anxiety, with 25% of students experiencing a panic or anxiety attack at least once per month. For comparison, a 2012 study reported that 31.2% of adults had some anxiety disorder, where 4.7% had a panic disorder, specifically.

The most shocking observation from our climate survey was that 9.1% of graduate students and postdocs reported experiencing thoughts that they would be better off dead or hurting themselves at least a few days a month. This alarming number is comparable with that reported for graduate students from other universities using similar methods. To address and attempt to mitigate the struggles of graduate students and postdocs, we recommend increasing access to and awareness of mental health resources through education and structured conversations.

If faculty are educated about the mental health resources available on campus, they are in a better position to direct their students to the appropriate resources if needed[bv][bw][bx][by][bz]. Most, if not all, graduate schools will have an on-campus mental health organization (at UW−Madison this is the UHS). Collaboration with professionals is essential to making mental health support for graduate students and postdocs accessible.

Our department now hosts biweekly “Office [ca][cb][cc]Hours” with a UHS professional providing drop-in confidential consultation sessions for graduate students and postdocs inside of the chemistry building, significantly lowering the barrier to seek support. We encourage graduate students at other institutes to connect with their on-campus health professionals and inquire about implementing a similar program[cd][ce][cf][cg].

RECOMMENDATIONS AND INITIATIVES BASED ON CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS


Student buy-in for any climate discussions in the department is essential and faculty support is equally crucial to the success of implementing lasting change[ch][ci][cj][ck][cl][cm][cn][co]. Faculty acceptance of student participation in various activities (e.g., being a member of a student council) and engagement in conversations about mental health signals that students’ well-being is valued in addition to their research productivity.

With the coordinated efforts of students and faculty, department curricula can be updated to provide explicit and detailed program requirements for graduate students. We encourage graduate students in other programs to work with faculty and staff to design and carry out a plan to foster a healthy graduate school climate based on the specific needs of their departments[cp][cq]. Utilizing a survey such as ours provides a starting point to gather information that is critical to creating lasting change.

A list of the major initiatives, which have been implemented in the UW−Madison Department of Chemistry to address our own unique challenges, can be found below.

  • The advent of conversations surrounding graduate student struggles with stress, anxiety, and depression, which have provided a framework for both individuals and research groups to discuss related problems.
  • The organization of a regular department-wide town hall to discuss relevant issues.
  • An increase in the number of events focused on raising awareness about mental health disorders and resources available on campus.
  • Revision of graduate program policies[cr][cs][ct][cu][cv][cw][cx] to reduce stresses associated with the transition into a research group and subsequent graduation requirements.
  • An effort to develop an expectations document for independent research laboratories to mitigate stress surrounding graduation requirements.
  • A focus on providing leadership opportunities for graduate students and postdocs to further increase student involvement.


[a]Do we have any historical data to know if this is a change over either the short term or long term?
[b]Can you elaborate? I’m not sure I understand your question
[c]Related: Are we reporting differently just because we think about it differently?
[d]Sounds like we need more surveys!
[e]I wonder what the experience is in 2020 compared to 2010, compared to 1980 For example, when my father was in grad school in the 1970’s, my mother was typing his papes for him. I wonder if changes in the reasons and ways people go to grad school impacts their experience of the situation.
[f]Ohhhh wow. I really don’t know! We have data from 2015 at the earliest. And we really can’t compare because we used very different questions in 2017
[g]This reminds me of an essay written in the 1970s I think (can’t remember author) in which a feminist explains how she would really like to have a wife since they do all of the thankless things to support the success of their spouse :).
[h]Is this influenced by the demographics; i.e. are older grad students more likely to be international or vice versa?
[i]Interesting, I don’t think we have this data at hand but my thought would be no.
[j]Yes – I wondered about this assumption. I know that older students are coming back to school now (I’m one of them). There seem to be more people starting families while in grad school – so the idea that they are all singletons in their 20s doesn’t really seem to ring true anymore.
[k]In 2019, we included questions on family status for correlations, but not age.


[l]Is this because they accepted certain negative aspects of their programs in the past w/o complaint or is it because something has fundamentally changed about the structure of graduate programs?
[m]Also interested to know about the generational aspects of this (generational in terms of inherited structures, temporal changes, etc.)
[n]I think that the fundamental structure of graduate programs needs to change. It is built to publish and conduct research for the PI not to support graduate students in their achievements. This is especially true for those who identify as BIPOC. From our experience trying to implement changes not every faculty member is interested in helping or volunteering their time
[o]I presume this means universal across institutions rather than all individuals feel the same challenges
[p]Yes, for example across most institutions you do not have to be trained to manage people to be a PI
[q]To me, this seems to also be related to Jessica’s question above querying faculty’s resistance to adaptation and supporting new and/or old unaddressed needs, since the transient nature of the grad student population might only be a major source of hindrance to evaluation if the effort is taken up, pushed, and facilitated by graduate students
[r]Yes exactly.

[s]What motivated these faculty to take on this project?
[t]I believe this was one faculty member. I’m involved with the student group associated with the survey (they’ve repeated it since the initial survey) and the faculty advisor of the student group was also the director of graduate studies at the time and collaborated with psychiatrists from the health center on campus
[u]You can read some more about it here (https://cen.acs.org/articles/95/i32/Grappling-graduate-student-mental-health.html)
[v]Thanks – I’ll take a look. Is this something that the JST has taken on – or is this a separate group?
[w]A separate group. This is run through http://ccgs.chem.umn.edu/

[x]Were these all chemistry students?
[y]Yes, spanning years 2-6
[z]Was there a focus group phase to test the questions before they were used in the survey?
[aa]Yes. Our sample group included graduate students and postdocs, men and women, international and domestic. We also had some faculty and mental health advisors read the survey for their take.
[ab]Thanks. In my experience, that is a very helpful step that not all climate surveys undertake
[ac]It was especially important for us to ensure language was clear to those for whom English was not their first language.
[ad]The transition from U/G to grad school introduces the student to going from being one of the academic leaders of the class to being a lesser star in a peer group of academic stars. Coping with that can be difficult. Is this addressed in this study?
[ae]We did not address this specific phenomenon. Themes of imposter syndrome were pervasive in qualitative responses, however.
[af]In personal conversations, I definitely see evidence for this. While a grad student joins a dept, it really feels more like they join a PI. Two students in the same department can have wildly different experiences depending on who their PI is.
[ag]You can even at times see very different experiences within a group (e.g. the student that is fellowship funded vs. the student that requires support off the research grant).
[ah]I have had this exact same experience. I initially joined one group and after my first year I switched to a different group due to the terrible environment in the first group. My mental health improved tremendously as a result. Both were in the same department
[ai] Definitely true. On a personal note, I encourage fellow graduate students to seek as much funding outside of their PI as possible, even if they think they are covered, because money often = power.
[aj]Money helps, but at the end of the day your PI writes your rec letter, introduces you to collaborators, your future bosses, etc.
[ak]Securing outside funding can also make it easier to switch PIs or bring in a more supportive co-PI. I am speaking on a personal level here – it helps more than any other single factor.
[al]Absolutely agree on being self-funded leading to greater opportunities and flexibility.


