Category Archives: Reference material

Engaging senior management to improve the safety culture

The Art & State of Safety Journal Club, 05/05/21

Excerpts from “Engaging senior management to improve the safety culture of a chemical development organization thru the SPYDR (Safety as Part of Your Daily Routine) lab visit program

written by Victor Rosso, Jeffery Simon, Matthew Hickey, Christina Risatti, Chris Sfouggatakis, Lydia Breckenridge, Sha Lou, Robert Forest, Grace Chiou, Jonathan Marshall, and Jean Tom

Presented by Victor Rosso

Bristol-Myers Squibb

The full paper can be found here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1016/j.jchas.2019.03.005 

INTRODUCTION

The improvement and enrichment of an organization’s safety culture are common goals throughout both industrial and academic research. As a chemical process development organization that designs and develops safe, efficient, environmentally appropriate and economically viable chemical processes for the manufacture of small molecule drug substances, we continually strive to improve our safety culture. Cultivating and energizing a rich safety culture is critical for an organization whose members are performing a multitude of processes at different scales using a broad spectrum of hazardous chemical reagents as its core activities. While we certainly place an emphasis on utilizing greener materials and safer reagents, the nature of our business requires us to work with all types of hazardous and reactive chemicals and the challenges we face are pertinent to any chemical research organization.

In our organization of approximately 200 organic and analytical chemists[a] and chemical engineers, we have a Safety Culture Team (SCT) [b][c][d][e][f][g]whose mission is to develop programs to enhance the organization’s safety culture. To make this culture visible, the  team developed a key concept, Safety is Part of Your Daily Routine, into a brand with its own logo SPYDR. To build on this concept, we designed a program known as the SPYDR Lab Visits shown in Figure 1. The program engages our senior leadership[h][i] by having them interact with our scientists directly at the bench in the laboratory[j][k][l][m] to discuss safety concerns. This program, initiated in 2013, has visibly engaged our senior leaders directly in the organization’s safety culture and brought to our attention a wide range of safety concerns that would not readily appear[n][o][p] in a typical safety inspection. Furthermore, this program provides a mechanism for increased communication between all levels of the organization by arranging meetings between personnel who may not normally interact with one another on a regular basis. The success of this program has led to similar programs across other functional areas in the company.[q]

A key safety objective for all organizations is to ensure that the entire organization can trust that the leadership is engaged in and supportive of the safety culture. [r][s][t][u]Therefore this program was designed to (1) emphasize that safety is a top priority from the top of the organization to the bottom[v][w][x][y][z], (2) engage our senior leadership with a prominent role in the safety conversations in the organization, (3) build a closer relationship between our senior leaders and the laboratory occupants and (4) utilize the feedback obtained from the visits to make the working environment better for our scientists. The program is a supplement to and not a replacement for the long standing laboratory inspection program done by the scientists in the organization.

The program involves assigning the senior leaders to meet with 2–5 scientists in the scientists’ laboratory. There are approximately 40 laboratories in the organization, and over the course of the year, each laboratory will meet with 2–3 senior leaders and each senior leader will visit 4–6 different laboratories. All of this is organized using calendar entries which informs the senior leaders and scientists of where and when to meet, and contains the survey link to collect the feedback.

As a result of this program, our senior leaders engage our bench scientists in conversations that are primarily driven to draw out the safety concerns of our scientists. However, these conversations can run the gamut of anything that is a concern to our team members[aa][ab]. This can range from safety issues, laboratory operations, and current research work to organizational changes and personal concerns. The senior leadership regularly reminds and encourages the scientists to engage on any topic of their choosing; this creates a collegial atmosphere for laboratory occupants to voice their safety concerns and ideas.

The laboratory visit program was modeled around the Safety SPYDR and thus we designed the program to have 8 legs[ac]. The first two legs consist of the program’s goals for the visit. We asked the senior leaders to ensure that they state the purpose of the program, that they are visiting the laboratory to find ways to improve lab safety. The second leg, which is the primary goal, is to ask “what are your safety concerns?”. Often this is met with “we have no safety concerns”, but using techniques common in the interviewing process, the leaders ask deeper probing questions to draw out what the scientists care about and with additional probing[ad][ae][af][ag], root causes of the safety concerns will emerge. Once the scientists start talking about one safety concern, often multiple concerns will then surface, thus giving our safety teams an opportunity to deal with these concerns.

