Tag Archives: safety research

Pragmatism as a teaching philosophy in the safety sciences

On March 10, Dr. Patricia Shields discussed the article she co-authored with three safety professionals about using “pragmatism” as a safety philosophy in the safety sciences. Her summary powerpoint and the comments form the table read of this article are below.

The full paper can be found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925753520304926?casa_token=gG7VtvjEqqsAAAAA:Of4B_mGRk-HwwH-q_WQLybg2zDGPtjcYVFCg0ZgnYe5riPefhOJ6nDCGF2YwjMrhSR2wGfIABg

Excerpts from “Pragmatism as a teaching philosophy in the safety sciences: A higher education pedagogy perspective”

03/03 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club

Excerpts from “Pragmatism as a teaching philosophy in the safety sciences: A higher education pedagogy perspective”

Full paper can be found here: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925753520304926?casa_token=gG7VtvjEqqsAAAAA:Of4B_mGRk-HwwH-q_WQLybg2zDGPtjcYVFCg0ZgnYe5riPefhOJ6nDCGF2YwjMrhSR2wGfIABg

Meeting Plan

  • (5 minutes) Jessica to open meeting
  • (15 minutes) All participants read complete document
  • (10 minutes) All participants use “Comments” function to share thoughts
  • (10 minutes) All participants read others’ Comments & respond
  • (10 minutes) All participants return to their own Comments & respond
  • (5 minutes) Jessica announces next week’s plans & closes meeting

  1. Introduction

(FYI, most of the Introduction has been cut)

Elkjaer (2009) has previously alluded to this lack of appreciation and value of pragmatism ‘as a relevant learning theory’ (p. 91) in spite of the growing recognition of its important role in education and teaching (Dewey, 1923, 1938; Garrison and Neiman, 2003; Shields, 2003a; Sharma et al., 2018), scholarship and academic development (Bradley, 2001), academic practice (Shields, 2004; 2006), curriculum (Biesta, 2014) and online learning (Jayanti and Singh, 2009). This article, therefore, addresses this anomaly by arguing for the appropriateness of pragmatism as a highly relevant philosophical cornerstone, especially for safety science educators[a].

2. The Scholarship of Learning and Teaching (SoLT)

(FYI, this section has been cut)

3. Pragmatism as a teaching philosophy

3.1. Teaching philosophies

(FYI, most of this section has been cut)

The research paradigms used extensively in higher education are positivism and interpretivism and are often being cited by faculty as influencing their teaching philosophy (Cohen et al., 2006). These two are usually associated with quantitative and qualitative research methods respectively but both prove problematic for the teaching of the safety sciences. First, safety science relies on both quantitative and qualitative methods. Second, neither uses a ‘problem’ orientation in its approach to methods and safety science is inherently problem and practice oriented and certainly should be with respect to its teaching.[b][c][d]

Third, the mixed methods literature has recognized this drawback and adopted pragmatism as their research paradigm because it takes the research problem as its point of departure (Johnson and Onwuegbuzie, 2004). In contrast to positivism and interpretivism, pragmatism holds the view that the research question that needs to be answered is more important than either the philosophical stance or the methods that support such stance. Pragmatism is traditionally embraced as the para­digm of mixed methods hence, it turns the incompatibility theory on its head by combining qualitative and quantitative research approaches, and “offers an immediate and useful middle position philosophically and methodologically; a practical and outcome-oriented method of inquiry that is based on action and leads” (Johnson and Onwuegbunzie, 2004, p. 17). The pluralism of pragmatism allows it to work across and within methodological and theoretical approaches, which for the purpose of the intent of this paper is consistent with a safety science multi-disciplinary approach.

This places practice, where the problem must originate, as an important component of mixed methods. This practice orientation res­onates with the goals of learning and teaching in safety science. Therefore, presented here is the philosophy of ‘pragmatism’ which we argue is much better suited for guiding or informing safety science teaching endeavours.

