Tag Archives: safety research

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

Led by:

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

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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.

Catching them at it: An ethnography of rule violation: Discussion, September 15, 2020

Paper: Iszatt-White, Marian Catching them at it: An ethnography of rule violation (2007)


Presenter: Sarah Zinn


Is knowing why a safety rule exists important to compliance?

  • Knowing why a rule exists not only convinces me that following the rule is important but also makes it easier to remember the rule. Example: labelling secondary containers versus labelling waste containers and why these are different.
  • You can set aside a rule to get a job done faster, but this can backfire if things go wrong. Now you have to figure out why things are going wrong.
  • In the industrial environment discussed in the paper, it is understandable that workers would be reluctant to discuss safety issues because their job might be on the line. With students, they find it easier to discuss these issues with one another.
  • I’ve seen students hide broken glassware in educational labs because of a potential $25 fee; I’ve had graduate students tell me that they are afraid to reveal incidents and Near Misses because they are afraid they will “get in trouble” even if they can’t really define who they would be in trouble with or what kind of trouble it would be.
  • Culture is important to safety conversations and conversations about incidents being acceptable and accepted. People who are “highly reactive” when things do not go as planned can deteriorate a culture; instead incidents should be used as opportunities to be proactive.
  • I’ve worked hard in my department to build the safety culture; I have worked to build a space that influences graduate students’ behavior – then graduate students have influenced PIs.
  • How do we study what we are actually talking about?
  • The ethnographic studies undertaken by Silbey and Huising (see last week’s discussion for Huising’s paper) at MIT are an interesting place to start; they help illuminate the culture, the power centers, and the conflicting work dynamics that shape an academic safety culture.
  • Asking “safety recalcitrant” PIs about why they are so can be a revelatory experience. Some just want talk to you at all, but those who do talk end up describing bad experiences they have had with safety professionals; back in the 1970s and 1980s, the expectations changed fast. All of a sudden there was all of this “safety stuff” just shoved down people’s throats without any critical discussion. This left a bad taste for lots of people. It does seem like it is older PIs who are the ones who are less willing to engage. The younger PIs seems to be much more open to the conversations.
  • PIs can be seen as “the workers” or “the operatives” in that sense. They need to be included in the discussion as the frontline just as much as the graduate students.
  • This paper seems to formalize and put into academic terms what safety professionals have learned about behavioral safety over the years as practitioners.

Scut Work and Safety Roles in the Lab: Safety Journal Club, 9/8/2020

Topic/Paper: Scut Work and
Safety Roles in the Lab

Do you have an idea for future papers? Contact Jessica Martin jessica.a.martin@uconn.edu If you would like to join us for the Journal Club on Tuesdays at 3 PM EST, please sign up here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1sIlFpKHNNxTtXaQ6rEmOvvvZRW1rNLZ8lqfZfJkoACU/edit

The Science of Safety Journal Club met on 9/8/2020 to discuss the paper presented by Ralph Stuart called “To Hive or to Hold? Producing Professional Authority through Scut Work” which came out in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly in 2015.

Presenter: Ralph Stuart

After Ralph Stuart’s presentation (see .pdf), the participants were broken into 2 groups of 7 participants each to discuss.

Group Discussion (Breakout Room 1)

·       EH&S – How can you separate work in this manner, hard to imagine that you would not do all four activities in order to offer good customer service, hard to distinguish between each lab research group

·       Grad school – students more “dirty work” vs PIs

·       Some can be a “main hub” for what work is/can be done

·       EH&S groups struggle when they take a regulatory approach when they take a hands on and cooperative approach

·       Two ways in scut work issue (from HES view):

o   Here is what the reg says and here is what you need to get it done.

o   Hey folks, we have to solve a problem. Here are my ideas, what are your ideas and how can we work together to get it done?

§  Second approach would be more productive.