[am]Is this data broken out in any way to see if caucasian students were having these more positive interactions with caucasian PIs or just all PIs? Also, for those who are not caucasian, do they also have more positive experiences when their PIs are not caucasian (or even identify in the same way as the student)?
[an]We did not collect PI identity/demographics of respondents. We would also run into small-numbers statistics here due to poor diversity among faculty in just our department. I think this is an excellent point to share with our future climate survey teams!
[ao]Definitely – it would also be interesting to compare to another institution that does have more diversity among its faculty, especially with the number of international faculty that exist in departments throughout the US.
[ap]Specifically to mentorship, are faculty required to go through any mentoring programs/trainings?
[aq]There is a huge limitation with requiring tenured faculty to attend these trainings. There has been recent discussion of having “digital badges” placed on faculty profiles for those who have completed the training. A very visual form of peer pressure, but again, not a requirement.
[ar]Are any proposals made to increase “buy-in” on these workshops? I feel that sometimes those going to events and programs of this nature tend to be those who already understand the importance of mental health and not necessarily those who need to hear it.
[as]I echo this sentiment. At my uni, the faculty most in need of training / the most egregious ones are the ones who think it’s a waste of time and won’t participate
[at]Hard AGREE.
[au]Absolutely. My dream would be to tie it to tenure and promotion but that has not happened yet. We do now host mentorship training for faculty though!
[av]While tying it to promotion would eventually fix this the Old guard which unfortunately is a lot of the more repeat offenders who are set in their ways would still be relatively left untouched more active / radical initiatives like linking mentorship performance to grant support would have a bigger effect. But this would be highly difficult to apply at the institutional level.

[aw]On the PI side, I am also curious who in the institution really sits down and thinks about how PI time is divvied up and what the expectations are. Given that PIs do not have a direct boss, I feel like there are a whole lot of “PIs should…” discussions without rebalancing the demands that already exist.
[ax]I am curious about how this is being done? Increased recruitment?
[ay]Currently, UW-Madison is working on recruitment as well as retention initiatives via mentoring programs. More on some of these programs here:
https://chem.wisc.edu/catalyst/
https://chem.wisc.edu/2013/10/09/opportunities-abound-chops-and-pgsec-programs-expose-undergraduates-to-graduate-school-life/
[az]At my uni, we have had some success with a student-led team called the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) – https://voices.uchicago.edu/grit/
They specifically work to target recruitment at URMs, work to create and maintain an accessible support network for the URM students they successfully recruited, and they work to address issues in application requirements (for instance, they were successfully able to get the GRE removed from admissions requirements across all graduate programs https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2018/11/16/grits-urging-biological-sciences-drops-gre-require/)
[ba]It is in my experience that when faced with the notion of recruiting more underrepresented minorities into graduate programs department leadership has come up with rather lackluster ideas of how this isdone.
As a matter of fact while recruitment seems to be increasing I would like to see how that compares to degree completion related to overall satisfaction with the program.
[bb]That is why I was asking because I personally believe increased recruitment alone hasn’t helped dealt with the issue.
[bc]Another factor is how is the overall climate in the department is adapting to increase presence of underrepresented minorities. Has it been embraced and flourished or have these students been tokenized in an effort to improve the outward appearance of a program?
[bd]Yes yes yes. these are all so important. Increased recruitment just forces someone into a space that can be toxic. We’re working on this (because we really need to). Like Tesia said we’re trying to change our department to create spaces and be supportive. Along the lines of supporting and promoting affinity groups, standardizing requirements, increasing transparency along every step of the program (graduation requirements and PI expectation documents). There’s definitely more but I can’t think of it off the top of my head.
[be]I’m just copying and pasting my comment from above about GRIT, since they are an organization that works diligently to support URM students that they’ve successfully recruited, as well. It’s a fundamental part of their functioning.
At my uni, we have had some success with a student-led team called the Graduate Recruitment Initiative Team (GRIT) – https://voices.uchicago.edu/grit/
They specifically work to target recruitment at URMs, work to create and maintain an accessible support network for the URM students they successfully recruited, and they work to address issues in application requirements (for instance, they were successfully able to get the GRE removed from admissions requirements across all graduate programs https://www.chicagomaroon.com/article/2018/11/16/grits-urging-biological-sciences-drops-gre-require/)

[bf]How do you separate frustration related to failed experiments from other stressors? Isn’t part of the development as a scientist learning to deal with experiments not working and developing tools to create the desired outcome?
[bg]I don’t think you can necessarily separate those frustrations. The way stressors build on one another makes them entangled so that they cannot be dissected away from each other. I think it’s more so important to acknowledge that failed experiments will exist and find ways to minimize additional stressors that can exacerbate the frustrations associated with the experimental side.
[bh]Isn’t that learning to cope with failure?
[bi]I think even learning from failure can be facilitated so that it is not so detrimental to one’s mental health. My current PI is very good at this, and constantly tries to make my lab mates and not take failure personally, and constantly turn it into a learning experience. The end result of all of this is that while I still get frustrated due to inevitable failures, I am more often able to go home at the end of the day and not feel terrible about myself
[bj]This is an interesting thread to me. Actual results of my experiments never actually represented a “stress” for me – either when I was working in a research lab in undergrad or in grad school. The stress has all been centered around poor & neglectful relationships, lack of clarity on what goal posts are supposed to exist where. Every stupid little thing is some sort of mystery to figure out. It is incredibly unnecessary and takes away from the joy of the actual research.
[bk]I agree with you on this. It may seem trivial talking about teaching graduate students how to deal with failure of experiments or grad work in general but grad school is a journey. Not knowing how to effectively deal with frustrations from work can pile up real quick and that might lead to some detrimental mental health issues.
[bl]It’s also pretty important to recognize that one’s ability to “cope with failure” is heavily dependent on their support system, the degree to which they feel they have power/control over their environment and lives, the degree to which failures are expected as natural and normal by others in the environment, and their self-perceptions (which are themselves influenced heavily by the environment).
I think it’s too reductive to say that it’s a matter of “learning to cope.” Coping skills are very important, but they are only reasonable deterrents when your environment and support systems are reasonably sufficient.
[bm]For me, when my experiments failed most of the stress came from my former PI getting upset that I couldn’t make it work. I think the response to the failure from the PI dictates a lot more how the students will respond to it. Obviously, personalities dictate this to some extent as well, but having a PI who supports you despite the failures can minimize a lot of the frustrations due to the failure.

[bn]This is a really good point. It sort of alludes to a point I made above asking about the mental well being of PIs. How much unhealthy coping and overreaction to negative things (including data) is being triggered by the PI themselves reacting in a really inappropriate way?
[bo]Jessica’s point about the uncertainty for the ‘goal posts’ IMHO can’t be overstated. That’s a conversation that all grad students should have with the PI before ever deciding to join their group. And even then, things can shift during the student’s career, but having some idea up front (and confirming similar expectations with other students in the group) should be very high on the evaluation list for prospective research group selection.
[bp]I think one interesting question to ask would be, how has this value changed before and after starting grad school. In other words, did students enrolling in graduate school have a history/propensity towards problems with mental health
[bq]This is interesting. I also wonder if any studies have been done to see if those who become research faculty exhibit anxiety at a higher rate than the average population.
[br]I am wondering if it would help if PIs have some expertise in Psychology
[bs]I think that kind of begs the question. Is that important to address? If the answer to your question Taysir is yes, then that doesn’t mean we give up on not making graduate school a negative environment.
[bt]Not necessarily an expertise in psychology – but more having some training in team building and project management. It is shocking to me what PIs are expected to do when nothing about graduate training suggests that these types of things are part of the education.
[bu]@rebeca Fernandez. Oh absolutely, I fully agree that creating a more supportive is something that is essential. What I was alluding to is this: the answer to my question is yes, then that would warrant further investigation into the source of these metal health issues that arose prior to grad school, and how grad school exasperated them. If the answer to my question is no, which I find the most likely scenario, then that would even more conclusively show that grad school is indeed the source of these mental health issues, and further validate your efforts

