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Lessons Learned from the Creation and Development of a Researcher-Led Safety Organization at The University of Chicago

Presented by Sarah Zinn, University of Chicago

02/17 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club excerpts from “Lessons Learned from the Creation and Development of a Researcher-Led Safety Organization at The University of Chicago

The full paper can be found at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.chas.9b00012

INTRODUCTION

“Safety standards and practices within academia have fallen well below those of their industrial and governmental counterparts due[a][b][c][d], in large part, to a relative absence[e][f] of the financial and public pressures that become driving forces within government and industry.[g][h][i][j] However, it has been shown that a strong safety-centric culture has a significant statistical correlation with a low occurrence of high-risk behaviors, low accident rates, high productivity, low absenteeism, and long-term institutional success. Considering these correlations and the numerous devastating accidents within academia, vigorous discussions about how to build and maintain academic safety cultures have been spreading across the United States. Numerous connections between strong, coherent, safety-minded leadership and the institution’s safety culture have been made, yet the unique and sometimes nebulous leadership structures within academia often complicate and fragment these efforts, leading to diffuse, sometimes conflicting, leadership[k][l] and, therefore, a primary emphasis on regulation compliance over collaborative, proactive engagement[m][n]. Thus, here we describe a case study of the implementation of a researcher-led safety team working to bridge the gap between safety administration, departmental administration, and researchers at The University of Chicago: The Joint Research Safety Initiative (JRSI).”

“Often, the ultimate goal of researcher-led safety teams is to strengthen the organization’s safety culture. While laudable, the realization of this goal is difficult both to achieve and to quantify since the underlying conditions are vague, intangible, and not necessarily consistent [o][p]with the observable artifacts. Thus, achieving this goal likely requires (1) many years, (2) significant personnel turnover, and (3) carefully planned methods of long-term measurement.”[q][r][s][t]

Working definition of safety culture

“The precise definition of an institution’s safety culture is ill-defined and varies greatly between fields. Herein, we will use Edgar Shein’s model of organizational culture[u][v], where we will use the term “safety culture” to refer to an organization’s shared beliefs, values, and attitudes regarding safety (underlying conditions) as well as the organization’s observable safety-related behaviors, policies, publicized values, and front-facing messages (artifacts)”

Conditions at The University of Chicago

“In order to understand the formation of our researcher-led team, it is first necessary to understand the context and history of safety administration at The University of Chicago. Prior to 2009, The University of Chicago’s safety administration consisted of the traditional Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) department which was broadly responsible for the health, safety, and environmental compliance of the educational and research community at The University of Chicago. However, in 2009, Malcom Casadaban, a University of Chicago Associate Professor, died after being exposed to Yersinia pestis and contracting the plague; a mere two years later, a university researcher was hospitalized for surgery and antibiotic treatment after being exposed to Bacillus cereus.[w][x][y][z][aa] It was in response to these startling exposures that The University of Chicago restructured its traditional safety department by creating the Office of Research Safety (ORS) which reported directly to the Vice President of Research and National Laboratories and took on the responsibility of assessing research risk, providing training, and conducting regular inspections. This newly created ORS[ab][ac][ad][ae] took an active role in supporting researchers and sought to empower researchers in strengthening safety culture by implementing a variety of programs, including creating an online anonymous incident reporting tool and publishing a publicly available lessons learned repository.”

“In alignment with the key principles of safety teams discussed in the literature, the JRSI does not assume the enforcement roles or hazard training responsibilities that EH&S and ORS assume. Instead, we work to facilitate dialogues between the various administrative, student, and researcher groups within the PME and the Department of Chemistry[af][ag]. We work hand in hand with these various groups to make resources easier to access and to involve researchers more directly in conversations about safety.”

IMPLEMENTED PROGRAMS

Developing Organizational Structure

Initially, “a subset of attendees interested in the practical development of a safety team began meeting monthly with administrators from EH&S and ORS[ah][ai][aj]… During this time, the JRSI continued to operate under a mostly informal structure…”

“As we started implementing our programming and as our organization began seeing member turnover, we [started] providing a small quarterly supplemental stipend [ak][al][am][an][ao]for members of the JRSI…to ensure the JRSI’s continuation.”