3.2. The foundations of pragmatism

(FYI, this section has been cut)

3.3. Value of pragmatism for the safety sciences

(FYI, this section has been cut)

4. Safety science higher education in Australia

(FYI, this section has been cut)

5. Pragmatism and evidence informed practice (EIP)

Safety science education has traditionally taken an evidence-informed practice (EIP) stance for its teaching practice. Evidence informed practice is not a one-dimensional concept and its definition is still under debate with various academic lenses being applied to the notion of ‘research as evidence’ and how EIP can be measured (Nelson and Campbell, 2017). However, Bryk (2015) is attributed to offering up the view that EIP is a “fine-grained practice-relevant knowledge, generated by educators, which can be applied formatively to support professional learning and student achievement” (Nelson and Campbell, p. 129).[e]

This includes the expectation that students will be able to use their theoretical knowledge, gained through their academic studies, including research in the field, and translate this knowledge into practical appli­cations in the real world[f][g][h][i][j][k][l][m][n][o]. There are continued efforts to recognise these Research to Practice (RtP) endeavours, as an example, the Journal of Safety, Health and Environmental Research in 2012 devoted an issue to ‘Bridging the Gap Between Academia and the Safety, Health and Envi­ronmental (SH&E) Practitioner. The issue demonstrated “the vital role of transferring SH&E knowledge and interventions into highly effective prevention practices for improving worker safety and health” (Choi et al., 2012, p.1). In that issue Chen et al. (2012, p. 27) found that the ‘Singapore Workplace Safety and Health Research Agenda: Research-to-Practice’ prioritizes, first, organisational and business aspects of work­ place health and safety (WHS) and second, WHS risks and solutions.

Other researchers in that same issue (Loushine, 2012, p. 19) examined ‘The Importance of Scientific Training for Authors of Occupational Safety Publications’ and found that there needs to be “attention on the coordination of research and publication efforts between practitioners and academics/researchers to validate and advance the safety field body of knowledge” (p. 19).

Shields (1998) introduced the notion of ‘classical pragmatism’ as a way to address the academic/practitioner divide in the public admin­istration space. She also notes that the pure EIP approach often contains a lack of congruence between practitioner needs and research[p][q] (Shields, 2006). She identifies theory as a source of tension. Practitioners often see theory as an academic concern divorced from problems faced in their professional world. Here, pragmatism bridges theory and practice because theory[r] is considered a “tool of practice” which can strengthen student/practitioner skills and make academic (process and products) stand up to the light of practice (Shields, 2006, p. 3). The pragmatist philosopher, John Dewey used a map metaphor to describe the role of theory, whereby a map is not reality, but it is judged by its ability to help a traveller reach their chosen destination[s] (Dewey, 1938).

This perspective is often demonstrated in the student’s capstone, empirical research project. Using a problematic situation as a starting point, they introduce literature, experience and informed conceptual frameworks as theoretical tools that help align all aspects of a research process (research purpose, question, related literature, method and statistical technique). Thus, student/practitioners/researchers, led by a practical problem, could develop or find a theory by drawing on diverse (pluralistic) literature as well as their experience with the problematic situation. This provisional theory guides choice of methodology, vari­able measurement, data collection and analysis, which is subsequently shared (participatory) and evaluated. Practical problems are therefore addressed by the student’s conceptual framework, which is considered a tool related to the problem under investigation. This approach thus emphasizes the connective function of theory (Shields, 2006). The use of this pragmatic framework has allowed a bridge between theory and for it to be successfully applied to higher education more broadly (Bach­kirova et al., 2017; El-Hani and Mortimer, 2007). Texas State University has embedded a pragmatism informed research methodology in its Master of Public Administration program with success measured in student awards, citations and recognition in policy related publications (Shields et al., 2012).

Therefore, it is proposed that safety science is a discipline which would, and should, also benefit from alignment with philosophical pragmatism. This would represent a much wider stance and a shift from viewing safety science education with merely an EIP lens, where the main consideration for teaching practice is that students are presented with research which provides them the required ‘scientific evidence’ and that the teaching of this research is enough to inform their practice of the discipline [t][u](Hargreaves, 1996, 1997). It should be noted that pragmatism does not abandon evidence, rather it contextualizes it in a problematic situation.

6. The significance of pragmatism as a teaching philosophy


For pragmatism to penetrate the safety science education field it needs to be relatively easy to apply and transmit. Fortunately, Brendel (2006) has developed a simple four P’s framework, which captures pragmatism’s basic tenets and can easily be applied as to teaching (Bruce, 2010). The 4P’s of pragmatism include the notions that educa­tion needs to be Practical (scientific inquiry should incorporate practical problem solving), Pluralistic (the study of phenomena should be multi-and inter- disciplinary), Participatory (learning includes diverse perspectives of multiple stakeholders) and Provisional (experience is advanced by flexibility, exploration and revision), as shown in Fig. 2.