·       Huising paper: Good in theory, but not in reality.

o   As a lab manager, you want do and be able to do a lot of the work; valuable actions are completing tasks (scut could be task based)

o   Labels useful for academic discussion, useless when it comes to getting practical things done

Group Discussion (Breakout Room 2)

·       The conclusion of the paper is not at all surprising. One of the problems I’ve seen is that there isn’t enough interface between graduate researchers (the frontline) and safety professionals at my institution. The safety professionals don’t really know what is going on our labs – and we don’t know enough about what the safety professionals do or can offer to even know what to ask. LSTs can work to bring these 2 populations together to interface more to bridge this gap.

·       Game of spotting things that were wrong with a hood set-up incorporated into a safety training by an LST: researchers have difficulties finding at least 10 things wrong (in context where a lot of things were wrong and it shouldn’t have been hard), also safety professionals were able to see, live, how researchers see and think about these problems; the safety professional expressed surprise at the conversations they were eavesdropping on – saw a lot of utility in learning this.

·       I’ve had experience as a lab technician then on the other side as a lab safety professional and I have seen some of the same issues.

·       I’m at an undergrad institution, so the mix of issues is a little different. We have no overarching EHS department. The further you go up the chain of command, the less knowledgeable/useful people are in terms of laboratory safety.

·       During my time as EHS, I would walk the hallways and read posters from the “hazmat” perspective to gain an idea of what safety challenges could be encountered in these labs. I would try to knock on doors and talk to people in labs, but I often found labs empty or with just one person who only knew about their own work.

·       Cultural differences between researchers and staff—constant recurring problem. Regular business working hours. If they walk into lab and try to find people, maybe they will maybe they won’t—TAing responsibilities and a lot of other things happening during those hours for grad students. Most work gets done during non-business hours. That is perhaps the time to cross paths with them. Non-overlapping schedules is a challenge when looking for more creative ways for getting engagement between safety professionals and researchers.

·       In the 1980s/1990s, career lab technicians used to exist in large research-intensive departments. These people were around for ~20 years and had historical knowledge and were often responsible for lab safety. These positions seem to have disappeared over the years with budget cuts after the 2008 crash, leaving no “long-term” people housed in the research labs.

·       Bio oriented departments typically have lab staff, chemistry don’t. Arguments exist that if chem labs had lab staff, safety would be better—interesting to consider that these positions used to exist, but no longer do.

·       Trying to drag a grad student group into training (grad students time and attention limited—unreasonable to consider teaching, researching, and having life at same time) is different than trying to drag other professionals who expect training

Groups came back together

·       Two spheres, but they may not know what each other is doing or not many meaningful interactions; do not know what the other does.

·       EHS versus researchers

·       Perception of safety people as compliance rather than as someone who can assist in research

A Manifesto for Reality-Based Safety Science: CHAS Safety Journal Club, 9/1/20

The Science of Safety Journal Club met on 9/1/2020 to discuss the paper A Manifesto for Reality-based Safety Science which came out in the journal Safety Science earlier in 2020.

The first two authors of the paper also conduct a podcast titled “The Safety of Work” in which they discuss papers from across the field of safety science. You can listen to their discussion of this paper (~1 hour) by clicking on “Ep. 20 What is reality-based safety science?” at

Below are notes of the opening and general discussion that took place during the Journal Club. We’d love to hear your thoughts about this conversation in the comments below! If you would like information about joining the club or presenting a paper there, sign up on our Google form here Contact Jessica Martin jessica.a.martin@uconn.edu with any questions about this group.