[bv]I worry about this becoming a culture of faculty just handing off “troubled” students instead of acknowledging the role they may be playing in harming the mental health of their students.
[bw]I second this there are a lot of treat the symptoms not the cause initiatives when handling graduate student mental health.
[bx]Agreed. How much of the issue is “my mental health” versus “this relationship is incredibly harmful but I depend heavily on it”?
[by]I agree.
[bz]Yeah definitely. Cristian’s point is excellent. I think that is an easy flaw of Climate Survey data. It becomes much easier to treat symptoms then address the root cause of it

[ca]How has this been impacted by COVID? Do you have any post-publication information about attendance at these office hours?
[cb]This will be addressed in the 2021-2022 survey
[cc]These are still hosted now but via Zoom or phone call.
[cd]I wonder how grad student pay correlates with these findings. Are all grad students paid the same amount? Is it a living wage in Madison?
[ce]Ooooo interesting. We asked if stress was caused by financial factors. I believe that everyone is “paid the same” unless you are on NSF GRFP. International students have to pay more fees.
[cf]Many universities have different pay levels based on degree progress. It could also vary wildly by department a common occurrence pay discrepancies also tends to show up in summer funding for 9 month stipends. The summer funding can be either widely available or generously compensating. And this dichotomy has been observed way too much in higher education.
[cg]The financial aspects are definitely something that should be considered. Most are compensated at levels near (or below) the poverty line. Even those lucky enough to have compensation dictated by federal programs aren’t substantially better-off financially.

[ch]In addition to faculty and staff, there are over 100 staff members in the department. I suspect that they have a significant role to play in influencing the department’s climate
[ci]Great point. Also worth noting that Departmental leaders (e.g. Chair) aren’t always the most qualified to lead, but get that responsibility due to politics or the unwillingness of the more qualified to offer their time for those responsibilities.
[cj]This is so true. From the staff in the department office, the technical support people to the custodians.
[ck]Chemistry faculty rarely have any structured education in leadership or management. This lapse leads to difficulty managing people (students/staff) and causes unnecessary stress on those managed. I have no idea how to address this on a system level. Back when I was a PI and later as a business owner, I took some management classes.
[cl]Faculty support is mentioned specifically because of the present power structure. Recommendations in the survey are were developed for all department members (including staff). Discussions of staff climate surveys have occurred, but I don’t have much information on that development.

[cm]While technically true, it can feel very much like you really only answer to your PI. I have found it quite stunning how little I know about what is going on in my building – especially when I compare it to positions in which I worked before coming to grad school.
[cn]Yes, staff play an active role and we meet with faculty, staff and students frequently on various committees.
[co]when I was a new BS graduate, I was hired by an academic department to support international grad students who needed help with their English, etc. This was 1980 and most labs in the agronomy department had that kind of support that faculty could rely on to support their grad students. I get the impression that this support team has dwindled significantly since about 1990
[cp]Is there historical data about the drop out rate of the department’s grad students. A faculty friend of mine who went to UW Madison as a history major in the 1980’s said he was the only person in his entering class to actually get his degree there.
[cq]This likely exists in department records, but I do not have stats on this presently.


[cr]On a personal level, I have found it extremely frustrating how much time I have wasted learning about basic things at my university. Everything is do disjointed. While it is not “the” stresser, it adds an unnecessary layer that distracts you from focusing on the truly challenging parts of graduate school.
[cs]I agree! I think making it more transparent on how to do things and report things helps a lot! Especially if you encounter an abusive faculty, less hoops to jump through make it much easier to remedy the situation.
[ct]I suspect that the disjointed nature of the academic community is part of the education of the grad student, as opposed to the technical training aspects. This is not an efficient approach to sharing information, but primes people for being faculty members rather than scientists
[cu]Ha! It is literally the 1st thing I would fix – as I have in multiple companies. Why would I want my team distracted by pointless garbage when instead I would want their eyes on the prize and the focus on the actual work we are producing?
[cv]Actually there’s a lot of data that shows that this exact type of information specifically selects against minoritized students in academia. This is what we mean by increasing transparency and standardizing graduation requirements. SO that this information can be easily found and not create an undue burden.
[cw]It’s a feature not a bug if you’re trying to produce more faculty members
[cx]And there should be many arguments about whether or not we should be trying to produce more faculty members, given the job availability.

And, it only “primes people for being faculty members” under the assumption that the future of academic structure remains disjointed 😛

Quality Data for Safer Experiments CHAS Chat

On March 11, 2021, Leah McEwen, chemistry librarian at Cornell University and Ralph Stuart, Chemical Hygiene Officer at Keene State College led a discussion on “Quality Data for Safer Experiments”.

We will talk about about finding and assessing the quality and relevance of chemical safety information sources. We will also discuss supporting researchers and educators with the emerging publication requirements for safety information.

Three take-aways we see from this discussion are:

  1. Safety considerations are part of your experimental method.
  2. You need quality data for risk assessment.
  3. Safety precautions should be described in your publications, both research and educational.

Key Web Sites mentioned:

In the video:

In the discussion:

Chat Comments during the discussion:

From Dave Finster: Love the video. A quick reference to PubChem in the video?
From Ralph Stuart: PubChem = National Library of Medicine
From Rob Toreki: I have an interesting insight about DMSO we did not know and only found out about AFTER the accident
From Rob Toreki: Exactly on stability decomp

From Samuella Sigmann: https://www.rxlist.com/dmso_dimethylsulfoxide/supplements.htm
From Ralph Stuart: DMSO is popular as a home remedy
From Ralph Stuart: https://www.thefrugallife.com/dmso.html

From Rob Toreki: Last I heard Brethericks is no longer being updated.
From Rob Toreki: They were searching for a new editor a couple years back
From Ralph Stuart: Yes, Brethericks is a historical document at this point with still useful information
From Rob Toreki: Agreed

From Neal Langerman: OPRD was the first ACS journal to require safety information along w/ a manuscript. The requirement preceded the ACS requirement and was used to develop the ACS requirement.

From Ralph Stuart: It occurs to me that DMSO is a good example of the impact of context on risk assessment. What level of students should be exposed to research? General chemistry, organic chemistry, research chemists?
From Ralph Stuart: In my remark, research = literature research. i.e. SDS vs LCSS vs process safety literature references

From Rob Toreki: Hah saw that firsthand 25 years ago now
From Rob Toreki: Took out the hotplate but nothing else in the hood luckily and blast shield was in place

From Grace Baysinger: https://safescience.cas.org/ – Pistoia Alliance Chemical Safety Library (CSL) which is hosted by CAS is a crowd-resourced tool for users to report hazardous reactions. Recent post: https://www.ccdc.cam.ac.uk/Community/blog/safety-and-community/
From Samuella Sigmann: Pubs has made the chapter freely available as a pdf
From Ralph Stuart: The URL to the chapter is http://pubsapp.acs.org/paragonplus/submission/ACS_Guide_to_Scholarly_Communication_1.3_Communicating_Safety_Information.pdf

From Neal Langerman: Ralph, Leah – the title of today includes the word “quality” In the context of the mass of information Leah just discussed, will you address “quality assessment”?
From Ralph Stuart: Thanks for the question Neal, that’s part of why we wanted to do today’s session – to start that discussion

From Samuella Sigmann: Still requires presenting data and information in the educational setting where you can teach this.

From Grace Baysinger: https://guides.library.stanford.edu/lab-safety – This is a guide that I’ve been working on for Stanford users. Contains a combination of licensed and free resources. I’m still working on the search strategy page. Tried to group resources using RAMP for part of this guide.
From a very minimal use of vivid color with respect to the acronyms – good reinforcer of what everything stands for
From Ralph Stuart: Color is coming to the video in the final version

From M Sabolefski: Please explain the FAIR acronym again
From Ralph Stuart: FAIR = FAIR data are data which meet principles of findability, accessibility, interoperability, and reusability
From Ralph Stuart: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FAIR_data

From Rob Toreki: Question about data and provenance we can think about
From Rob Toreki: The purple book is the UN GHS model standard
From Rob Toreki: The GHS is only a model and implementation across the world varies significantly
From Ralph Stuart: GHS breaks Leah’s first rule of considering the situation first before gathering data
From Ralph Stuart: It is a hazard banding system rather than a risk or control banding system, although there are controls suggested in the system

From Samuella Sigmann: I would add the wayback machine for broken links.