“we began our first round of active recruitment by sending an application to apply for board membership via email; in this solicitation, we detailed the potential benefits of participating in our organization, including distinguishing one’s CV with professional service, obtaining low-stakes experience in a safety career path, working toward the development of one’s department, and the aforementioned supplemental stipend[ap][aq]. During this first application round, we received 14 applications—8 from the PME and 6 from the Department of Chemistry[ar][as]—with 50% of applicants being participants in our first Peer Lab Walkthrough event and 43% of applicants currently or previously serving as LSCs[at][au][av][aw][ax] (21% of applicants were both participants in the Peer Lab Walkthrough and LSCs). During this application cycle, we brought on 7 new members for a new total of 10 board members.”

“The organization’s main leadership comprised the 3…members…[on] an Executive Committee made of two Co-Presidents and a Treasurer. The members of this Executive Committee are responsible for the general functioning and organization of the JRSI and also serve as Committee Chairs for four key areas of the JRSI’s work: The Publicity Committee, The Survey Committee, The Education Committee, and The Finance Committee.[ay][az][ba][bb][bc]

Lessons Learned

  • “Having upper administration buy-in was crucial to initiating dialogue with faculty, ORS,[bd][be] EH&S, and researchers, and as such it was a fundamental springboard for the development and successful implementation of nearly all of our programs.”
  • “the early development and organization of a shared document repository proved to be essential for efficient operation…[and the] consider[ation of] how documents will be handled with future board turnover.”[bf][bg][bh][bi]
  • “our new, more organized and departmentalized structure enables us to pursue a much broader set of initiatives; however, if the realization of a formalized structure is not yet feasible in the initial process of setting up a safety team, we recommend at least formalizing executive positions as a method by which to keep the team organized and driven.”

Evaluating Safety Culture

“The major and subsisting effects of our implemented programs will likely not be seen during the tenure of the original JRSI team.”

“in order to appropriately gauge the effectiveness of our Initiative and our programs on positively impacting the culture, it is imperative to utilize appropriate and robust methods to probe not only the artifacts of a university’s safety culture but the underlying conditions as well.”

“to make conclusions on the state of The University of Chicago’s safety culture and to identify specific areas that could be targeted for improvement…we developed a short initial survey…for which we offered no incentive to respond. Though we were able to glean a fair bit of information from this initial survey and were able to use it to internally motivate programming…our failure to obtain formal Institutional Review Board (IRB) exemption or approval prior to surveying precludes us from sharing the survey results with external communities.”

Lessons Learned

  • “One of the most surprising and important takeaways from the implementation of the JRSI was the lessons learned on the appropriate way to [bj][bk][bl][bm]conduct this type of surveying. Since it is likely that most members in a researcher-led safety team will be students without a background in designing and administering surveys[bn][bo][bp][bq][br][bs] to human subjects, we believe that a discussion on survey design and implementation is neither trivial nor unimportant.”
  • “having some initial surveying information permits the safety team to communicate with internal safety administration,[bt] departmental heads, and faculty about their institution’s specific needs and the ways in which a researcher-led safety team might benefit everyone, which may help to motivate both administrative and financial internal support.”
  • “it may not be necessary to obtain IRB approval for surveying, as long as no personally identifying or sensitive information is gathered, and the results from the survey are only used for internal program-improvement purposes[bu]. However, any safety team wishing to share survey results with external communities at any point in time, like at future conferences or in peer-reviewed papers, should obtain formal IRB exemption or approval before beginning the surveying process and should keep in mind the mitigation of potential risks to participants and potential vulnerabilities of the target population”
  • “while surveying LSCs resulted in valuable information, the biased sample only provided one limited vantage point of the greater safety culture…we highly recommend designing surveys that can be distributed to all members of the departmen[bv][bw]t, including graduate students, postdocs, undergraduates, and even faculty if possible.”
  • “while in reality most surveys implemented by safety teams will likely experience multiple iterations, we highly recommend that the survey is as complete as possible as soon as possible so that annual resurveying efforts can be comparable; even seemingly small changes can create a different surveying experience which can significantly impact respondents’ answers”
  • “We highly recommend consulting the literature on effective survey design before implementing large-scale surveys.”[bx][by][bz]

