Tag Archives: safety research

Who pays when a graduate student gets hurt? : Safety Journal Club Discussion, December 1, 2020

Led by:
Ralph Stuart, Keene State College

The discussion format on December 1 was to read snd comment on an abridged version of the C&EN article “Who pays when a graduate student gets hurt?” found at https://cen.acs.org/safety/lab-safety/pays-graduate-student-hurt/98/i42

The group comments and discussions were then organized around 5 questions:

  1. Who are the stakeholders in this story (either at BU specifically, or more generally)?
  2. What do you think are the 3 most important take away messages from this article?
  3. What other aspects of the grad student experience does their legal status as employees impact? 
  4. What opportunities are there for addressing the confusion these questions raise?
  5. How does this confusion impact the safety culture of 1) specific institutions and 2) higher education in general?

Who Pays? Discussion summary

1. Who are the stakeholders in this story (either at BU specifically, or more generally)?

  • As a current graduate student, I would assume that I was working in the capacity of an employee of the institution here.
  • I’ve always assumed that graduate students are employees of the institution. Their checks have the university’s name emblazoned on it. I have come across situations, as described in the article, while as department chair where graduate students were treated as students when convenient and as employees when convenient. “When convenient” seems to be the operant term.
  • The grad students are the people with the most potential for contact with the hazards bc they are frequently the hands doing the actual work.  Can it be that they have the least safety net?  Plus they are in a poor position to fight back bc they need to recoup the time and money invested in their degree so suing the institution isn’t a go to option.
  • This advisor person does not seem to be involved after the initial response. Isn’t there a duty that the advisor / responsible PI advocate for the student throughout the bureaucratic mess that ensued? Perhaps the institution’s response would’ve been more robust if a faculty member had been more actively involved with seeking a remedy.
  • In my experience, who the stakeholders are varies by institution and even within institutions. Higher education has a complex financial structure that confuses many discussions about money.
  • Is there a difference between how public/private institutions should/could react?
  • Are there conflicting stakeholders? The graduate student, the PI, the institution (here BU), risk management, workman’s comp, the state, all have different agendas.
  • As the article indicates, it’s not a question EHS folks can usually answer accurately and often nor could Risk Mgmt. The unit’s business pro was best suited and able to do so.
  • This reflects the broken USA healthcare system. Thus, the needed fix is political. In the interim, anyone, including a student of any level, should assure health insurance. Under 25 qualifies for parent’s program, if any. Most students, including graduate students and post-docs, will qualify under the ACA for coverage assistance. Worst case is to purchase private medical insurance, often out of the price range for students.
  • Compensability determinations are currently made by our Worker’s Comp group.  If there are complexities in the decision there is confusion about where to go and who to talk to.  The Business Manager in the home department is a good source of information.
    • Seconded. There is a lot of confusion in the air that needs to be clarified case by case
    • My experience is that there is a lot of variation in the expertise of departmental business managers. In addition, the departmental clerical staff at our institution has been cut in half over the last year due to covid impacts.

2. What do you think are the 3 most important take away messages from this article?

  • I wonder if because of the assumption that paycheck = employee, most graduate students assume they are covered by workman’s comp and don’t even bother to ask. This is an important take away. Students should ask when they come in how the university really views them and what their legal position it.
  • WC has been very beneficial to employees. They are covered by law. The issue is the unclear status of a graduate student whose “employment” is linked to their education. Again, that is a question for legislation to resolve. Each of us must have medical protection while waiting for this to happen.
    • While I can appreciate that this question has a long history, it IS news to current graduate students.
  • Shouldn’t financial responsibility for medical care be part of Planning For Emergencies done by institutions?
    • Emergency planning and workers compensation policies do tie together.
    • Planning for Emergencies in labs is often as confusing as WC due to local resources (campus and municipal), diverse types of hazards needed to prepare for, and local politics.