The next two legs of the SPYDR Lab visits consist of observations we ask our senior leaders to make on laboratory clutter and access to emergency equipment[ah]. If the clutter level of a laboratory is deemed unacceptable,[ai][aj][ak][al] the SCT will look to provide support to address root causes of the clutter. Typical solutions have been addition of storage capacity, removal of excess equipment from the work spaces, and alternative workflows. The second observation is to ensure clear paths from the work areas to emergency equipment exist, should an incident occur. We wanted to make sure a direct line existed to the eyewash station/shower such that the occupant would not be tripping over excessive carts, chillers, shelving or miscellaneous equipment. These observations led to active coaching of our laboratory occupants to ensure safe egress existed and modifications to the work environment. For example, the relocation of many chillers to compartments underneath the hood from being on a cart in front of the hood enabled improved egress for a number of laboratories.

For the final four legs of the SPYDR Visit, we ask the senior leaders to probe for understanding on various topics[am] that range from personal protective equipment selection, waste handling, reactor setup and chemical hazards. The visitor is asked to rate these areas from needs improvements, to average, high, or very high. Figure 2 compares these ratings from the first year (2013) with the current year (2018). In the first year of the  program, there were a few scattered “needs improvement” rating that resulted in communication with the line management of the laboratory. After the initial year, “needs improvement” ratings became very rare in all cases except clutter. In the current year, we shifted two topics[an] to Laboratory Ergonomics[ao] and Electricity, which uncovered additional opportunities for improvement.  We recommend changing the contents of these legs on a regular basis[ap] as it shifts the focus of the discussion and potentially uncovers new safety concerns.

FEEDBACK MECHANISM

The SPYDR lab visits are built around a feedback loop illustrated in Figure 3 that utilizes an online survey to both track completion of the visits as well as to communicate findings back to the SCT. The order of events around a laboratory visit consist of scheduling a half hour meeting between our senior leaders and the occupants in their laboratories. Once the visit is completed, the visitors will fill out the simple online survey (Figure 4) that details their findings for the visit. The SCT will meet regularly to review the surveys and take actions based on the occupants’ safety concerns. This often involves following up with the team members in the laboratory to ensure they know their safety concerns were heard[aq][ar].

Two potential and significant detractors for this program exist. The first challenge is if the senior visitor does not show up for the visit, this results in a perception that senior management  does not embrace safety as a top priority. The second pitfall is if the visitor uncovers a safety concern, but does not  fill out the survey to report safety concerns, or if the SCT is unable to address a safety concern. In this case, there would be a perception that a safety concern was reported to a senior leader and “nothing happened”. To minimize these risks, there is significant  emphasis for the senior leaders to take ownership of the laboratory visits[as][at]  and for the SCT to take ownership of the action items and ensure the team members know their voices have been heard.

DISCUSSION OF SAFETY CONCERNS

A summary of safety concerns is illustrated in Table 1. By a wide margin, clutter was the predominant safety concern in 2013 as it was noted in 50% of the laboratories visited. Three major safety programs within the department were inspired by early visits in order to reduce clutter in the laboratories. This included several rounds of organized general laboratory cleanouts to remove old equipment[au][av]. A second program systematically purged old and/or duplicate chemicals throughout the department.[aw] Most recently, a third program created a systematic long term chemical inventory management system[ax][ay][az] that was designed to reduce clutter caused by the large number of processing samples stored in the department. This program has returned over 900 sq. feet of storage space to our laboratories and has greatly reduced the amount of clutter in the labs. Although clutter remains a common theme in our visits, the focus is now often related to removal of old instruments and equipment [ba][bb][bc][bd]rather than a gross shortage of storage space.