Facilitating Communication

“It is largely recognized that collaborative, inclusive interactions increase active participation and involvement within an organization. Furthermore, it has been concluded that insufficient collaboration, specifically between researchers and internal safety administration in academia, cultivates an overly top-down, largely compliance-based approach[ca][cb][cc][cd][ce][cf][cg] to safety.”[ch][ci]

“With the JRSI in its infancy, we hosted a 2 day kickoff symposium and vendor fair[cj][ck][cl][cm][cn] to officially unveil our organization, to reach a broad base of the community, and to begin forging interpersonal connections between researchers, safety administration, and departmental administration…Two days after the invited speaker symposium, we organized a safety-centric vendor fair. In addition to their normal marketing, these vendors performed safety demonstrations and distributed safety-related promotional items such as glove samples and informational posters.”[co][cp][cq]

“One creative and potentially high-impact approach to fostering positive safety culture that we have seen implemented by other safety teams is to host a lab walkthrough event[cr]. Inspired by the UMN JST, the JRSI introduced a pilot Peer Lab Walkthrough [cs]in early 2019. This event was a friendly competition in the Department of Chemistry and the PME which was intended to promote safety innovation, to elicit camaraderie, and to encourage open discussions about best practices. The competition was a collaborative educational opportunity for research groups to share safety knowledge, creative solutions, and lessons learned without regulatory authority or the threat of punitive action[ct][cu][cv]… LSCs and graduate student researchers from both departments volunteered as judges (Figure 5A) to assess a dozen voluntarily participating laboratories (6 laboratories or 26% of active laboratories from the Department of Chemistry and 6 laboratories or 28% of active laboratories[cw][cx] from the PME at the time of the walkthrough, correcting for joint appointments). The JRSI, in partnership with ORS, established a detailed scoring rubric[cy][cz][da] adapted from the one used by the UMN JST… After all laboratories were assessed and scores were tallied, the JRSI hosted an awards ceremony[db][dc], newly developed by the JRSI, and gave prizes to the highest-scoring laboratories[dd][de]

Lessons Learned

  • “We found the kickoff symposium and vendor fair to be a highly effective means by which to formally and impactfully introduce a new safety team to both internal and external communities. By organizing this larger-scale event which explicitly highlighted safety communication, we were able to generate a concentrated amount of interest and word of mouth, thereby solidifying a concrete starting point for our safety team”
  • “While soliciting volunteers for the Peer Lab Walkthrough was essential to the program’s mission of facilitating communication and idea-sharing, their training was not trivial; though all of our judges expressed comfort in using our scoring rubric [df][dg][dh]after the in-person volunteer training, many questions arose during the walkthrough regarding how specific situations should be assessed, and some volunteers found the process of initiating the walkthrough awkward.”[di][dj][dk]
  • “This can be done by using hands-on training, like through the use of a model laboratory rather than relying solely on electronic presentations,[dl][dm][dn] and by running through a full example of what to expect in a real walkthrough. With a sufficient number of volunteers, we also recommend having multiple volunteers walk through the same lab to help alleviate scoring inconsistency.[do][dp]

Defragmenting Safety Resources

“A 2012 report by the Safety Culture Task Force of the ACS Committee on Chemical Safety identified several key barriers to achieving a strong safety culture, many of which involved fragmented infrastructure,[dq][dr][ds] support, resources, and educational materials.[dt][du][dv]

“In the development of our website, we worked with safety administration to identify and clarify the disparate but related safety resources, both internal and external to our university, and coalesced them into a single accessible portal where all members of our constituency—researchers, undergraduates, teaching assistants, faculty, safety administrators, staff, and visitors—can navigate our broader, more complex infrastructure with ease.”[dw]

“From our initial LSC surveying, we came to realize that there were no formal guidelines provided to LSCs that detailed their responsibilities; since it is extremely difficult to perform the job well without a clear understanding of what exactly the job entails, the JRSI worked closely with ORS and EH&S to standardize the minimum required responsibilities of an LSC.”[dx][dy][dz]

“Defragmenting safety efforts and resources is a time-consuming task, but one which can offer clarity in how to best impact the university safety culture by forcing[ea][eb][ec][ed] involved parties to comb through the institution’s available resources and to interface broadly with the institution’s artifacts.”

Educating Researchers, Teachers, and Safety Contacts

“In an effort to make the most efficient impact on our University’s safety culture, we identified and targeted two key demographics—LSCs and first-year graduate students—and developed interpersonal training programs and support systems for them.”