3. What other aspects of the grad student experience does their legal status as employees impact?

  • Expectations and compensation for working hours
  • Access to personal protective equipment
  • Termination process concerns
  • When I was a grad student I was told by our student government to only say “hurt at school” so that my personal insurance would not reject a claim
  • A lot of places do try to list post-docs as students. I don’t think that is clear cut everywhere either.

4. What opportunities are there for addressing the confusion these questions raise?

  • I wonder if the National Labor Relations Board should /could get involved in mediating this nationally, or do these laws need to reside, legally, at the state level?
  • One idea is to develop a FAQ list that grad students should ask about safety before accepting a fellowship offer would be helpful to the grad student in evaluating the offer and the PI in framing the offer as desirable. This could be a national resource
  • Given how much Workers Comp varies by state, I am deeply skeptical of a successful unified approach to rectifying it across the U.S.  I think a state by state approach is much more likely to be effective (though inefficient perhaps).  So, then perhaps a college by college approach to encourage (require?) a unified set of best practices to be implemented locally might lend itself to the missing broad scale aspect.
  • Some institutions require that PI’s provide health insurance for graduate students and postdocs. Conversely, some universities do not require mandatory health insurance. There are no unified policies. At my university, we require that PI’s or the institution to provide health care for our graduate students doing research.
  • UC Davis has its own Fire Dept with EMTs making at least initial treatment quick, easy, and at no cost to students.
    • Related to ambulance costs and American healthcare, one of the concerns that has been raised is the cost for undergrads that call an ambulance for medical emergencies (lab or non-lab). If the university’s ambulance service responds it’s free, but if they are unavailable an outside service responds. This can lead to bills (after insurance) of >$1,000. This creates a disincentive to calling for medical help when needed.
    • This is an important point. I stress in lab safety training I do that the institution expects the lab worker to call 911 in case of emergency. For some people, this call is a significant financial risk
    • This is one of the reasons why graduate students will often drive other grad students to the hospital. They just saved >$1,000
  • What is the incentive to NOT consider graduate students to be employees?

5. How does this confusion impact the safety culture of 1) specific institutions and 2) higher education in general?

  • This unfortunate outcome (in addition to a GSR not having medical bills paid) was that they wouldn’t go for any treatment for fear of the costs. We saw this occur frequently (and quite sadly).
  • If one cannot feel that an accident can be recovered from financially, I imagine it would inhibit more dangerous lines of research. It may also inhibit students from feeling that the institution actually cares about their safety and well-being.
  • What kind of work performed by students does the ruling pertain to?  Could laws be strengthened if WC-type coverage is extended to students who do certain types of hazardous work, such as laboratory research?
  • It’s sad that it takes a meeting with an attorney before the institution decided to pay. Although this article is only one perspective, it seems there was a genuine lack of caring behind the initial inaction. Although the administration seemed to say some of the right things, what they didn’t do was cover the student’s bills first and figure out how those bills might be accounted for later.
  • How can there we build a constructive safety culture when people on the front lines of the work are having experiences that leave them distrustful of the institutions?

Discussion of Emergency Response issues

  • TFA does not pose the risk of systemic toxicity that HF does. Here is one study demonstrating this difference and pointing out that PEG 400 is recommended as a topical treatment on some SDS’s, https://drive.google.com/file/d/16QsUsw3MoYcnIhm9akXF4piUUajNOCue/view?usp=sharing
  • We had an HF Committee (including our Occ Doc and Occ Nurse).  We required grab ‘n go kits with instructions for the Emergency Dept to follow.  They could/should just call Poison Control at 800-222-1222 – purposefully easy to remember! 🙂
  • One piece of helpful advice for people who work with exotic chemicals is to bring the SDS to the Emergency Room with you so that the ER staff will know exactly which chemical was involved. The treatment for HF is very different from the treatment of HCl, but their names sound similar in conversation
    • Is this why there is insistence that SDSs be printed out rather than relying on accessing them through a computer? We are allowed to embrace the latter, but then we wouldn’t have an easily accessible SDS to bring to the ER.
    • From Haim Weizman (he/him) : We made a video that shows TFA damage.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6DrCdjedas&ab_channel=ChemUCSD

What is a Culture of Safety and Can It Be Changed? : Safety Journal Club Discussion, Nov 17, 2020

Led by:
Dominick Casadonte, Texas Tech University Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry

You can download Dr. Casadonte’s powerpoint file here.

