Webinar Questions: Laboratory Safety Culture Questions

There were four related questions and comments relative to Lab Safety Culture. 

  • Who is responsible for chemical safety in the lab? (Everyone is a fine answer, but also a dodge). I feel it starts with the supervisor/mentor and I dislike the way accident blame tends to get pushed towards the victim.
  • University chemistry depts operate funded largely by NIH/NSF/DOE grants. In awarding these grants, there are requirements to follow bio-safety, radiation safety animal welfare, student mentoring guidelines. But chemical safety is left to the local university and fire marshals to regulate. BUT there could be chemical safety requirements IF they could be clearly codified and agreed to. The enforcement comes from losing grant support BUT the key is they have to be clearly defined for what are wide ranging activities and there has to be reporting back to the granting agencies.
  • It would be good to note that Prudent Practices and Safe Science from the National Academies came out of the Board on Chemical Sciences and Technology. They also have a publication on producing Laboratory SOPs. All of them are available for free through the National Academies Press. http://dels.nas.edu/bcst/Reports-Academies-Findings
  • From my understanding, PIs are primarily responsible for ensuring that researchers who participate in their laboratories receive proper safety training prior to participating in the lab. This coincides with the outcome to the incident that occurred in California when a researcher died due to lack of training.

These comments and questions point to an interesting challenge – the decentralized, entrepreneurial nature of lab work within a larger organization.This issue is the focus of many of the safety culture resources I identified during the webinar, in particular Safe Science from the National Academies Press.  The ACS Hazard Assessment web site outlines the roles and responsibilities related to lab safety here. It is clear from the literature that chemical safety requires both leadership from lab management and empowerment of individual lab workers to be effective and sustainable over time.

What role can lab informatics and Electronic Lab Notebooks play in creating the culture of safety?

This is a very active area of research collaboration between the DCHAS and the ACS Division of Chemical Information. We are using the RAMP paradigm to identify resources and gaps in the electronic lab safety resources available to the laboratory chemist. It is important to note that education for chemists in both laboratory safety and chemical information skills is an important part of a scientific education, both in terms of the sciences of information management and risk management and in practice of these skills while chemistry lab work is being practiced.

These answers are Ralph Stuart’s; feel free to share your thoughts and follow up questions in the comments section below. (Note: this section is moderated, so there may be some time delay before your question shows up.)


3 thoughts on “Webinar Questions: Laboratory Safety Culture Questions”

  1. In regard to the “whose responsible” question, perhaps a more pertinent question to ask is “who has the most impact on assuring safety and safe practices within the academic laboratory setting?” The overwhelming response to this question is the lab faculty/PI of the lab. This has been validated by a number of reviews and studies over time and is the conclusion of a number of studies. The single most important individual in establishing and maintaining a strong, positive safety culture in academic research labs is the faculty/principal investigator.

  2. > The single most important individual in establishing and maintaining a strong, positive safety culture in academic research labs is the faculty/principal investigator.

    I agree this is true, but I also believe that safety is a community efforts, fueled by partnerships between people in various roles in the laboratory (grad students, full time technicians, PI’s, department chairs and deans) and the institution as a whole. For a safety culture to be effective, all of these people must feel empowered to take leadership on safety issues they notice. Often these issues relate to facility constraints or support services that the institution provides. I have seen many situations where inadequate facilities or services erode the safety culture of a lab very quickly. So while the PI can demonstrate leadership, they don’t control the safety culture of a lab on their own.

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