“…we created an original program to develop safety-minded interpersonal training for these targeted key demographics. We strategized that incoming students can be strong drivers of cultural change in that they have not yet been exposed to the existing institutional safety culture; this, in combination with the fact that they still have many years of research ahead of them, may make matriculating graduate students an impactful demographic for working on long-term cultural change.“

“…we developed a training[ee][ef][eg][eh][ei][ej] [ek][el][em]for first-year students aimed at developing the soft skills required [en][eo][ep][eq]to communicate effectively and to contribute to a positive and supportive atmosphere around safety.”

Table Read Comments

[b]Whether they should or should not be relevant pressures is a separate question entirely. You can find information about this in the Safety Culture Taskforce 2012 report.

[c]I can look this up later (sorry if I’m just un-informed here) but do you know off hand if this is a re-occurring report and if it is how often it occurs?

[a]Were they ever at the level of industrial and governmental counterparts? How is this level measured? Is there data for this? Should financial and public pressures be the relevant driving forces for the academy?

[d]Melissa, to my understanding there has not been another report since 2012.

Dominick, it is also worth noting that much of the communications about safety culture improvement and safety administration improvement in academic settings across the country occurred as a response to massive fines and felony charges at UCLA after Sheri Sangji’s death. These financial and social/legal pressures have absolutely been a driving force in academia, and so has the absence of them.

[e]There are many financial and public pressures in academia, but they are different driving fources from government’s and industry’s

[f]Agreed.

[g]Are there any citations or references for this claim by the JRSI?  Do we know that it is due “in large part” to lack of financial and public pressure?  And that those are indeed driving forces in gov’t and industry?  And that it isn’t other large factors at play?  I’m skeptical of this broad claim.

[h]I’m struggling to understand the use of quotes on each paragraph.  Is that on purpose?  Or an artifact of it being a Google doc?  Who is quoting whom here please?

[i]You can find information about this in the 2012 ACS Safety Culture Taskforce report. All quotes here are directly from the paper cited at the top. There are no direct quotes from any other source. The information in this paper was synthesized from various different sources, which are indicated by in-text citations in the paper cited at the top.

[j]See my comment to Dominick above for more: 

“it is also worth noting that much of the communications about safety culture improvement and safety administration improvement in academic settings across the country occurred as a response to massive fines and felony charges at UCLA after Sheri Sangji’s death. These financial and social/legal pressures have absolutely been a driving force in academia, and so has the absence of them.”

Industry hasn’t always had incentive to drive safe practices, particularly in the early days of heavy expansion of chemical industry in the early 1900s (some corners of industry still don’t have substantial enough financial, social, and legal pressure to be interested in driving safe behaviors/environments—see meat packing plants, for instance). As some pressure was put on industry to do better to avoid worker comp suits, other legal fees, and fines, it became a bigger financial interest for these companies to proactively prevent accidents. The incentive structure is quite different in academia, and it wasn’t until fines and felony charges were seen by a major institution that academic institutions felt some substantial pressure to address these problems.

Of course there are many other very important and significant factors at play (indeed the entire point of this paper and of a safety team at UChicago is to address these other factors, which graduate students and post-docs may be able to manage some control over). The incentive structure of the institution to encourage and drive safety behavior (or not) is, however, a major influencer.

[k]Is this referring to conflict in EH&S uppers vs. PI or departmental staff/ faculty?

[l]Conflicting interests between different groups, like EH&S vs PI vs departmental staff, etc.

[m]Does anyone know if this emphasis on regulation compliance is or is not the primary driver for safety efforts at industrial or government research lab?

[n]It varies from place to place. Often in industry, there is also a strong emphasis on regulatory compliance as well. In industry, the literature shows that environments, where collaboration and worker-involvement are valued, have stronger safety culture and better outcomes.

[o]One of the goals should be professional development if we are going to be comparing our graduates to industry in order to make them industry ready. Since there are few accreditations given for graduate school degree, I am not certain of the best approach.

[p]Several of the ACS publications on Safety Culture have engaged chemists working in industry as content creators specifically because of the consistent complaint that PhD graduates aren’t “safety ready.” That being said, it seems to be a struggle to get really concrete information out of them by what is meant by “not safety ready.”