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Resources discussed in the talk:


When an accident like this (2010 Texas Tech) happens, it is a system failure.

Before the 2010 accident, we had a lackluster safety committee; it was a way to be on a committee, but not do any actual work.

EHS now has a much heftier line item in the budget for safety.

Faculty, staff, and graduate students are required to take and pass a biannual safety exam. The exam is randomized each time a person takes it from a question bank of ~250 questions. Everyone is required to take this biannually.

Q: What are the consequence if a faculty member does not pass the biannual test?

A: Taking and passing the test is tied into the HR system. If they don’t complete it, they don’t get paid. We had a little trouble in the beginning, but now have 100% compliance.

Texas Tech does not have unions.

The average lab group at Texas Tech has ~10 people in it.

Now working on developing effective “safety award” programs to use as carrots in the system.

Q: Could the safety award programs introduce perverse incentives?

A: We haven’t yet seen evidence of this. A faculty representative from every lab/work area with a safety concern is represented on the committee, so the test has broad support.

Q: Have you employed any means of measuring the graduate researcher perspective on the changes that have been made at Texas Tech since the 2010 incident?

A: When writing the 2 perspective articles for ACS Chemical Health & Safety, we decided not to include the graduate student who was injured due to concerns of re-traumatization. We have also not really introduced a specific way of tracking graduate student perceptions. Obviously, we would not have a graduate student population who would have been there for 10 years to compare the time before the accident and now. However, it is interesting to consider if there is some way to capture that perspective to see if graduate students do notice the changes that we have made. Things definitely “feel” different, but have not formally tracked it in any way.

Safety Culture & Communication: Safety Journal Club Discussion, Nov 10, 2020

Led by:
Dr. Anthony Appleton
Colorado State University

Resources discussed in the talk:

Dr. Anthony Appleton’s introductory talk

  • Love languages: learning about these can help you communicate better with different types of people
  • Think about who you learned research from and how that influenced how you do it
  • I learned from key mentors:
    • Communication was one of the most important things about research
    • The importance of building relationships in the safety sphere
  • I learned how the building operated and how that impacted the other workers in the building
  • At Stanford University, my lab moved to a new building. I had to learn how to interact with the Fire Department, city officials, architects, and had to manage chemical inventory.
  • Generation Accident: An important question that needed to be considered after the death of Sheri Sangji – who calls her parents?
  • Researchers are on the front lines; the Executive Capacity don’t necessarily know how to help you in the best way – and you may not know how to communicate with them.
  • At CSU, was seeking to answer: Who do you talk to? How do you do it?
  • Recognized that someone needs to translate between the researchers and those who should be supporting them
  • Now have Safety Teams organized with faculty or staff AND graduate students – currently organized into MS Teams and hold monthly meetings to communicate with one another