From Ralph Stuart: Leah and Sammye are leading a 4 hour workshop on meeting the ACS safety publication requirement on April 2. See http://dchas.org/2021/01/22/spring-2021-professional-workshops/ for more information

From Neal Langerman: Leah and Ralph, – as always you are an amazing team. Thank you for this.
From M Sabolefski: thank you, this has been a worthwhile seminar/chat
From mwilhelm: This was so very helpful. Thank you for offering this topic.
From CJakober: Many thanks Leah, Ralph, et al!
From James Wright: Thanks Ralph and Leah!
From Pat Ceas: Great information, thank you!
From rossy: Thank you very much to Leah and Ralph
From Glenda Pons: Thank you!
From Marta Gmurczyk: Thank you. Great sessions.

2021 Annual CHAS Business Meeting

The annual open membership meeting of the Division of Chemical Health and Safety will be held virtually this year. Traditionally this is held at one of the 2 ACS national meetings, but because it is not clear if there will be any in person ACS meetings this year, the CHAS Executive Committee has decided to hold it on April 15,  from noon – 2 PM, Eastern time. The meeting will be held on Zoom at https://princeton.zoom.us/j/92215412283

If you are curious about how the Division works, want to get caught up on the latest news (traditionally spring meeting includes the announcement of the CHAS award winners for the year!) or would like to get involved helping the Division do its work, please join us!

Lessons Learned from the Creation and Development of a Researcher-Led Safety Organization at The University of Chicago

Presented by Sarah Zinn, University of Chicago

02/17 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club excerpts from “Lessons Learned from the Creation and Development of a Researcher-Led Safety Organization at The University of Chicago

The full paper can be found at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.9b00012

INTRODUCTION

“Safety standards and practices within academia have fallen well below those of their industrial and governmental counterparts due[a][b][c][d], in large part, to a relative absence[e][f] of the financial and public pressures that become driving forces within government and industry.[g][h][i][j] However, it has been shown that a strong safety-centric culture has a significant statistical correlation with a low occurrence of high-risk behaviors, low accident rates, high productivity, low absenteeism, and long-term institutional success. Considering these correlations and the numerous devastating accidents within academia, vigorous discussions about how to build and maintain academic safety cultures have been spreading across the United States. Numerous connections between strong, coherent, safety-minded leadership and the institution’s safety culture have been made, yet the unique and sometimes nebulous leadership structures within academia often complicate and fragment these efforts, leading to diffuse, sometimes conflicting, leadership[k][l] and, therefore, a primary emphasis on regulation compliance over collaborative, proactive engagement[m][n]. Thus, here we describe a case study of the implementation of a researcher-led safety team working to bridge the gap between safety administration, departmental administration, and researchers at The University of Chicago: The Joint Research Safety Initiative (JRSI).”

“Often, the ultimate goal of researcher-led safety teams is to strengthen the organization’s safety culture. While laudable, the realization of this goal is difficult both to achieve and to quantify since the underlying conditions are vague, intangible, and not necessarily consistent [o][p]with the observable artifacts. Thus, achieving this goal likely requires (1) many years, (2) significant personnel turnover, and (3) carefully planned methods of long-term measurement.”[q][r][s][t]

Working definition of safety culture

“The precise definition of an institution’s safety culture is ill-defined and varies greatly between fields. Herein, we will use Edgar Shein’s model of organizational culture[u][v], where we will use the term “safety culture” to refer to an organization’s shared beliefs, values, and attitudes regarding safety (underlying conditions) as well as the organization’s observable safety-related behaviors, policies, publicized values, and front-facing messages (artifacts)”

Conditions at The University of Chicago

“In order to understand the formation of our researcher-led team, it is first necessary to understand the context and history of safety administration at The University of Chicago. Prior to 2009, The University of Chicago’s safety administration consisted of the traditional Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department which was broadly responsible for the health, safety, and environmental compliance of the educational and research community at The University of Chicago. However, in 2009, Malcom Casadaban, a University of Chicago Associate Professor, died after being exposed to Yersinia pestis and contracting the plague; a mere two years later, a university researcher was hospitalized for surgery and antibiotic treatment after being exposed to Bacillus cereus.[w][x][y][z][aa] It was in response to these startling exposures that The University of Chicago restructured its traditional safety department by creating the Office of Research Safety (ORS) which reported directly to the Vice President of Research and National Laboratories and took on the responsibility of assessing research risk, providing training, and conducting regular inspections. This newly created ORS[ab][ac][ad][ae] took an active role in supporting researchers and sought to empower researchers in strengthening safety culture by implementing a variety of programs, including creating an online anonymous incident reporting tool and publishing a publicly available lessons learned repository.”

“In alignment with the key principles of safety teams discussed in the literature, the JRSI does not assume the enforcement roles or hazard training responsibilities that EH&S and ORS assume. Instead, we work to facilitate dialogues between the various administrative, student, and researcher groups within the PME and the Department of Chemistry[af][ag]. We work hand in hand with these various groups to make resources easier to access and to involve researchers more directly in conversations about safety.”

IMPLEMENTED PROGRAMS

Developing Organizational Structure

Initially, “a subset of attendees interested in the practical development of a safety team began meeting monthly with administrators from EH&S and ORS[ah][ai][aj]… During this time, the JRSI continued to operate under a mostly informal structure…”

“As we started implementing our programming and as our organization began seeing member turnover, we [started] providing a small quarterly supplemental stipend [ak][al][am][an][ao]for members of the JRSI…to ensure the JRSI’s continuation.”

“we began our first round of active recruitment by sending an application to apply for board membership via email; in this solicitation, we detailed the potential benefits of participating in our organization, including distinguishing one’s CV with professional service, obtaining low-stakes experience in a safety career path, working toward the development of one’s department, and the aforementioned supplemental stipend[ap][aq]. During this first application round, we received 14 applications—8 from the PME and 6 from the Department of Chemistry[ar][as]—with 50% of applicants being participants in our first Peer Lab Walkthrough event and 43% of applicants currently or previously serving as LSCs[at][au][av][aw][ax] (21% of applicants were both participants in the Peer Lab Walkthrough and LSCs). During this application cycle, we brought on 7 new members for a new total of 10 board members.”

“The organization’s main leadership comprised the 3…members…[on] an Executive Committee made of two Co-Presidents and a Treasurer. The members of this Executive Committee are responsible for the general functioning and organization of the JRSI and also serve as Committee Chairs for four key areas of the JRSI’s work: The Publicity Committee, The Survey Committee, The Education Committee, and The Finance Committee.[ay][az][ba][bb][bc]

Lessons Learned

  • “Having upper administration buy-in was crucial to initiating dialogue with faculty, ORS,[bd][be] EH&S, and researchers, and as such it was a fundamental springboard for the development and successful implementation of nearly all of our programs.”
  • “the early development and organization of a shared document repository proved to be essential for efficient operation…[and the] consider[ation of] how documents will be handled with future board turnover.”[bf][bg][bh][bi]
  • “our new, more organized and departmentalized structure enables us to pursue a much broader set of initiatives; however, if the realization of a formalized structure is not yet feasible in the initial process of setting up a safety team, we recommend at least formalizing executive positions as a method by which to keep the team organized and driven.”