[q]One of the advantages of faculty researcher-led teams is continuity. This can certainly be built in to the JSTs, but there must also be institutional memory, and that is one thing that faculty can provide, maybe in the context of a champion?

[r]Where are the quotes coming from? The actual paper?

[s]Again, yes, all of the quotes are directly from the paper. There are no direct quotes from an uncited source.

[t]Yes, champions are important for a host of reasons, some of which are continuity and stability.

[u]Megan Gonzalez has in her dissertation tried to provide a definition of safety culture more targeted to academic laboratories.

[v]Yes, there are many different conceptualizations of safety culture

[w]Just wondering… it seems as though these accidents were in Biological labs. It is interesting that chemistry seems have taken the lead for JSTs rather than Biology, or is it a mix of disciplines?

[x]I’m also interested in this. Right now our Chemical Hygiene Committee isn’t very involved with our Biosafety Committee unless it directly involves chemicals.

[y]Great question! There is a lot of crossover between the work in biological departments and chemistry departments at The University of Chicago. The main reason that the chemistry department took the lead on the JRSI is simply because this is the group that was approached about attending the DOW Lab Safety Academy. We have had a lot of interest from Biophysics about getting involved in the team, even though they weren’t involved in the beginning.

[z]Is there any data on what percentage of active JST/LSTs are cross-departmental (overall nationally)?

[aa]I think this depends on how they are set up. A great question to explore!

[ab]The creation of the JRSI after the ORS would seem to imply that graduate students still felt as if there were needs not being addressed adequately.

[ac]I agree with this comment and wonder if it connects with the previous comment on the cited issues being biological lab heavy. Was there a disconnect between ORS focusing on particular hazards that left chemistry students feeling “left out” (for lack of better phrasing)?

[ad]I had this same thought but it would depend on how the group was started, if students wanted it because they weren’t feeling heard or if faculty wanted it to help empower students to develop a safety culture which is difficult by the ORS alone without student engagement.

[ae]There is quite a bit of time between the creation of ORS and the creation of JRSI. In practice, this means that all of the graduate students at UChicago have never known UChicago without ORS. ORS made improvements in the organizational structure, but by no means did it fill all holes.

As a side note, ORS covers all departments, not just chemistry or biology.

[af]once the JRSI was established, was an effort made to reach out to other departments?

[ag]Yes! Though to date, we haven’t yet expanded. Though there was initial interest from multiple departments, we didn’t have the bandwidth to incorporate other departments. However, now that our feet are more firmly planted, we’re thinking about how best to do this: incorporate them into one big team, or have a separate team in each department with good communication between them all? As of date, we have high interest from biophysics.

[ah]Was this a joint meeting or two separate meetings?

[ai]Does this mean that EHS did not have a member meeting with the JRSI regularly, other than these monthly meetings?

[aj]It was joint between the safety team, EHS, and ORS. At the time, we had only these monthly meetings with the greater ORS & EHS, but we always had a close point of contact with someone in ORS who functioned as a champion for us. She was in all of our email communications, all of our meetings, etc.

[ak]Who is funding this? And is this defined to equate to a certain number of hours per stipend period of labor dedicated to JRSI activities?

[al]I had same question and also wondered if money needed to fund activities is taken out of stipends or put to the side separately?

[am]Same question: where did the money come from? This would be a neat thing to ask for from VPR offices!

[an]Also interested in funding source.

[ao]The size of our board is capped at 10 members. Each member gets 500/quarter (including summer) contingent on active participation. Active participation is defined as attending 10/12 yearly hour-long meetings, joining at least one subcommittee and participating satisfactorily in that (as judged by the executive committee charing the subcommittee), and helping to plan the annual Peer Lab Walkthrough. We currently serve two departments—chemistry and molecular engineering. Half of everyone’s stipend comes from chemistry, half from molecular engineering. It is awarded by the deans, and does not come out of the JRSI’s pool of funding.

[ap]How was this funded?

[aq]The size of our board is capped at 10 members. Each member gets 500/quarter (including summer) contingent on active participation. Active participation is defined as attending 10/12 yearly hour-long meetings, joining at least one subcommittee and participating satisfactorily in that (as judged by the executive committee charing the subcommittee), and helping to plan the annual Peer Lab Walkthrough. We currently serve two departments—chemistry and molecular engineering. Half of everyone’s stipend comes from chemistry, half from molecular engineering. It is awarded by the deans, and does not come out of the JRSI’s pool of funding.