General Conversation

  • Question: How did you find your acceptance at the lab level when coming into this new position at CSU?
    • Answer: Everyone read my title and thought “he’s the safety guy.” They thought it was another compliance unit and they brushed me off. To overcome this, I reached out to meet with people in relaxed situations (e.g. over coffee) and said, “Let’s talk. What can I do to help you? And I can’t get you into trouble.” Also, I answer directly to a VP. In discussing safety culture, I also realized I needed to explain to people that safety is an expansive concept that goes far beyond chemical compliance (e.g. sexual harassment, construction).
  • Question: Do you have any suggestions from your experience for fostering safety at the undergraduate level?
    • Answer: When exploring improving undergraduate labs, realized that each lab class functioned as a silo. No one wanted anything added to their curriculum. Now working on a project focused on teaching labs generally.
    • Pay attention to where your student go. For CSU, #2 destination state is California, so we are working to incorporate education on Cal OSHA.
    • Trying to work on updating classical classes. Realize that people have worked on this curriculum for years so it can be tough to walk in and say “hey, you are missing something from your curriculum.”
    • CPT is working on next set of safety guidelines for undergraduates.
  • When working to shift safety culture, snag new faculty before anyone else and start with examining your onboarding process. Everyone says they hate their onboarding – find out why and fix that.
  • I can’t walk into every research environment and command respect – but I can walk in with a specialist who can.
  • All researchers need help – and when they figure out you’re not going to ding them for it and that you are actually going to help, they are much more open.
  • At CSU, we designed a single website that puts contacts and safety info in one place: https://www.research.colostate.edu/research-safety-culture/
  • When you feel appreciated, you give back to your school.
  • Check out the University of Utah report in order to see how the responsibilities of Executives has now been defined by a governmental body.
  • Question: Who is predisposed to be a champion? How do you find those 1st people?
    • Answer: That’s in the conversations. Start talking to committees. See who they identify and respect as the true powerhouses. This will take some digging. Meet those people casually and one-on-one (i.e. don’t meet in the office or in front of senior management of the university).

Supporting Scientists by Making Research Safer: Safety Journal Club Discussion, Nov 4, 2020

Led by:
Imke Schroeder, Ph.D.
UC Center for Laboratory Safety ,UCLA

Dr. Schroeder’s presentation can be downloaded here:

The papers she shared:


    • How was the survey conducted?
      • Worked with other university’s EH&S Departments; data directly sent to Imke’s Team; encouraging emails to complete the survey; stopped collecting data when N is representative of the campus; greatest response rate associated with asking researchers in-person to complete the survey
    • Speak to relevance of findings for the challenges for promoting responsibilities associated with undefined risks (DURC).
      • How to train researchers to think about this.
      • Imke has no focus on DURC, but they did look at attitudes
      • How accepting are researchers of safety policies?
      • Could be embedded with an ethical question.
    • The phrase “safety takes priority” was used here whereas Dupont states “Safety and productivity are of equal value.”
    • There is a difference between the rules and the tools; we use the RAMP model to train researchers to think critically about their work; “push” information out based on need, but also provide resources so that there is something there when the researcher “pulls” for information
    • Should not put safety and productivity at odds; “safety with”… Instead of “safety first, then…”; think of the value-add of working safety and productivity together
    • Safety and productivity are the same problem framed differently
    • Reaching for accurate risk perception
    • Risk perceptions vary from person to person (it’s very personal)
    • We delude ourselves that there is one “best risk perception”
    • Who resolves productivity vs safety? Safety should take priority in cases where there is a conflict. This is our ultimate responsibility.
    • Imke mentioned how big the influence PIs have on research safety in the lab; when a student moves from training with a PI that maintains a strong safety culture, and then the student graduates and moves on to a place with a weaker safety culture, how does that experience translate?
    • If a PI emphasizes safety, the lab is much easier to work with for safety professionals; these PIs think about research safety as training their trainees to be safer and better researchers in the greater research community; the emphasis is on professional development, not just about being safe in this particular research lab; also, I am seeing this much more among younger PIs
    • Agrees with the PIs correlation on safety
    • Does anyone know if any students trained in these “strong safety culture” labs been followed into their careers to see how they do?
    • This would be a fantastic and also very difficult project! What we are seeing is that these “strong safety culture” students are going to companies well-known for their emphasis on strong safety culture
    • It is very difficult for individuals to sustain their safety culture belief system; in one example, a person maintained a safety standard at one institution, then when they moved to another institution, they abandoned the better safety practice even though they themselves said it was better. When asked why they abandoned it, they said that the safety practice was not required at the new institution, so they didn’t do it. So was this an example of a strong safety culture or an example of more compliance rules creating a safer environment?
    • Inspiring a proactive, open-ended way of thinking of safety is more difficult than getting someone to use a particular safety device; extra challenging; Two Categories: motivations via norms and what is incentivized; Norms are important, but incentives tend to beat norms as suggested by Imke’s survey results