Evaluating Safety Culture

“The major and subsisting effects of our implemented programs will likely not be seen during the tenure of the original JRSI team.”

“in order to appropriately gauge the effectiveness of our Initiative and our programs on positively impacting the culture, it is imperative to utilize appropriate and robust methods to probe not only the artifacts of a university’s safety culture but the underlying conditions as well.”

“to make conclusions on the state of The University of Chicago’s safety culture and to identify specific areas that could be targeted for improvement…we developed a short initial survey…for which we offered no incentive to respond. Though we were able to glean a fair bit of information from this initial survey and were able to use it to internally motivate programming…our failure to obtain formal Institutional Review Board (IRB) exemption or approval prior to surveying precludes us from sharing the survey results with external communities.”

Lessons Learned

  • “One of the most surprising and important takeaways from the implementation of the JRSI was the lessons learned on the appropriate way to [bj][bk][bl][bm]conduct this type of surveying. Since it is likely that most members in a researcher-led safety team will be students without a background in designing and administering surveys[bn][bo][bp][bq][br][bs] to human subjects, we believe that a discussion on survey design and implementation is neither trivial nor unimportant.”
  • “having some initial surveying information permits the safety team to communicate with internal safety administration,[bt] departmental heads, and faculty about their institution’s specific needs and the ways in which a researcher-led safety team might benefit everyone, which may help to motivate both administrative and financial internal support.”
  • “it may not be necessary to obtain IRB approval for surveying, as long as no personally identifying or sensitive information is gathered, and the results from the survey are only used for internal program-improvement purposes[bu]. However, any safety team wishing to share survey results with external communities at any point in time, like at future conferences or in peer-reviewed papers, should obtain formal IRB exemption or approval before beginning the surveying process and should keep in mind the mitigation of potential risks to participants and potential vulnerabilities of the target population”
  • “while surveying LSCs resulted in valuable information, the biased sample only provided one limited vantage point of the greater safety culture…we highly recommend designing surveys that can be distributed to all members of the departmen[bv][bw]t, including graduate students, postdocs, undergraduates, and even faculty if possible.”
  • “while in reality most surveys implemented by safety teams will likely experience multiple iterations, we highly recommend that the survey is as complete as possible as soon as possible so that annual resurveying efforts can be comparable; even seemingly small changes can create a different surveying experience which can significantly impact respondents’ answers”
  • “We highly recommend consulting the literature on effective survey design before implementing large-scale surveys.”[bx][by][bz]

Facilitating Communication

“It is largely recognized that collaborative, inclusive interactions increase active participation and involvement within an organization. Furthermore, it has been concluded that insufficient collaboration, specifically between researchers and internal safety administration in academia, cultivates an overly top-down, largely compliance-based approach[ca][cb][cc][cd][ce][cf][cg] to safety.”[ch][ci]

“With the JRSI in its infancy, we hosted a 2 day kickoff symposium and vendor fair[cj][ck][cl][cm][cn] to officially unveil our organization, to reach a broad base of the community, and to begin forging interpersonal connections between researchers, safety administration, and departmental administration…Two days after the invited speaker symposium, we organized a safety-centric vendor fair. In addition to their normal marketing, these vendors performed safety demonstrations and distributed safety-related promotional items such as glove samples and informational posters.”[co][cp][cq]

“One creative and potentially high-impact approach to fostering positive safety culture that we have seen implemented by other safety teams is to host a lab walkthrough event[cr]. Inspired by the UMN JST, the JRSI introduced a pilot Peer Lab Walkthrough [cs]in early 2019. This event was a friendly competition in the Department of Chemistry and the PME which was intended to promote safety innovation, to elicit camaraderie, and to encourage open discussions about best practices. The competition was a collaborative educational opportunity for research groups to share safety knowledge, creative solutions, and lessons learned without regulatory authority or the threat of punitive action[ct][cu][cv]… LSCs and graduate student researchers from both departments volunteered as judges (Figure 5A) to assess a dozen voluntarily participating laboratories (6 laboratories or 26% of active laboratories from the Department of Chemistry and 6 laboratories or 28% of active laboratories[cw][cx] from the PME at the time of the walkthrough, correcting for joint appointments). The JRSI, in partnership with ORS, established a detailed scoring rubric[cy][cz][da] adapted from the one used by the UMN JST… After all laboratories were assessed and scores were tallied, the JRSI hosted an awards ceremony[db][dc], newly developed by the JRSI, and gave prizes to the highest-scoring laboratories[dd][de]

Lessons Learned

  • “We found the kickoff symposium and vendor fair to be a highly effective means by which to formally and impactfully introduce a new safety team to both internal and external communities. By organizing this larger-scale event which explicitly highlighted safety communication, we were able to generate a concentrated amount of interest and word of mouth, thereby solidifying a concrete starting point for our safety team”
  • “While soliciting volunteers for the Peer Lab Walkthrough was essential to the program’s mission of facilitating communication and idea-sharing, their training was not trivial; though all of our judges expressed comfort in using our scoring rubric [df][dg][dh]after the in-person volunteer training, many questions arose during the walkthrough regarding how specific situations should be assessed, and some volunteers found the process of initiating the walkthrough awkward.”[di][dj][dk]
  • “This can be done by using hands-on training, like through the use of a model laboratory rather than relying solely on electronic presentations,[dl][dm][dn] and by running through a full example of what to expect in a real walkthrough. With a sufficient number of volunteers, we also recommend having multiple volunteers walk through the same lab to help alleviate scoring inconsistency.[do][dp]

Defragmenting Safety Resources

“A 2012 report by the Safety Culture Task Force of the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety identified several key barriers to achieving a strong safety culture, many of which involved fragmented infrastructure,[dq][dr][ds] support, resources, and educational materials.[dt][du][dv]

“In the development of our website, we worked with safety administration to identify and clarify the disparate but related safety resources, both internal and external to our university, and coalesced them into a single accessible portal where all members of our constituency—researchers, undergraduates, teaching assistants, faculty, safety administrators, staff, and visitors—can navigate our broader, more complex infrastructure with ease.”[dw]

“From our initial LSC surveying, we came to realize that there were no formal guidelines provided to LSCs that detailed their responsibilities; since it is extremely difficult to perform the job well without a clear understanding of what exactly the job entails, the JRSI worked closely with ORS and EH&S to standardize the minimum required responsibilities of an LSC.”[dx][dy][dz]

“Defragmenting safety efforts and resources is a time-consuming task, but one which can offer clarity in how to best impact the university safety culture by forcing[ea][eb][ec][ed] involved parties to comb through the institution’s available resources and to interface broadly with the institution’s artifacts.”

Educating Researchers, Teachers, and Safety Contacts

“In an effort to make the most efficient impact on our University’s safety culture, we identified and targeted two key demographics—LSCs and first-year graduate students—and developed interpersonal training programs and support systems for them.”

“…we created an original program to develop safety-minded interpersonal training for these targeted key demographics. We strategized that incoming students can be strong drivers of cultural change in that they have not yet been exposed to the existing institutional safety culture; this, in combination with the fact that they still have many years of research ahead of them, may make matriculating graduate students an impactful demographic for working on long-term cultural change.“

“…we developed a training[ee][ef][eg][eh][ei][ej] [ek][el][em]for first-year students aimed at developing the soft skills required [en][eo][ep][eq]to communicate effectively and to contribute to a positive and supportive atmosphere around safety.”

Table Read Comments

[b]Whether they should or should not be relevant pressures is a separate question entirely. You can find information about this in the Safety Culture Taskforce 2012 report.

[c]I can look this up later (sorry if I’m just un-informed here) but do you know off hand if this is a re-occurring report and if it is how often it occurs?