[ar]What was the demographic breakdown of time in program for these applicants? Was it primarily younger students or those beyond candidacy exams?

[as]I don’t have this information on me right now, but from memory it was a pretty health mix of all sorts of students. We had some pre-candidacy, some post-docs, and some mid-career. I think we received one close to graduation, but I am less sure about that one.

[at]I wonder why this is only 43%, I would expect that it would be higher because being involved in this program would help them fulfill their LSC duties. How many were previous LSCs?

[au]I’m not surprised it’s within this regime – I can imagine that the time commitment to serve as both an LSC and board member would be more substantial than some students would be willing to make.

[av]I’m not sure what @kalim863@gmail.com means here. At UConn, there is no set number of hours or duties to serve as an LSC (LSO) so whether or not an individual serves on the JST would have nothing to do with “fulfilling LSC duties.” It seems that it works the same way at Chicago?

[aw]43% really isn’t a bad number in student life and student activities circles…

[ax]UChicago functions similarly to UConn (as Jessica mentioned). There are no requirements for the number of hours spend as an LSC/LSO. Additionally, serving on the JRSI board does not impact one’s responsibilities as an LSC at UChicago.

[ay]Was there a reason that the committee chairs were not independent members?

[az]What is the plan for continuity and history?

[ba]@bader072@umn.edu can you clarify what you mean by “independent members”?

Dominick, we have a Google Team Drive that has an organized repository of all of our documents and our history and are working on securing another champion since our ORS representative passed away. In the meantime, there is a process of training to secure effective turnover.

[bb]Any long-term permanent members?

[bc]Yes, there are two members on the board (out of 10) who have been with the JRSI since the beginning. Both will be graduate soon, though.

We did have a member of ORS working very closely with us (functioned as a champion and a source of continuity), but unfortunately, she passed away a couple of months ago.

[bd]What is upper administration? To me this means the chancellor.

[be]deans and department chairs

[bf]Did you run into any issues with things getting lost after new leadership turnover or different documentation styles?

[bg]Because we still have 2 founding members on our board, we haven’t actually lost any documentation with leadership turnover. However, when the executive committee leadership transferred over to non-founding members, we definitely saw a lot of problems brewing with this (they could just ask the founding members, but eventually it will be lost information). Perhaps creating a sheet detailing all of the available information and documentation could help.

[bh]This is key to many volunteer groups and often not captured as an important piece.

[bi]upvote!

[bj]I have relearned this lesson the hard way several times. Sometimes the challenge is primarily language based – it is hard to get to the point of your question without slipping into jargon. However, there is also a need to understand what questions the surveyed population is ready to answer.

One way to figure this out is to use face to face focus groups to:

1)         See how other people perceive the issue you are asking about

2)         Understand what language they use to describe those issues

3)         Figure out how to minimize the number of questions while getting the information you need.

This process pays dividends when the results of the survey come out.

[bk]I agree @Ralph. Qualitative methods such as 1:1 interviews and focus groups can provide depth and detail unavailable from surveys.  All of these methods require a knowledge of effective design and evaluation techniques that many don’t realize is needed.

[bl]That is exactly the problem I have-who can we tap to help us with surveys and interviews other than doing our best based on the literature? There is no one on my campus.

[bm]@June Do you not have a Department of Psychology at your school? Or a School of Education? Or a Business School? These are common areas to find people who have survey expertise.

[bn]Would it be worth considering attempting to recruit someone from a different department who has experience with this to advise the team? If so, it may be worth what kind of incentive structure would make sense.

[bo]While we have a small number of people in the Department of Psychology at UConn who specialize in Industrial Psychology and some people at the Business School focused on the structure of organizations, I failed to find anyone who was willing/able to take the time to advise our team in this way – so it could be a tall order.

[bp]Before starting my PhD courses I opted to find a professional staff person well educated in survey design.  She was quite happy to assist us and we found the process enlightening and the resulting survey much more useful and valid than our original draft (which we discarded).  There are typically staff at uni’s who have this education and are able/willing to help.