In the first year of the program, one aspect of the laboratory visit was to discuss hazards associated with chemical reactions (feedback rate of 28%) and equipment setup (32%). A common thread in these discussions were expectations of collaboration and behavior from “visiting scientists”. These “visiting scientists” were colleagues[be][bf][bg][bh] and project team members from other laboratories coming to the specific laboratory in order to use its specialized equipment (examples: 20 liter reactors, automated reactor blocks). This caused certain friction between the visiting scientists and their hosts on safety expectations. The SCT addressed this by convening a meeting between hosts and visiting scientists to discuss root causes of friction to produce a list of “best practices” shown in Figure 5 to improve the work experience for both hosts and visitors that is still in use for specialty labs with shared equipment today.[bi][bj]

The next major category of safety concerns for our laboratory visits was associated with facility repairs which was present in 24% of our first year visits. These included items such as leaking roofs, unsafe cabinet doors, or delays in re-energizing hoods after fire drills. These were addressed by connecting our scientists to the appropriate building managers who would be able to evaluate and address these safety concerns. After the initial year, most of the facility related concerns transitioned to the addition/removal of storage solutions within specific laboratories. Currently, when new laboratories are associated with the SPYDR Lab Visit program, major facility concerns will quickly be reported.

These visits also brought to light a common problem occurring in the laboratories, that is, the loss of electrical power associated with circuit breakers being tripped when the electrical outlets associated with a laboratory hood were being used at capacity. This led to the identification of the need to increase the electrical capacity in the fume hoods and this Is now being addressed by an ongoing capital project.

By the third year of the program, the nature of the safety concerns changed as many of the laboratory-based concerns had been addressed[bk]. Concerns raised now included site issues such as traffic patterns, pedestrian safety, walking in parking lots at night, and training. [bl]Among the items addressed for the site include on-site intersections being modified and movement of a fence line to enable safer crosswalks and improvements for the driver’s line-of-sight. A simple question raised about fire extinguisher training and who was permitted to use an AED device led to the expansion of departmental fire extinguisher training to a broader group and the offering of AED/CPR training to the broader organization.

These safety concerns would not be typically detected by a laboratory safety inspection program and are only accessible by directly asking the occupants what their safety concerns are. [bm][bn][bo]Through the SCT, these issues were resolved over time as the team took accountability to move the issue through various channels (facilities, capital projects, ordering of equipment) to develop and implement the solutions.

CONCLUSION

Since 2013, this novel program[bp] has successfully engaged our leadership with laboratory personnel and has led to hundreds of concerns being addressed[bq]. The concerns have arisen from over 300 laboratory visits, and more than a thousand safety conversations with our scientists. Because this is not a safety inspection program, these visits routinely uncover new safety concerns that would not be expected to surface in our typical laboratory inspection program. The SPYDR visit program is a strong supplement to the laboratory inspection program, and has produced a measurable impact on the safety culture.

A collateral benefit from the program is that it drives social interactions within the department where senior leaders who may not necessarily interact with certain parts of the organization have a chance to visit these team members in their workplace and learn firsthand what they do in the organization[br][bs][bt][bu].

[a]Only a bit bigger than some of the bigger graduate chemistry programs in the US.

[b]How large is the Safety culture Team?

[c]in the range of 6-10

[d]Does this fall in the “other duties as assigned” category or more driven by personal interest in the topic?

[e]Do position descriptions during recruitment include Required or Preferred skills that would add value to inclusion on the SCT?

[f]I was unable to access the article in its entirety so this question may be answered there….  What is the composition of the SCT- who in the organization participates?

[g]representatives from various departments and leaders of safety teams

[h]do some of the senior leadership going to the labs have lab experience?

[i]yes

[j]Was this a formal thing or out of the blue visits?

[k]initially planned as random, unannounced, we had to revert to scheduled in order to ensure scientists were present and available when leaders stopped in

[l]We had the same thing in academic lab inspections. While unannounced visits seemed more intuitive, the benefit of the visits wasn’t there if the lab workers weren’t available to work with the inspectors. So scheduling visits worked out better in the end

[m]In terms of compliance inspections, I would think that the benefit of scheduled inspections is that it can motivate people to clean their labs before the inspection. While I get that it would be preferable that they clean their labs more regularly, the announced visit seems like it would guarantee that all labs get cleaned up at least once per year. And maybe they’ll see the benefit of the cleaner lab and be more inspired to keep it cleaner generally – but I realize that might just be wishful thinking.