[a]Were they ever at the level of industrial and governmental counterparts? How is this level measured? Is there data for this? Should financial and public pressures be the relevant driving forces for the academy?

[d]Melissa, to my understanding there has not been another report since 2012.

Dominick, it is also worth noting that much of the communications about safety culture improvement and safety administration improvement in academic settings across the country occurred as a response to massive fines and felony charges at UCLA after Sheri Sangji’s death. These financial and social/legal pressures have absolutely been a driving force in academia, and so has the absence of them.

[e]There are many financial and public pressures in academia, but they are different driving fources from government’s and industry’s

[f]Agreed.

[g]Are there any citations or references for this claim by the JRSI?  Do we know that it is due “in large part” to lack of financial and public pressure?  And that those are indeed driving forces in gov’t and industry?  And that it isn’t other large factors at play?  I’m skeptical of this broad claim.

[h]I’m struggling to understand the use of quotes on each paragraph.  Is that on purpose?  Or an artifact of it being a Google doc?  Who is quoting whom here please?

[i]You can find information about this in the 2012 ACS Safety Culture Taskforce report. All quotes here are directly from the paper cited at the top. There are no direct quotes from any other source. The information in this paper was synthesized from various different sources, which are indicated by in-text citations in the paper cited at the top.

[j]See my comment to Dominick above for more: 

“it is also worth noting that much of the communications about safety culture improvement and safety administration improvement in academic settings across the country occurred as a response to massive fines and felony charges at UCLA after Sheri Sangji’s death. These financial and social/legal pressures have absolutely been a driving force in academia, and so has the absence of them.”

Industry hasn’t always had incentive to drive safe practices, particularly in the early days of heavy expansion of chemical industry in the early 1900s (some corners of industry still don’t have substantial enough financial, social, and legal pressure to be interested in driving safe behaviors/environments—see meat packing plants, for instance). As some pressure was put on industry to do better to avoid worker comp suits, other legal fees, and fines, it became a bigger financial interest for these companies to proactively prevent accidents. The incentive structure is quite different in academia, and it wasn’t until fines and felony charges were seen by a major institution that academic institutions felt some substantial pressure to address these problems.

Of course there are many other very important and significant factors at play (indeed the entire point of this paper and of a safety team at UChicago is to address these other factors, which graduate students and post-docs may be able to manage some control over). The incentive structure of the institution to encourage and drive safety behavior (or not) is, however, a major influencer.

[k]Is this referring to conflict in EH&S uppers vs. PI or departmental staff/ faculty?

[l]Conflicting interests between different groups, like EH&S vs PI vs departmental staff, etc.

[m]Does anyone know if this emphasis on regulation compliance is or is not the primary driver for safety efforts at industrial or government research lab?

[n]It varies from place to place. Often in industry, there is also a strong emphasis on regulatory compliance as well. In industry, the literature shows that environments, where collaboration and worker-involvement are valued, have stronger safety culture and better outcomes.

[o]One of the goals should be professional development if we are going to be comparing our graduates to industry in order to make them industry ready. Since there are few accreditations given for graduate school degree, I am not certain of the best approach.

[p]Several of the ACS publications on Safety Culture have engaged chemists working in industry as content creators specifically because of the consistent complaint that PhD graduates aren’t “safety ready.” That being said, it seems to be a struggle to get really concrete information out of them by what is meant by “not safety ready.”

[q]One of the advantages of faculty researcher-led teams is continuity. This can certainly be built in to the JSTs, but there must also be institutional memory, and that is one thing that faculty can provide, maybe in the context of a champion?

[r]Where are the quotes coming from? The actual paper?

[s]Again, yes, all of the quotes are directly from the paper. There are no direct quotes from an uncited source.

[t]Yes, champions are important for a host of reasons, some of which are continuity and stability.

[u]Megan Gonzalez has in her dissertation tried to provide a definition of safety culture more targeted to academic laboratories.

[v]Yes, there are many different conceptualizations of safety culture

[w]Just wondering… it seems as though these accidents were in Biological labs. It is interesting that chemistry seems have taken the lead for JSTs rather than Biology, or is it a mix of disciplines?

[x]I’m also interested in this. Right now our Chemical Hygiene Committee isn’t very involved with our Biosafety Committee unless it directly involves chemicals.

[y]Great question! There is a lot of crossover between the work in biological departments and chemistry departments at The University of Chicago. The main reason that the chemistry department took the lead on the JRSI is simply because this is the group that was approached about attending the DOW Lab Safety Academy. We have had a lot of interest from Biophysics about getting involved in the team, even though they weren’t involved in the beginning.

[z]Is there any data on what percentage of active JST/LSTs are cross-departmental (overall nationally)?

[aa]I think this depends on how they are set up. A great question to explore!

[ab]The creation of the JRSI after the ORS would seem to imply that graduate students still felt as if there were needs not being addressed adequately.

[ac]I agree with this comment and wonder if it connects with the previous comment on the cited issues being biological lab heavy. Was there a disconnect between ORS focusing on particular hazards that left chemistry students feeling “left out” (for lack of better phrasing)?

[ad]I had this same thought but it would depend on how the group was started, if students wanted it because they weren’t feeling heard or if faculty wanted it to help empower students to develop a safety culture which is difficult by the ORS alone without student engagement.

[ae]There is quite a bit of time between the creation of ORS and the creation of JRSI. In practice, this means that all of the graduate students at UChicago have never known UChicago without ORS. ORS made improvements in the organizational structure, but by no means did it fill all holes.

As a side note, ORS covers all departments, not just chemistry or biology.

[af]once the JRSI was established, was an effort made to reach out to other departments?

[ag]Yes! Though to date, we haven’t yet expanded. Though there was initial interest from multiple departments, we didn’t have the bandwidth to incorporate other departments. However, now that our feet are more firmly planted, we’re thinking about how best to do this: incorporate them into one big team, or have a separate team in each department with good communication between them all? As of date, we have high interest from biophysics.

[ah]Was this a joint meeting or two separate meetings?

[ai]Does this mean that EHS did not have a member meeting with the JRSI regularly, other than these monthly meetings?

[aj]It was joint between the safety team, EHS, and ORS. At the time, we had only these monthly meetings with the greater ORS & EHS, but we always had a close point of contact with someone in ORS who functioned as a champion for us. She was in all of our email communications, all of our meetings, etc.

[ak]Who is funding this? And is this defined to equate to a certain number of hours per stipend period of labor dedicated to JRSI activities?

[al]I had same question and also wondered if money needed to fund activities is taken out of stipends or put to the side separately?

[am]Same question: where did the money come from? This would be a neat thing to ask for from VPR offices!

[an]Also interested in funding source.

[ao]The size of our board is capped at 10 members. Each member gets 500/quarter (including summer) contingent on active participation. Active participation is defined as attending 10/12 yearly hour-long meetings, joining at least one subcommittee and participating satisfactorily in that (as judged by the executive committee charing the subcommittee), and helping to plan the annual Peer Lab Walkthrough. We currently serve two departments—chemistry and molecular engineering. Half of everyone’s stipend comes from chemistry, half from molecular engineering. It is awarded by the deans, and does not come out of the JRSI’s pool of funding.

[ap]How was this funded?

[aq]The size of our board is capped at 10 members. Each member gets 500/quarter (including summer) contingent on active participation. Active participation is defined as attending 10/12 yearly hour-long meetings, joining at least one subcommittee and participating satisfactorily in that (as judged by the executive committee charing the subcommittee), and helping to plan the annual Peer Lab Walkthrough. We currently serve two departments—chemistry and molecular engineering. Half of everyone’s stipend comes from chemistry, half from molecular engineering. It is awarded by the deans, and does not come out of the JRSI’s pool of funding.