The majority of safety science students simultaneously study and work in agencies or organisations as safety professionals. Hence, they appreciate the pragmatic teaching approach whereby teacher, student and external stakeholders influence learning by incorporating multiple perspectives. When teaching is filtered through a pragmatic philosoph­ical lens, students’ learning is framed by their key domain area of in­terest as well as their professional context and work experienc[w][x][y][z][aa][ab]e. It encourages them to ‘try on’ their work as experiential[ac][ad][ae] learning, which they can take into and out of the classroom. Flexibility, integration, reflection and critical thinking are nurtured. Pragmatism and the four Ps can facilitate this process.

Ideally, the classroom environment incorporates communities of inquiry where students and teachers work on practical problems appli­cable to the health and safety domain. The pluralistic, expansive com­munity of inquiry concept incorporates participatory links to the wider public, including industry and workers (Shields, 2003b). The commu­nity of inquiry also encourages ongoing experimentation (provisional). The ‘practical problem’ and ‘theory as tool’ orientation provides op­portunities to bridge the sometime rigid dualisms between theory and practice. This teaching lens also incorporates a spirit of critical opti­mism, which leads to a commitment by the teacher [af]and the higher ed­ucation institution to continually experiment and work to improve the content delivery and student learning experience (Shields, 2003a).

Pragmatism emphasizes classroom environments which foster trans­formations in thinking and these transformations in thinking can often be observed in the quality of student’s final research project (Shields and Rangarajan, 2013). Most students graduating from postgraduate degrees in the safety sciences are required to produce a major piece of work (thesis) with broad practical value. Ideally they grow and develop useful skills from the learning experience and the thesis is useful to their employer/or­ganization and has applicability to the wider community in which they work as safety professionals.[ag][ah][ai][aj]

6.1. Pragmatic learning – student success – enhancement to practice

Higher education safety science pedagogy should be embedded in the notion that most of the students who attend come with some depth of practical experience and practical wisdom whom the academe should treat as lifelong learners and researchers[ak]. The academe should provide them with tools and skills to be stronger lifelong learners equipped to contribute to safety science practice[al][am][an][ao][ap][aq].

The universities in which the researchers of this article are aligned use pragmatism as a multi/trans-disciplinary approach in order to bridge the gap between academic theory (research) and practice. Whilst two of these universities teach safety science, the third one places pragmatism in the public administration domain and has for many years successfully incorporated the use of pragmatism to bridge the gap be­tween academia and practice (Shields and Tajalli, 2006; Foy, 2019).

The value of using pragmatism as a teaching philosophy is one which has been successfully demonstrated to bridge this gap. A snippet of just some of the student feedback on student learning from the use of a pragmatism philosophy of teaching are evidenced below:

Having been a railway man for over thirty years I recognised that a gap

needed to be closed in my academic knowledge to advance further in the

business and wider industry and the Safety Science courses have provided

the vehicle for this to occur. Importantly I have been able to link the

learning in these courses and the assignments directly to the activities of

my rail organisation. That’s a big selling point in today’s business world.

(Safety Science Student, Phil O’Connell)

In 2014, I was promoted to Administrative Division Chief of Safety. On several occasions, I found myself utilizing the skills I learned to help evaluate and improve issues and programs in my fire department. In particular I was able to [ar]use case study research to show that our Safety

Division was understaffed. As a result, I successfully increased our

numbers of Safety Officers from 5 to 26. I have also used the same

techniques to improve our departments PPE and cancer prevention pro­

grams. The greatest challenge, however, came when we had 100 fire

fighters exposed to a potentially massive amount of asbestos during a

major high rise fire. Our department had never dealt with an exposure of

its magnitude. I was able to help our department solve a very difficult

problem concerning asbestos and its effect on our PPE. I even received

calls from other fire departments who were interested in our method.