Perspectives on Safety Culture: Safety Journal Club Discussion, OCT 27, 2020

Led by:
Dr. Mary Beth Mulcahy
Editor, ACS Chemical Health & Safety

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The papers she shared:

Dr. Mulcahy introduced Edgar Schein’s Levels of Culture discussion within the field of Organizational Culture – from which the concept of Safety Culture was initially derived. Schein has a large body of work out there if you are interested in doing a deep dive. As an initial introduction to Schein and his work, I recommend you watch this video of an excerpt of an interview with him from 2016 in which he touches upon the use, and misuse, of the term “culture” and what we should actually be measuring:


Dr. Mary Beth Mulcahy’s introductory talk

  • The term “Safety Culture” gets thrown around a lot – often times to punish.
  • Edgar Schein’s levels of culture
  • Texas Tech had artifacts, but not much of the stuff below the surface
  • We don’t have a “safety culture” or a “business culture” – we just have A CULTURE. What are we doing? Why are we doing that?
  • When seeing someone at work looking off into the distance what question do you ask? “What is that person thinking about?” versus “Why is that person wasting time?” How you frame that question says something about the culture in which you reside.
  • Ask the workers why they are or are not doing something. They may have a really good reason for the “infraction.”
  • Mining the Diamond: not everything at the bottom tier will lead to a fatality, but is still important to examine.
  • Many scientists push back on safety advice saying “That’s just not how scientists work” – but sometimes the question is “is the way the scientist is doing it the right way?”

General Conversation

  • I got into safety because as a researcher I saw these conflicts become an “us versus them” and it stops things. Now on the safety side, I realize that it is important to be vulnerable.
  • Somebody needs to be the first to lower the barrier and put ourselves out there.
  • I thought that because I had a PhD and I was a researcher that the scientists were going to be more open with me. This was not the case at all.
  • We want to be heard and understood more than we want to be agreed with.
  • Diversity of expertise is important to the safety team.
  • Difficult to get at things when their mission is compliance.
  • Every time you are dealing with someone on an issue, it is not just that issue – you are also dealing with their past 30 years of experiences they have had with similar issues.
  • It is important to realize that mistakes aren’t intentional.
  • How do we embed decision-making opportunities into the flow of a researchers’ research?
  • Language is important: instead of “this is a problem”, say “this is a learning opportunity” or “look I see an opportunity here.”

By 3:12 PM, we had 26 participants

Making Safety Second Nature in an Academic Lab: Safety Journal Club Discussion, OCT 20, 2020

Led by:
Prof. Mahesh K. Mahanthappa
Department of Chemical Engineering & Materials Science
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis MN
2020 Laboratory Safety Institute Graduate Research Faculty Safety Award Winner

Resources Dr. Mahantappa highlighted in his talk are are:

Exploring Definitions of Safety Culture: Safety Journal Club Discussion, OCT 13, 2020

Led by:

Jessica Martin


After Jessica A. Martin reviewed the document “Exploring Definitions of Safety Culture” (see link bel0w), Journal Club participants were asked to spend 5 minutes typing into the chat questions that came to mind when considering these definitions as well as considering the list of our upcoming discussion leaders. The questions shared are below.