[ar]What was the demographic breakdown of time in program for these applicants? Was it primarily younger students or those beyond candidacy exams?

[as]I don’t have this information on me right now, but from memory it was a pretty health mix of all sorts of students. We had some pre-candidacy, some post-docs, and some mid-career. I think we received one close to graduation, but I am less sure about that one.

[at]I wonder why this is only 43%, I would expect that it would be higher because being involved in this program would help them fulfill their LSC duties. How many were previous LSCs?

[au]I’m not surprised it’s within this regime – I can imagine that the time commitment to serve as both an LSC and board member would be more substantial than some students would be willing to make.

[av]I’m not sure what @kalim863@gmail.com means here. At UConn, there is no set number of hours or duties to serve as an LSC (LSO) so whether or not an individual serves on the JST would have nothing to do with “fulfilling LSC duties.” It seems that it works the same way at Chicago?

[aw]43% really isn’t a bad number in student life and student activities circles…

[ax]UChicago functions similarly to UConn (as Jessica mentioned). There are no requirements for the number of hours spend as an LSC/LSO. Additionally, serving on the JRSI board does not impact one’s responsibilities as an LSC at UChicago.

[ay]Was there a reason that the committee chairs were not independent members?

[az]What is the plan for continuity and history?

[ba]@bader072@umn.edu can you clarify what you mean by “independent members”?

Dominick, we have a Google Team Drive that has an organized repository of all of our documents and our history and are working on securing another champion since our ORS representative passed away. In the meantime, there is a process of training to secure effective turnover.

[bb]Any long-term permanent members?

[bc]Yes, there are two members on the board (out of 10) who have been with the JRSI since the beginning. Both will be graduate soon, though.

We did have a member of ORS working very closely with us (functioned as a champion and a source of continuity), but unfortunately, she passed away a couple of months ago.

[bd]What is upper administration? To me this means the chancellor.

[be]deans and department chairs

[bf]Did you run into any issues with things getting lost after new leadership turnover or different documentation styles?

[bg]Because we still have 2 founding members on our board, we haven’t actually lost any documentation with leadership turnover. However, when the executive committee leadership transferred over to non-founding members, we definitely saw a lot of problems brewing with this (they could just ask the founding members, but eventually it will be lost information). Perhaps creating a sheet detailing all of the available information and documentation could help.

[bh]This is key to many volunteer groups and often not captured as an important piece.

[bi]upvote!

[bj]I have relearned this lesson the hard way several times. Sometimes the challenge is primarily language based – it is hard to get to the point of your question without slipping into jargon. However, there is also a need to understand what questions the surveyed population is ready to answer.

One way to figure this out is to use face to face focus groups to:

1)         See how other people perceive the issue you are asking about

2)         Understand what language they use to describe those issues

3)         Figure out how to minimize the number of questions while getting the information you need.

This process pays dividends when the results of the survey come out.

[bk]I agree @Ralph. Qualitative methods such as 1:1 interviews and focus groups can provide depth and detail unavailable from surveys.  All of these methods require a knowledge of effective design and evaluation techniques that many don’t realize is needed.

[bl]That is exactly the problem I have-who can we tap to help us with surveys and interviews other than doing our best based on the literature? There is no one on my campus.

[bm]@June Do you not have a Department of Psychology at your school? Or a School of Education? Or a Business School? These are common areas to find people who have survey expertise.

[bn]Would it be worth considering attempting to recruit someone from a different department who has experience with this to advise the team? If so, it may be worth what kind of incentive structure would make sense.

[bo]While we have a small number of people in the Department of Psychology at UConn who specialize in Industrial Psychology and some people at the Business School focused on the structure of organizations, I failed to find anyone who was willing/able to take the time to advise our team in this way – so it could be a tall order.

[bp]Before starting my PhD courses I opted to find a professional staff person well educated in survey design.  She was quite happy to assist us and we found the process enlightening and the resulting survey much more useful and valid than our original draft (which we discarded).  There are typically staff at uni’s who have this education and are able/willing to help.

[bq]It was nice that you found someone who could. My point is that I could NOT find someone who was willing to spend the time on it.

[br]We paid professional survey people housed on campus to help with this. The results were more statistically robust, but less educational than more informal approaches. Industrial Psychology people do tend to be quite busy with bigger money questions (e.g. maximizing workforce productivity).

[bs]We had someone in Industrial Psych who worked with a group of undergrads to examine Safety Culture within the kitchens on campus! That is why I thought he would be good to approach. He gave me a few useful things to look at & think about, but was unwilling to engage in a more productive way.

[bt]This is a very good point. My surveys have generally been cross-institutional, so there is a less well defined audience for the results

[bu]Always a good idea to have the blessing of the IRB. I know for the surveys that my students do, they always seek IRB approval, in case they want to publish the results. De-identifying is necessary, but a good IRB will provide examples of how to do it well, and will critique the techniques used.

[bv]These are likely to be separate surveys based on separate focus groups; don’t forgot to include support staff (administrative and technical) in this list. They often have the institutional memories that other portions of the community don’t.

[bw]Great points!

[bx]Very good point, and very true! This is especially true for surveys that might be pre-post or that want to be shown to be valid instruments. The methodology for making “valid” surveys is also in the literature.

[by]I agree wholeheartedly @dominick!  Many surveys are poorly designed and constructed.

[bz]And when they are designed for statistical validity, they often stray from the content of interest. “Trending destroys fidelity”.

[ca]EHS can be in a tough spot with this. They are responsible for compliance and as such, it often needs to be where they focus – especially if they have limited resources.

[cb]It is mentioned earlier that a separate ORS was established. We don’t have an ORS at my school. I have often wondered how different the relationships are between researchers and safety personnel when an ORS is introduced.

[cc]ORS is only tangentially involved in EHS for many institutions. ORS might also bear responsibility for funding and grant opportunities and oversight. That tends to be a BIG deal and they just want EHS to “be sure we are in compliance” because “being out” can cause loss of funding.

[cd]I thought the Office of Research Safety was specifically designed to assist researchers in conducting their research safely – i.e. the stuff EHS often doesn’t have the time to do. Am I wrong in this? If not this, then what do they do?

[ce]ORS tend to arise when the administrative side (facilities or risk management) get frustrated with the academic side and vice versa. My experience is that the personalities involved are the primary driver of successful colloborations across this aisle

[cf]I agree with Ralph. ORS may also have oversight of hospital/patient research safety. Those tend to get more attention than engineering or chemical safety.

[cg]There’s a figure in the paper that explains how the responsibilities of EHS and ORS differ and overlap at UChicago

[ch]In most departments, there is also insufficient information about what each lab group is doing in terms of hazardous chemicals and operations, number of workers in the group and their statuses, the legacy and anticipated directions of their work

[ci]This is certainly true from my experience as well!

[cj]Vendors can be a valuable source of support for these efforts, particularly those with contracts with the institution who are interested in maintaining good relationships with the lab community.

[ck]We tried to do this at UConn, but our stockroom manager was really against it. She said that legally they couldn’t have relationships with vendors that were too close. I was baffled as I have ATTENDED vendor fairs at other institutions (even in Connecticut), but she was adamant about it so we did not pursue it at the time. Anyone ever heard of this?

[cl]I have not. Unless the state of CT is way off the beaten track in terms of vendor practices, this sounds like an individual concern. That’s the purpose of the state bidding process – to protect the vendors from “too close” relationships

[cm]We do vendor fairs usually once a semester (sometimes once a year), so I don’t understand this.

[cn]Yeah – I don’t think it is a state issue since one of the vendor fairs I attended was at the other university in CT (you know….Yale….).

[co]Was this provided for free to the University by the vendors?