(Public Administration Student – Brian O’Neill)

These students have gone on to have their research cited and widely acknowledge (O’Connell et al., 2016; O’Connell et al., 2018; O’Neill, 2008) as have many other students under this pragmatic philosophy for learning and teaching.[as]

6.2. Pragmatic learning – student success – theoretical advancement

Whilst the embedding of pragmatism as a teaching philosophy is relatively new for Australian universities teaching in the safety science space, it is well entrenched within the public administration programs at Texas State University. Approximately 60 percent of students in this program work full time in state, local federal or non-profit organiza­tions. [at][au]Their capstone papers focus on the practical problems of public policy, public administration and nonprofit administration. [av][aw][ax][ay][az][ba]Problems with “disorganised graduate capstone papers with weak literature re­views” (Shields and Rangarajan, 2013, p. 3) pushed the faculty to adopt pragmatism as a teaching framework. This approach enhanced students’ Applied Research Projects (ARP), which have demonstrated remarkable industry, field and community impact (Shields, 1998). [bb]For example, five of the papers won first place in the United States among schools of public affairs and administration. A content analysis of the Texas State Uni­versity applied research papers (ARPs) revealed that “most of these ARPs are methodical inquiries into problems encountered by practitioners at the workplace. Hence a dynamic interplay of practitioner experience informs public administration research, and rigorous research informs practitioner response to administration/management problems” (Shields et al., 2012, pp. 176–177).

(FYI, paragraph cut)

7. Conclusion

Higher education teachers who have used pragmatism as their teaching philosophy for some time have led the way for an interest in pragmatism as a teaching philosophy to spread and gain momentum into other domains. However, despite this and publications which endorse the use of pragmatism, there still appears to be little understanding of the benefits and rationale for pragmatism to be used as a teaching phi­losophy over other more established and entrenched research focused philosophies. [bc]Therefore, this paper has tried to distil both an under­standing of what pragmatism represents and the ‘how and why’ it should be used more broadly, particularly for safety science educators.

Pragmatism goes beyond what is offered by the more singular notion of evidence-informed practice, especially within the safety sciences higher educational programs. Its value in other domains has been well established particularly where more problem focused, and practical applied applications are required.[bd] Further, significant positive results in student’s research outputs from having a pragmatic research [be]framework are now well demonstrated. Where student work can be used to inform decision making, policy making and problem solving that impacts wider inquiry its value stands out, as already evidenced in both the public administration space and safety science space.[bf]

In relation to the safety sciences, the higher educational pedagogist can be confident that the path to pragmatism is a well-worn, even if it may be unfamiliar to the discipline. It is recommended to extend teaching practices, past only valuing the evidence-informed practice stance, to reduce the theory to practice divide. This can be done by incorporating a broader philosophical (4 Ps) pragmatic perspective in order to develop a professional practice community of safety science problem solvers.

Therefore, embracing pragmatism as a teaching philosophy is encouraged in the higher education sector,[bg][bh] and recent acknowledgments of, and acceptance for this teaching philosophy stance, has instilled greater confidence of its recognition and credibility for its wider use. For the safety science educator, they can be proud that its adoption as a teaching philosophy is a long awaited natural development instigated by the early pragmatists forebearers who worked in the safety field.

[a]Is safety a science? I can see arguments that it is, but I can also see arguments that it is a cultural eductation about community expectations for workplace decision-making. (There are many different “communities” potentially included in this concept.)

[b]Would you include constructivism as a different paradigm?

[c]I see interpretivism and constructivism as very similar. The methods literature often treats them as basically the same. In many ways it depends on whether the problem is approached inductively or deductively. Construstivism is associated with inductive exploratory research often.

[d]I wonder if sometimes there is insufficiency of reflection to make constructivism too close to interpretivism.

[e]EIP or EBP (Evidence-Based Practice has become much more popular in general STEM education in the past 5-10 years, especially as part of the DBER (Discipline-Based Education Research) set of practices.

[f]Previous TA training I received stressed the importance of applying lecture content to new problems to help students learn and retain knowledge. I think thats a stong benefit of pragmatism.

[g]Again, I’m wondering a bit of the distinction between this and constructivism?

[h]I find that there are many missed opportunities in lecture courses and textbooks to really connect students to the safety aspects of the chemicals being described. For example, with the number of times HF is used as an example of textbook problems, it would be nice to include something about how incredibly hazardous it is to work with!