Measuring Safety Culture

  • Regardless of your definition, how do you measure “safety culture” with the goal of improving?
  • Given that incident rates are relatively low and incidents themselves are typically not as dangerous in academia, what would a more positive safety culture look like in academia?
  • What do we define as the “problems” in academia that makes us worry about the status of our Safety Culture?
  • Do all of the actors identified within an academic safety culture identify the same problems? (i.e. do we all actually agree on what the problems are?)
  • If culture is a combination of what we do/behaviors and what we think/believe, for safety culture do we only/mostly care about what people do/behaviors since it’s our actions that impact our outcomes (harmed or not)?
  • In a safety survey, we can identify safety behaviors and awareness on a scale and provide actions. How do we quantify and change negative safety attitudes? What advice can we provide?
  • Does safety culture really reduce incidents in the research setting? Where is the proof? Is it just an excuse to put every aspect of safety under one umbrella?
  • To what extent do we need to measure it if we can adequately describe a group’s safety culture from inside and outside observations?

Defining Safety Culture

  • How do you empower individuals (students, faculty, staff, etc.) to take personal responsibility for safety, while making sure adequate training is provided and demonstrated (best laboratory practices) to others in the lab?
  • How has the COVID epidemic changed the safety culture of the USA? Have those changes been reflected in your organization?
  • What other types of culture do we measure in an attempt to change the culture?
  • What are the boundaries of an organizational culture? Are these the same boundaries as the safety culture of the organization?
  • How many people does it take to have a culture?
  • What are other concepts which have undergone a period of disagreement and then been resolved? How did they do that?
  • How (and to what extent) can organizational culture and institutional management hierarchies influence positively academic laboratory safety culture?
  • What are the other parent fields and what should we be drawing from them as the chemical health and safety field develops (ex. organizational psychology)?

Dreaming Big & Learning Well: Safety Journal Club Discussion, OCT 6, 2020

Led by:

Jessica Martin


The questions sent out to everyone to contemplate:

1) What safety-related incident have you experienced that taught you the most about how you approach safety?

  • IPA + dry ice container exploded – thought it was at room temperature when person put the lid on it, but it wasn’t.
  • Lesson: Safety is not as straight-forward as you think it is.
  • Working with a post-doc on LiH reaction. Post-doc told me to quench the reaction with water, so I dumped 100 mL right in and it exploded. Green goo goes everywhere and I was covered in it too. Noticed the goo was cold.
  • Lesson: First big lesson in explicit communication – we clearly meant 2 different things by “quench.”
  • Went to undergrad college with no safety personnel. As students, we were isolating DNA using phenol:chloroform extraction. A fellow student dropped a bottle of phenol. The bottle broke and splashed all over her. She went under the shower and technically we responded correctly. However, looking back we did not appreciate at all the seriousness of this incident or how dangerous it was.
  • Lesson: Educating on safety hazards is just as important as educating on the chemistry.
  • How management of change is not managed; lots of small incidents in developing SOPs and any processes.
  • Lesson: As safety professionals, we think about the safety of processes and why we do the things we do, but we don’t necessarily communicate it (or communicate it well).
  • Sustained an injury with a thin needle that took a core of my skin out of my thumb. Was sent to administrators to deal with paperwork and was informed that because of the particular situation, I actually was able to file a worker’s comp claim, however, this would not have necessarily been true depending on where I was working on campus.
  • Lesson: Who you are and where you are working determines workers’ comp status!
  • Within 30 days of starting job, a mislabeled bottle of biologicals had everybody in a panic; I had not had HAZWOPER training yet; turned out to be spirulina – someone had labeled it “eco” and they that it was e. coli; I did not act right away and this was a mistake because it exploded into a nightmare of infighting among a bunch of the faculty and staff over what this stuff was and how it got there.
  • Lesson: learned to be proactive as I can be immediately following a situation – communication is such a big issue.
  • In undergrad, used chlorosulfonic acid for an experiment in undergrad class – instructor dispensed it, everyone was double-gloved, in lab coats; instructors thought they had accounted for all hazards; however, they did not say that all of your equipment had to be secure before obtaining your aliquot of the acid; someone’s condenser hoses came out and sprayed water around the hood with the acid sitting in there; somehow it managed to miss the acid! Scary near miss. Back to communication!
  • Lesson: Even if you think you have covered all of the safety precautions, unexpected things can still happen. It is important to double-check things and communicate effectively.
  • Became safety officer at an institution when no one really knew what it was; staff member talking to x-ray crystallographer; fumes coming into the hallway; I noticed but I thought maybe it was okay because no one else was reacting; I didn’t feel confident in my position initially so I asked a bunch of questions about the situation and learned a TON about ventilation and the history of the situation; then had to learn to interact with facilities.
  • Lesson: Fully understanding a situation leads to a much more thorough resolution of a chronic safety issue than “name-and-blame” tactics. Also, realized how many different parts were contributing to one unsafe situation.
  • Used DMF right at edge of fume hood – after ½ hour decided to stop doing this; later in the day when outdoors, I suddenly couldn’t breathe and fell on the ground; figured out later that this was a common effect of DMF exposure.
  • Lesson: Learn the hazards of what you are working with. Also understand your protective equipment; the fume hood was being improperly used because it was overcrowded. Dangerous exposures can happen so easily when you don’t understand what you are handling and how to protect yourself from them.
  • Popular science magazines as kids (11 years old) – would do the experiments; tried to prepare copper nitrate; got copper and nitric acid from a small shop; the mixture produced brown gases that was not mentioned in the procedure. We ran away from it until the gases cleared. We learned to do our experiments outside from that point forward. I had many such incidents growing up and going through my own education.
  • Lesson: I learned that I could survive the accidents; and before you learned that this was simply the professional life of being a chemist. The UCLA incident really changed how I thought about safety. Now we think more about how to prevent exposure in the last 10 years. High levels of exposure are no longer thought of simply as “what it is to be a chemist.”