[n]So important. We keep running into the issues of experimental safety getting missed by 1-shot inspections.

[o]Some of that could be addressed with better risk assessment training of research staff.

[p]concerns are generally wide ranging, most started out as lab centric in the early years then expanded beyond the labs

[q]Are these other functional areas related to safety or other issues (e.g. quality control, business processes, etc.)

[r]This seems key but also can be super hard to obtain.

[s]I think that it requires leadership that is familiar with all of the different kinds of expertise in the orgainzation to say that. Higher ed contains so many different types of expertise, it is difficult for leadership to know what this commitment entails

[t]And far too often in my experience in academia those in leadership positions have limited management training, which can inhibit good leadership traits.

[u]Many academics promoted into chair or dean level get stuck on  budgeting arguments rather than more strategic / visionary questions

[v]I’ve found this expectation to be quite challenging at some higher ed institutions.

[w]Everytime I bring it up to upper management in higher ed, they say “of course safety is #1”, but they don’t want to spend their leadership capital on it.

[x]the program was designed to give  senior leaders a role specifically designed for them

[y]@Ralph I completely agree!

[z]This approach seems to be a way for leadership to get involved with out spending a lot of leadership capital.

I always had my best luck “inspecting” labs when I could lead with science-related questions rather than compliance issues

[aa]I think it is really cool that this is thought of expansively.

[ab]Nice to not put bounds on safety concerns going into the conversation.  Reinforced later in the paper thru the identification and mitigation of hazards well outside the lab

[ac]Are these legs connected to on boarding training for lab employees?

[ad]This skill would be exceptionally important when discussing such issues with graduate students.

[ae]Are scientists trained in this technique?  Or does the SCT have individuals selected for that skill set?  When I look around campus at TTU I can see lots of opportunity for collaboration by bringing “non-scientists” into the discussion to get new perspectives and possibly see new problems

[af]This definitely takes practice, but it can also be learned in workshops and by observing good mentoring. The observation process requires a conscious commitment by both the mentor and the employee, though

[ag]one thought at least for me, was the interviewing experience senior folks would have and this would be a chance to practice said skill

[ah]Seems like the process could have some standard topics that can be replaced with new focus areas as the program matures or issues are addressed

[ai]Lab clutter is an ongoing stress for me. Is the clutter related to current work or a legacy of previous work that hasn’t been officially decommissioned yet? 

Did your organization develop a set of process decommissioning criteria to maintain lab housekeeping?

[aj]Part of me feels that all researchers should at some point visit/tour a trace analytical laboratory.  Contamination is always of such concern when looking for things at ppb/ppt/ppq levels, that clutter rarely develops.  But outside of trace analysis laboratory its definitely a continuous problem in most research spaces.

[ak]This is a good idea. I wonder if Bristol Myers Squibb has a program to rotate scientists among different lab groups to share “cross-cultural” learning?

[al]@Chris – good point. I started research in a molecular genetics lab. While there were some issues, the benches and hoods were definitely MUCH cleaner and better organized because of concerns over contamination. Also, we have lab colonies of different insects in which things had to be kept very clean in order to keep lab-acquired disease transmission low for the insects. I was FLOORED by what I saw in chemistry labs once I joined my department. We very much had different ideas about what “clean” meant.

[am]I really like this idea as well. Make sure everyone is on the same page.

[an]I like the idea of shifting focus the previous issues have been addressed

[ao]Great to see emphasis on an often overlooked topic

[ap]Would reviewing these legs annually be regular enough? Or too often?

[aq]So important – people are more willing to discuss issues if they feel like someone is really listening and is prepared to actually address the issues.

[ar]And it demonstrates true commitment to the program and improvements.  Supports the trust built between the different stakeholders.

[as]Is there some sort of training or prepping down with these senior leaders?

[at]a short training session occurs to introduce leaders to the purpose of the program

[au]Thank you! This is a challenge for all laboratory organizations I have worked for

[av]Agreed!  Too often things are kept even when there is no definitive plan for future use.

[aw]What % of the chemical stock did this purge represent?