[i]Just today in an honors general chemistry course we talked about the hazards of perchlorate salts. I was surprised that the textbook was using it as a regular example, along with perchloric acid, without a hint of a discussion about safety…

[j]I believe this can also be applied to “less hazardous” compounds also, there is, in my opinion, a huge disconnect between the overall properties of a compound and its hazardous nature. For example, ethyl acetate, commonly used, not extremely hazardous, but just this week I had multiple students ask why it they needed to work with it in a hood rather than their open benchtop.

[k]One of the learning opportunities in pragmatic safety science is uncovering hidden assumptions in standard practices. My “hazmat chemists” instincts are very different from the “research chemists” instincts about the same chemicals. It takes a lot of practice to go into a conversation about these chemicals with an open mind.. (This has come up this week with a clean out of research lab and very different perceptions of the value and hazards of specific chemical containers.)

[l]It would be really cool to see an organic textbook for example that has inset sections on the safety considerations of different reactions. My O chem professor would sometimes highlight reactions that were good on paper and problematic in reality, but it should a more frequent discussion.

[m]This is something that gets addressed in our organic labs actually. They “design” their own experiment. They’re given a number of chemicals in a list (some are controlled substances, some are very expensive) and are asked to choose which ones they would like to use for their experiment. We then use their choice from groups to go over both safety aspects and expense aspects and how we can then still do our experiment with other chemicals.

[n]That is a great exercise. I especially like how practical and open-ended it is.

[o]Overall, in an organic chemistry course practical knowledge of synthesis is mostly untouched as many of the classic reactions used to teach the course are fairly complex experimentally. I.e. sandmeyer reactions are conveniently simple  to explain but harder to accomplish in person.

[p]This seems to be an issue across many fields. Often times we see that those performing the practice and those performing the research speak different languages and consider very different things important.

[q]I see this a lot in experimental and computational work. Different languages, different skill sets, and different approaches

[r]Safety science also has this issue internally. There is an interesting paper that was covered in a podcast awhile ago about “reality-based safety science”: https://safetyofwork.com/episodes/ep20-what-is-reality-based-safety-science

[s]I’m thinking about an analogy with computational and experimental chemistry also. I like the “tools of practice” bridge.

[t]How would this compare to case studies?

[u]I would imagine that for Case Studies to become research that someone would have to gather case studies and look for trends. I see Case Studies as an opportunity to share one experience or one set of experiences with the community in the hopes that with enough Case Studies a meaningful research study could be conducted.

[v]Case studies are definitely included in this.  Scientific evidence here would mean that the evidence was collected with a scientific attitude. There is no belief that actual objectivity is possible but something close should be strived for.

[w]Allowing students to pursue their interests is alway a benefit while learning. Its been a struggle to organize researcher safety meetings in a way to engage participants by allowing them to follow their interests, especially with virtual meetings. Has anyone found strategies that facilitate that interest and engagement?

[x]Something I had started to explore just before the lockdown was to try to set up opportunities for grad students to discuss the risk assessments around their own project work. In this way, they could show off their expertise while helping to educate others – and possibly reveal some things that they hadn’t thought about or didn’t know. I really liked how Texas A&M did their Table Discussions in which they invited students who had something in common (i.e. all those who use gloveboxes), presented a Safety Moment about them, then invited students to share their own stories, strategies, and concerns with one another about glovebox usage.

[y]We started doing round tables that would discuss safety topics within their own focus area (inorganic, organic, physicals/atmospheric), similar to what Jessica mentioned with gloveboxes and that’s gotten a lot response and interest.

[z]Those sounds like great ideas. We already have our department research groups divided into hazard classes so it would be easy to have them meet in those groups. Thanks for the suggestions. I also like the idea of participants presentation to eachother instead of a lecture style event.

[aa]I like this a lot. Is there much faculty involvement?

[ab]We don’t get as much faculty involvement due to their busy schedules. But we have had safety panels with faculty with different safety specialties such as lasers, slink lines, compressed gases, physical hazard etc.

[ac]Is pragmatism a bridge between theoretical and experiential learning?

[ad]I believe that it is most useful when the bridge runs both ways

[ae]Excellent point. One should inform the other.

[af]Action research is certainly on the continuum of research that can be informed by pragmatism. The pluralism of pragmatism comes to play here.