2) If you had an unlimited budget & unlimited authority, what change impacting laboratory safety would you make to your department/university? (Something reasonably realistic, but beyond what you can do now given $/authority)

  • More 1-on-1 training with people; you learn by doing; our university hires professors the same month we expect them to start teaching – wish that the onboarding process was longer and more thorough.
  • Focus on training the PI and changing the culture; graduate students get signals from the PI; safety as part of evaluation process for your career; most PIs don’t know what RAMP stands for!
  • In Michigan, offer “driving in the snow” classes; teach how to skid correctly, etc. This same idea could be applied to safety training.
  • Many years ago, I developed a “spill response” training with actual chemical spills; spill of hexane, 50% sodium hydroxide (4 L or 1 gallon), 98% sulfuric acid; trainings worked really well; several things happened that mitigated this hands-on training that all had to do with liability; county dept of health walked in when we were down to doing only 100-mL spills for this training – were told that we couldn’t do this anymore due to liability reasons and that we would be punished if we continued. This ended a great training program.
  • I would like to see some sort of Netflix-style series on chemistry and safety (make it badass); create a space in which PIs can just be PIs so they can focus on training in the lab.
  • We set up a presentation to actually show the researchers where their waste goes and why it was important to separate and label properly. This seemed to be well-received and was effective in getting better compliance from researchers on how they handled their waste.
  • We created a presentation in which researchers followed their waste stream; waste was burned right next to one of the poorest neighborhoods in our area; we used this to drive home the importance of minimizing waste production in labs as much as possible.
  • So much of the responsibility for safety spending falls on individual labs. Labs have very uneven access to money to spend on safety; lab groups literally are impacted healthwise and science-wise by this inequity.
  • Design a hazard review certification course so that graduate researchers can actually acquire a separate certification for this knowledge.
  • If develop a hazard review certification course, try to recruit area chemical companies to get involved in the design, and even delivery, of the education. This could help in getting graduate students to see that this sort of knowledge and skill is valued by employers.
  • UCSF: PI training course; only consider very new faculty members; bias towards the UC system

3) Given that you don’t have unlimited budget & authority, what have you seen to be the most successful safety culture tool in your area?