[ax]I’m always amazed when I learn of a laboratory that attempts to function without a structured chemical management system.  The ones without are often those that duplicate chemical purchases, often in quantities of scale (for price savings) that far exceed their consumption need.

[ay]I once asked the chem lab manager about this. He said that 80% of his budget is people and 15% chemicals. He’d rather focus his time on managing the 80% than the 15%.

He had a point, but I think he was passing up an important opportunity with that approach

[az]@Chris – and grad students waste loads of time looking for the reagents and glassware they need for their experiments. And when they find them, sometimes they have been so poorly stored/ignored that they are contaminated or otherwise useless. Welcome to my lab!

[ba]is this more of a challenge in academia vs. industry?

[bb]This is definitely a pretty big issue for us at the university I work at. Constant struggle.

[bc]One of the things I found frustrating while working at a govt lab is that I found out that we legally weren’t allowed to donate old equipment. I was simultaneously attending a tiny PUI nearby who would have LOVED to take the old equipment off their hands. Now working in an academic lab, I have been able to snag some donated equipment from industry labs.

[bd]@Jessica as someone presently in government research I share your frustration!  I have to remind myself that the government systems are all too often setup to prevent abuse, rather than be efficient and benevolent.

[be]Are these other laboratories from within your organization or external partners?

[bf]visitors from other labs within the department,

[bg]We had that challenge to some extent, but the bigger issues arose when visitors from other campuses showed up with different safety expectations than we were trying to instill. International visitors were a particularly interesting challenge…

[bh]@Ralph that was often my experience too, dramatically differing safety expectations now being asked to share research space.

[bi]I wish this occurred with greater frequency in academia.  Too often folks are too concerned about hurting a colleagues’ feelings or ego than to have a conversation to address safety concerns.

[bj]I like the best practices approach- less prescriptive and allows researchers some latitude in meeting the requirements.  Provides an opportunity for someone (who is a subject matter expert in their field) to come up with a better solution

[bk]That’s great, shows a commitment to the program and supports the trust that has been built between the stakeholders.

[bl]These are important issues in setting the tone of a safety culture for an organization

[bm]Such an important statement here.

[bn]Agreed!

[bo]+1

[bp]This is a good one!

[bq]Since I’m sure these were tracked, this is a nice metric- prevalence of a particular concern over time.

[br]does this go both ways at all? do the research scientists have the chance to ask how their research projects impact the goals of senior leadership/company?

[bs]there is a social interaction aspect here were scientists will get to interact with leaders they normally would not cross paths with, we can take this opportunity for our analytical leaders to visit chemists, chemistry leaders to visit engineers and engineering leads to visit analytical chemists

[bt]Did business leadership (sales, marketing, etc.) have the opportunity to see this kind of interaction? Or do they have separate interactions with lab staff?

[bu]In higher ed, it would be interesting to take admissions staff on lab tours to inform them about what is going on there and potentially give feedback about what students and parents are interested in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[b]I completely agree!

[c]Agreed!  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ay]Yes that is correct Jessica

[az]ROI = return on investment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[bh]I hope so as well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[bs]This is an excellent program!

[bt]Thank you!

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ca]Great point!

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

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

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

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

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

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

[ch]What kinds of things have you tried?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[cs]Which one are you referring to?

[ct]dec 4 2020 chemistry explosion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INTRODUCTION


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

SURVEY PROCESS


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

REPRESENTATIVE SURVEY FINDINGS[ad][ae]

Emotional Well-Being and Work-Life Balance


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

Work Environment


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RECOMMENDATIONS AND INITIATIVES BASED ON CLIMATE SURVEY RESULTS


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Submit an Abstract to the 25th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference

The ACS Green Chemistry Institute invites you to submit an abstract to the 25th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference. Held virtually on June 14-18, 2021, the Conference will feature 5 days of programming, over 30 oral and poster sessions with Q&A, and many opportunities to for online networking. Take a moment to browse the symposia and submit an abstract before February 15, 2021.
https://www.gcande.org/program/?cid=sc_gci_partner_1_4_21

Note particularly the presentation opportunity in the symposium I am co-organizing. Last year, the green chemistry and safety symposium was most of best attended of the GCI conference.