[ag]Hopefully within the safety sciences this aspiration is realized more often than in other disciplines. Too many times, theses and dissertations get lost in the archives and go unread.

[ah]Again, this is something that makes me think of the ideas behind Action Research. Since it is a research method by which the researcher questions their own practice, the thesis that ultimately comes of it could potentially be of interest to their own employers or teams (even if no one else reads it).

[ai]Safety research tends to be somewhat more read because it is often driven by the need to support a risk decision. But as Covid has shown, this may not improve the quality of the scientific literature that is being read. The rush to publish (no or small amounts of data) has really slowed the understanding of best safety practices

[aj]I see what you mean Jessica even if the actual manuscript is not disseminated a researcher self-evaluating their own practice can definitely serve a self-check where one can see places to improve.

[ak]How would you say the idea of “pragmatism” relates, if at all, to the concept of Action Research?

[al]Would a pragmatic point of view work in beginner safety courses?

[am]I think that the “citizen scientist” movement is an attempt at a pragmatic approach to purer enviromental sciences, but I’m not convinced that this kinds of projects improve science literacy. They seem to go to stop at the crowd sourced data collection phase and then the professionals interpret the data for the collectors

[an]This goes back to the expert/novice question. Would a pragmatic approach work for both? I can see the advantage in graduate/postgraduate education. I’m wondering if the knowledge base is broad enough for beginners?

[ao]I agree. You don’t know what you don’t know.

[ap]It is also very frustrating for the beginner to put in a lot of effort collecting data and then be told that that data is fatally flawed for an obscure reason

[aq]Pragmatism would call on the expert to listen carefully to the novice particularly if the novice is in the world of practice. This is where the participatory nature of pragmatism comes in. Both should have a voice.

[ar]Brian specifically mentions case study as a method he used.

[as]I actually think of a managers need to solve problems like safety issues at work could be looked at as a mini “applied” case study.  The context of the problem shapes the parameters of the case.

[at]Do the students who are not working full time have a good sense of applications? And does it make them feel better prepared for common workplace problems?

[au]I would think that even if they didn’t work full time, they could still pick some sort of problem in the public domain to really seriously do a lot of research on. If nothing else, it could give them a sense of why the problem is so intractable.

[av]My sister was involved in one of these programs after 15 years of experience and she said that the content was marginally interesting, but being able to network with fellow professionals was quite valuable, both the stories and solutions they shared and for future follow up to ask questions of. That seems like quite a pragmatic aspect of this program

[aw]I would think that the networking would be part of the purpose – and this is really true for any research program as well. You basically find that small group of people who are really interested in the same problems in which you are interested so that you can all swap stories, publications, and ideas in order to drive all research forward.

[ax]I agree – I think that academic leadership sees this opportunity more clearly than faculty members who are assigned 10 or 15 grad students to mentor at once, though. ACS is providing some education around this opportunity for new faculty, but it’s a challenge to incorporate mentoring skills along with teaching, research and service duties faculty are handed

[ay]This is why the Community of Inquiry is so important. Community comes first.  I actually have an article on the community of inquiry if anyone is interested.

[az]Reframing things as a community of scholars is very powerful.

[ba]I’d be glad to include any references that you think would be helpful on the web page for this discussion if you would like to share them. We get about 100 views of these pages after they go up, so the impact is not limited to the attendees at a particular session

[bb]How long are the courses? One semester? I often find it difficult for students to finish an in-depth lit review in that time frame.

[bc]This link might also be useful.  https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11135-020-01072-9  It deals with deductive exploratory research and covers many of these themes.

[bd]I very much appreciate the use of this pedagogy as it applies to practical content!

[be]I believe the students that give their courses a good faith effort come away with tools to apply to their work.  We look at the research project as a project management challenge and apply project management ideas throughout. This is sometimes the most important lesson, particularly for the pre-service students.

[bf]This is a very important idea. When I pursued my 1st bachelors, in political science, I was incredibly disappointed to find how much research and practice diverged.

[bg]There is an important distinction here between undergrad and graduate students in higher ed. Traditional undergrads tend to be learning more practical skills outside of the curriculum. I wonder what the experience of non-traditional and community college students are in this regard?

[bh]It does seem like this approach lends itself very well to setting where previous or current experience is required.

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)?