We did not get to this question in the discussion (although a few things were mentioned in the question above).

Improving safety culture through the health and safety organization: A case study: Safety Journal Club Discussion, Sept 29, 2020

Led by:

Kali A. Miller

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Nielsen, K. J. Improving safety culture through the health and safety organization: A case study. Journal of Safety Research2014, 48, 7-17. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022437513001552?via%3Dihub

Rae, D.; Provan, D. How do you know if your safety team is a positive influence on your safety climate? Safety of Work: Ep. 3, December 1, 2019. https://safetyofwork.com/episodes/how-do-you-know-if-your-safety-team-is-a-positive-influence-on-your-safety-climate


What specific aspects of your organizational safety climate are you trying to improve right now?

  • Publishers enforcing safety information sections in research publications
  • Uncovering how work is actually being performed in academic research laboratories – it seems too much is either “surprising to find out” or unknown by those who should know since they are the ones designing trainings and policies to address safety matters
  • Academic researchers being more willing to communicate to safety professionals what the problems are; want the opportunity to address the problem so that this encourages others to share problems
  • Want to get researchers to be more systematic in use of SOPs – use them and make sure the content is relevant. For risk assessment training, I want to make this useful – not so general that it is useless, but not so detailed that it is overwhelming
  • Ventilation is a serious problem in our building. An engineering study was done in 2016, but with change in administration of the last few years, fixing this issue has dropped on the priority list – even though students are reporting headaches and nausea when working on the top floor of the building.
  • Not addressing major safety issues undermines trust that students have in safety culture and education efforts: if you don’t care enough about safety to fix these problems, then why should I be mindful of my safety practices? (bad example)
  • Dealing with COVID; discovering the resilience of a smaller institution; it is a different thing to deal with because we are considering “community protective equipment”
  • Due to COVID, we are aiming to create videos to introduce 1st years to the research labs; hope to incorporate discussions about research safety in the labs into these videos – could even be useful post-COVID
  • In the long term, ask one’s self every day: Have I impacted anyone’s life positively (or negatively)?

Compassion Fatigue: Safety Journal Club Discussion, Sept 22, 2020

Led by:

Anthony Appleton Anthony.Appleton@colostate.edu Research Safety Culture Coordinator, Colorado State University

[office_doc id=[office_doc id=4907]]


Compassion Fatigue in Animal Research Webinar by Marian Esvelt, DVM , University of Michigan:


Higher Ed Jobs Article “Overcoming Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Higher Education” by Justin Zackal:


Journal Article: The prevalence and effect of burnout on graduate healthcare students



  • Compassion Fatigue: often referred to as “burnout” although this term is controversial.
  • Hot topic in veterinary sciences and pre-med programs
  • It is possible that many PIs actually suffer from compassion fatigue which may be why so many come off as “uncaring.”
  • For graduate students and others working in academia, if I took your work away, would you be the same person?
  • The Younger Chemists Committee is supporting some programs addressing mental health for graduate students.
  • Recently, we have identified some “strange crimes” in academic labs that appear to be a result of the boredom of isolation due to COVID. This isolation may be reducing accountability resulting in students engaging in more risk-taking behavior than usual.
  • Also, many are finding that students who normally function very well are now just not doing their work at all in the lockdown.
  • Efforts are being made at some schools to reach out to students in order to communicate with them and let them know that someone is thinking about them.
  • I attended a very small PUI for undergrad – no mental health services, no security. A student wigged out and started yelling things that included talk of wanting to burn down a building. A professor who knew the student, tackled him to the ground and then brought him into his office. The student calmed down & they talked about stuff including ways for him to destress & access mental health services if needed. I thought this event was a glaring example of why we need dedicated mental health services on campus for the unusual student population of the place. However, the conversations among students over the next several weeks were about the lack of security on campus and expressed support for open-carry laws.
  • There has also been a long debate in some areas of the US about whether or not guns should be allowed to be carried by citizens on campuses.