CONNECTING GREEN CHEMISTRY AND CHEMICAL SAFETY IN THE CHEMISTRY CURRICULUM AND BEYOND

Organizers: Ralph Stuart, Keene State College and ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety; Kendra Denlinger, Xavier

Both green chemistry and chemical safety have direct connections to the ACS’s core value of “professionalism, safety and ethics”. The symposium will explore how these connections can be engaged in academic coursework, in the research laboratory, and in industrial and engineering settings. Papers that define, compare, and contrast the practices of green chemistry and green engineering with chemical safety and then connect these to their social context and goals within the chemistry and engineering enterprise are welcome.

No travel required!

Let me know if you have any questions about this.

– Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Membership Chair
American Chemical Society Division of Chemical Health and Safety
membership@dchas.org

Spring 2021 National Meeting Call for Papers

The CHAS Call for Abstracts for the 2021 Spring Virtual ACS National Meeting is now available at https://callforabstracts.acs.org/acsspring2021/CHAS

Note that the submission calendar is quite tight due to the pandemic’s impact on planning the meeting. The deadlines for submission is January 19. But the good news is that you can share your work more conveniently since travel will not be required.

CHAS symposia open for paper submissions include:

  • Chemical Safety Film Festival
  • Designing safety into an undergraduate laboratory curriculum, beyond safety rules
  • Safety Across the Scientific Disciplines: Where are the successes, and what needs improvements
  • Systems thinking in Chemical Health and Safety

CANN symposia include

  • Cannabis apart from Cannabinoids
  • Cannabis Derived Treatments for Specific Medical Condtions:
  • Women in Cannabis: Shaping an Emerging Industry

More details about these sessions can be found on the ACS web site

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

2021 CHAS Chat Topics Survey Results

52 CHAS members responder to our survey of interest in potential 2021 CHAS chat topics. The average response for each potential topic are in the table below, with “10” being most interested and “1” least interested.

Potential 2021 CHAS chat topics

TopicInterest level (1-10)
Best sources of safety information for chemicals7.63
Hazard Assessment in the research lab7.58
Specific examples of RAMP in action7.35
Online resources for learning safe chemistry techniques7.21
Best practices for at-the-bench training6.88
Teaching chemical safety and risk assessment in virtual labs6.75
Chemical Safety for Biologists6.73
Fire codes and flammable/reactive limits6.60
Planning for and Recovering from Emergencies6.54
Overview of new ACS chemical safety education resources6.50
Working alone policies and practices6.50
Safety in Nanotechnology6.15
Safe Reaction scale up considerations6.12
The role and impact of covid masks (in public and in the lab)6.10
Safety in community outreach6.09
Strengths and limitations of PubChem LCSS5.98
EH&S as a career option5.94
Uses of ACS Style Guide chapter5.79
Safety in the performing arts5.42
Service Animals in the Lab4.94
Process Safety in the Pharmaceutical Industry4.82
High School Safety related resources4.60

Webinar: Lessons learned from Beirut and Ammonium Nitrate

CAS will be hosting a webinar on Friday, December 4th at 11:30 EDT.

The Expert View – Lessons learned from Beirut and Ammonium Nitrate:

Register here: https://www.cas.org/science-connect/ammonium-nitrate

Even if you don’t work with industrial levels of ammonium nitrate on a daily basis, the safe handling of this chemical could have implications in your local community. With the recent tragedies in Beirut, are there lessons learned that can help minimize the safety risks?

Join us for an in-depth panel discussion with experts who bring diverse ideas from the commercial, academic, and safety viewpoints from a deeper study into the formulation options, the innovation landscape, and key safety guidelines.

Panelists:

  • Dr. Jimmie Carol Oxley, professor of chemistry at the University of Rhode Island
  • Dr. Vyto Brabauskas, President of Fire Science and Technology
  • Kimberly Brown, Sr. Lab Safety Specialist and Chemical Hygiene Officer, University of Pennsylvania

Date: December, 4th 2020
11:30am – 12:30pm ET – Register to join live or access the recording at a later date: https://www.cas.org/science-connect/ammonium-nitrate