[cp]Yes, it was. Indeed, we found out afterward that vendors will actually pay you to host a vendor fair. Whoops—missed opportunity for safety team funding ):

[cq]Whoa! That’s great to know! We’ve been trying to set one of these for our safety break event that we typically host in May.

[cr]These can be very engaging initiatives to facilitate safety culture efforts. It is nice to see it done and imitated by others. 🙂

[cs]This helps to address the problem mentioned above about collaboration and knowledge of other labs operations and concerns

[ct]This I believe is one of the effective ways of building a safety community within and between departments.

[cu]We’ve been doing peer walk throughs since 2012. I like the competition aspect. I’m guessing that it caused more groups to take this more seriously and look more deeply. What were the prizes? Again, who sponsored the prizes?

[cv]It very much did. Much of the department was abuzz after the winners were announced and the prizes were handed out. We had a $500 prize to the winning lab (across both departments), and a $250 prize to the top-scoring lab in the runner-up department and the second-scoring lab in the winning department. These awards were provided by the deans. We also gave out bonus awards for creative things we saw in the labs that weren’t acknowledged by our rubric (like a cool color-coded tape system to designate chemical-free and contaminated spaces). They weren’t monetary, just recognition. This year, the deans have doubled our available award money because of demonstrated success. People were also highly interested in the award ceremony, which we initially weren’t sure about! (:

[cw]Since the publication, have these walkthroughs been repeated and has % of labs participating changed?

[cx]Sort of! We started the second round of walkthroughs in winter 2020 and nearly doubled participation! Unfortunately, we had to cancel the event because of COVID, but we’re now working on revamping a virtual walkthrough and reaching out to the many labs and volunteers who signed up last year.

[cy]Is this rubric open/ accessible?

[cz]Yes! It is included in the supporting information (which is openly accessible) here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.chas.9b00012

[da]Thank you so much! I had not yet looked at the supporting info 🙂

[db]Do you think having a more publicized way of acknowledging winners helped encourage future participation and heightened safety compliance? Did you see attendance at this ceremony restricted to the participating labs or more global participation?

[dc]I can’t speak to whether it heightened safety compliance on such short terms and without good measuring metrics, but it absolutely encouraged future participation and interest. Participation nearly doubled the next year, and people were chatting about the award ceremony for a while after. There was more global participation than I personally anticipated, but it was definitely mostly participating labs. We had deans and department chairs speak at the event, and had the department chairs boost our invitation email as well

[dd]What were the prizes? Was it a motivating factor?

[de]$500 / lab award for first place, $250 / lab for two runner-ups. The money was to be used for a lab event of their choosing. It seemed to be a major motivator, initially, though we were not able to survey. I can say that participation doubled the next year.

[df]A scoring rubric or some checklist is a good idea, as it doesn’t come across as capriciously walking through the lab looking for safety violations. Providing the rubric or checklist ahead of time also helps focus things like lab clean up.

[dg]lesson learned for me here. I did not take a rubric for my first set of lab walkthroughs. Checklists create a baseline.

[dh]We did indeed provide the rubric to the lab ahead of time!

[di]This is a major science education opportunity, so professional scientists often visit other people’s labs and need to be comfortable in asking questions to make the visit as productive as possible for both the hosts and the guests

[dj]I agree that this is a vital learning moment and should happen more often. 

Has this been attempted again?

[dk]The Univ of New Hampshire EHS hires chem grad students to update chemistry dept chemical inventories in the summer and this is very popular with the students because they get to learn about the rest of the Chem Dept. they also avoid being stuck in one lab all day when they don’t have classes to get then out

[dl]Videos showing model situations could also be useful from the perspective of minimizing meetings (especially for members who have participated longer and feel more comfortable with the material and are less inclined to participate with a hands-on training).

[dm]I have seen a variety of videos about safety inspections with many different tones and attitudes. they are very hard to do.

[dn]I agree – I think having a video very specific to the safety rubric is most helpful versus more generalized videos about safety inspections in general.

[do]One strategy that we found to be very effective at UMN was to have the LSO event taking place before the walkthroughs be a training event for walkthroughs. It was also a place for people to voice concerns about the walkthroughs, which allowed the committee in charge of them to adjust accordingly

[dp]I like this incorporation!

[dq]Can someone elaborate on what is meant by fragmented infrastructure? That part is not clear to me.

[dr]The Chemical Safety Board described it with a Swiss Cheese model.  Not everyone on the same page and holes in oversight, among other things.

[ds]That explanation helps. Thank you!

[dt]it seems like we have lots of educational materials, what is often lacking is those materials being presented in a way that impacts. A student led team might be able to present that information more effectively.

[du]Agreed. Our department’s approach to safety before was “here is a list of things you can read.” TBH, I never read a single one before I started working on these things because I had no direction in terms of what was actually useful for me to read.

[dv]Also agreed! However, there are also cases where resources are lacking. For instance, there were no resources (training, reference, or otherwise) for Lab Safety Contacts at our university.

[dw]I think this is such a good idea. Having all safety resources in one easily accessible place would really help to build general safety knowledge.

[dx]This is a problem that we are dealing with as well at UMN. We have an LSO guidebook that we are in the process of overhauling, and we also have an annual LSO training meeting, but many LSOs still feel lost early on. We are attempting to implement an LSO liaison program as well as a training video to overcome this probem

[dy]Communicating about safety in the lab is not easy for anyone and takes practice. Encouraging new people to get involved to learn about other people’s science while talking about safety is one way to help break the ice

[dz]We also implemented a soft-skills-training workshop with first-years to try and help them develop and practice effective ways to communicate about safety

[ea]forcing? Wouldn’t interest be a stronger driving force?

[eb]Yes, it seems like that would lead to resentment and people taking safety culture and the JRSI less seriously.

[ec]I think this quote has suffered by being out of place or bad phrasing? I think the idea is to “force” those who are providing the safety resources to present them in a more useful way for researchers to access….?

[ed]^Jessica’s got it.

[ee]Is this further explained in the paper? Interpersonal conflict seems to be a large reason for students not correcting their peer’s behaviors and I would love to learn more about how this training was conducted.

[ef]This is addressed in the supplementary information PDF pretty well

[eg]Thank you! I hadn’t looked at the SI yet so that’s very good to know.

[eh]Agreed. I also think a great deal of the tension between graduate students and their PIs (and how their PIs regard safety personnel) is a big part of what graduate students learn or don’t learn about research safety.

[ei]I agree to that tension point, Jessica. We’ve also had a lot of people report that they don’t verbally correct peers if they have in the past and haven’t seen changed behavior and that’s something we’re trying to figure out how to best address.

[ej]I introduced a competitive game into my lab when we had several undergrads during a summer to get people to wear their safety glasses. It was much more effective than me constantly saying “put on your safety glasses.” I can definitely understand the fatigue inherent in constant reminding. One of my fellow grad students used the gamification idea to get undergrads in a teaching lab to “bust” each other as well so it saved him having to do it all the time. I don’t really think the game could extend well to most safety practices though.

[ek]I like the peer aspect of this. We have a faculty-led course for first-year graduate students as well as EH&S face-to-face and electronic training, but I wonder if peer training sticks better, plus it allows students to ask more direct questions without feeling intimidated.

[el]We do peer training, grad to undergrads, during our lab audit teams. I think it works really well!

[em]I will be interested to see how the remote work covid requires inspires new training media. We are all going to be developing new communication skills (such as table reads)

[en]These are science skills as well as safety skills

[eo]I would push this to “these are great life skills to have”. knowing how to be supportive while recommending changes or improvements helps all over the place!

[ep]These are great life skills to have in general!

[eq]We need a course on effective communication and conflict resolution in safety!