Topic/Paper: A Manifesto for Reality-Based Safety Science

Presenter: Jessica A. Martin

Jessica’s summary of the paper

  • All research programs have a theoretical hard core with a contestable set of auxiliary hypotheses (this statement is based on the ideas in Imre Lakatos’s method of evaluating scientific progress (Lakatos, 1978)
  • The auxiliary hypotheses link the hard core of theory (e.g. Newton’s three laws of motion) with the observed world by providing ways to measure, test and apply the hard core. The auxiliary hypotheses form a protective belt around the hard core – empirical anomalies are accommodated by adjusting the auxiliary hypotheses rather than by rejecting the hard core.
  • A research program is progressive under 2 conditions:
    1. Each new theory must have greater empirical content than its predecessors,
    2. at least some of this novel content must turn out to be true.
  • There is room for a new theory to make wrong predictions, particularly if these can be explained by adjusting the auxiliary hypotheses. However, once a program bogs down in constant adjustment of auxiliary hypotheses to explain away wrong predictions, at the expense of novel true content, the program has become degenerate.
  • To the extent that safety science makes progress, it does so by adopting and customizing progressive research programs from related fields. The problem is that once those programs become part of safety science, they usually cease making progress. 
  • In other words, in terms of novel and confirmed empirical content, “safety science” is usually where research programs come to die.
  • The Hope:
  • We have stopped growing empirically growth – the problem we are facing in safety science stems from a lack of evidence production
  • The Professional Safety field consists of a variety of stakeholders
    • Empiricists: all knowledge is based on experience derived from the senses
    • Theorists: concerned with the theoretical aspects of a subject
    • Practitioners: actively engaged in an art, discipline, or profession
  • To address this challenge, theorists, empiricists, and practitioners need to come together.
  • The Manifesto for Reality-based Safety Science: where theory is grounded in rigorous observations of existing practice, and where practice is based on established theory

Safety Science Research Manifesto

 Notes and Ideas from Breakout Room 1

  • How much safety research aligns with chemical education research is amazing! (we had two Chem Ed researchers in our group)
  • Chem Ed Research does do observations of work
  • Seems that leaving out “main fields” is an issue;
  • Accident investigation involves the “Why did the researcher make that choice”
  • “We” might not be the best safety examples
  • “I understand what I am doing…but others do not fully understand the situation I am in”
  • Observing is not grounds for just doing it yourself
  • Get comfortable with where we are at.
  • Trust, communication
  • Cameras for observation? TALK TO YOUR HR DEPT and  IRB if research is being published
  • Reviewing near miss/safety concerns a good idea for safety research Look at what is reported vs actual accidents at your institution.
  • Know what is HIPAA protected
  • At CSU…we find what is reported with near misses does not really indicate what accidents have ended up happening
  • Theory vs Practitioner (general sense of conversation)·       How to share…peer reviewed not peer reviewed
  • Make safety approachable, equitable, and useful

Points from Breakout Room 2 Discussion

  • Is Safety Science actually a science?
  • Safety practice is often driven by learning from bad experiences
  • Are other scientific approaches more appropriate for safety scientists?
  • Susan Silbey (Professor of anthropology at MIT): studying how new EHS system at MIT works using an ethnographic approach
  • When attempting to “do science” on a safety question, it feels like a “chicken or egg” problem. What are you going to measure? Who decides how the work should be done? And if the theory dictates how the work should be done, then you are using the theory to measure itself – so the logic becomes circular. 
  • You can perform a bunch of incorrect behaviors, and still not get injured.
  • Performing safety assessments in academia are the exception, not the rule.
  • There are many more practitioners than researchers in the field, and what is useful to the researchers is not necessarily useful to the practitioners.
  • Tracking “near misses” can be much more informative than tracking accidents; although even here, what constitutes a “near miss” can be extremely unclear.
  • Collecting data on edge events/accidents can be entirely too complex, making it difficult to get good data.
  • How does one share “safety experience” with the wider community without going through the peer review process that looks for statistical analysis, control groups, etc.

Return to larger group discussion

  • Field is practitioner heavy
  • Safety is driven by individual learning experiences
  • If it’s not being published…then no one is aware…how/where to publish
  • Validating your own theory
  • Is this a science in a proper sense?
    • Should safety science be separated from other sciences?
    • It had gone separate already.
    • Cross field interactions.
  • System. Person. System interacting with the Person.
  • You should not divorce from the other fields
  • Be involved with culture, make sure not just for white, cis-gender, hetero…example of reducing sexual harassment in field campaigns

Do you have an idea for future papers? Contact Jessica Martin jessica.a.martin@uconn.edu