[bq]It was nice that you found someone who could. My point is that I could NOT find someone who was willing to spend the time on it.

[br]We paid professional survey people housed on campus to help with this. The results were more statistically robust, but less educational than more informal approaches. Industrial Psychology people do tend to be quite busy with bigger money questions (e.g. maximizing workforce productivity).

[bs]We had someone in Industrial Psych who worked with a group of undergrads to examine Safety Culture within the kitchens on campus! That is why I thought he would be good to approach. He gave me a few useful things to look at & think about, but was unwilling to engage in a more productive way.

[bt]This is a very good point. My surveys have generally been cross-institutional, so there is a less well defined audience for the results

[bu]Always a good idea to have the blessing of the IRB. I know for the surveys that my students do, they always seek IRB approval, in case they want to publish the results. De-identifying is necessary, but a good IRB will provide examples of how to do it well, and will critique the techniques used.

[bv]These are likely to be separate surveys based on separate focus groups; don’t forgot to include support staff (administrative and technical) in this list. They often have the institutional memories that other portions of the community don’t.

[bw]Great points!

[bx]Very good point, and very true! This is especially true for surveys that might be pre-post or that want to be shown to be valid instruments. The methodology for making “valid” surveys is also in the literature.

[by]I agree wholeheartedly @dominick!  Many surveys are poorly designed and constructed.

[bz]And when they are designed for statistical validity, they often stray from the content of interest. “Trending destroys fidelity”.

[ca]EHS can be in a tough spot with this. They are responsible for compliance and as such, it often needs to be where they focus – especially if they have limited resources.

[cb]It is mentioned earlier that a separate ORS was established. We don’t have an ORS at my school. I have often wondered how different the relationships are between researchers and safety personnel when an ORS is introduced.

[cc]ORS is only tangentially involved in EHS for many institutions. ORS might also bear responsibility for funding and grant opportunities and oversight. That tends to be a BIG deal and they just want EHS to “be sure we are in compliance” because “being out” can cause loss of funding.

[cd]I thought the Office of Research Safety was specifically designed to assist researchers in conducting their research safely – i.e. the stuff EHS often doesn’t have the time to do. Am I wrong in this? If not this, then what do they do?

[ce]ORS tend to arise when the administrative side (facilities or risk management) get frustrated with the academic side and vice versa. My experience is that the personalities involved are the primary driver of successful colloborations across this aisle

[cf]I agree with Ralph. ORS may also have oversight of hospital/patient research safety. Those tend to get more attention than engineering or chemical safety.

[cg]There’s a figure in the paper that explains how the responsibilities of EHS and ORS differ and overlap at UChicago

[ch]In most departments, there is also insufficient information about what each lab group is doing in terms of hazardous chemicals and operations, number of workers in the group and their statuses, the legacy and anticipated directions of their work

[ci]This is certainly true from my experience as well!

[cj]Vendors can be a valuable source of support for these efforts, particularly those with contracts with the institution who are interested in maintaining good relationships with the lab community.

[ck]We tried to do this at UConn, but our stockroom manager was really against it. She said that legally they couldn’t have relationships with vendors that were too close. I was baffled as I have ATTENDED vendor fairs at other institutions (even in Connecticut), but she was adamant about it so we did not pursue it at the time. Anyone ever heard of this?

[cl]I have not. Unless the state of CT is way off the beaten track in terms of vendor practices, this sounds like an individual concern. That’s the purpose of the state bidding process – to protect the vendors from “too close” relationships

[cm]We do vendor fairs usually once a semester (sometimes once a year), so I don’t understand this.

[cn]Yeah – I don’t think it is a state issue since one of the vendor fairs I attended was at the other university in CT (you know….Yale….).

[co]Was this provided for free to the University by the vendors?

[cp]Yes, it was. Indeed, we found out afterward that vendors will actually pay you to host a vendor fair. Whoops—missed opportunity for safety team funding ):

[cq]Whoa! That’s great to know! We’ve been trying to set one of these for our safety break event that we typically host in May.

[cr]These can be very engaging initiatives to facilitate safety culture efforts. It is nice to see it done and imitated by others. 🙂

[cs]This helps to address the problem mentioned above about collaboration and knowledge of other labs operations and concerns

[ct]This I believe is one of the effective ways of building a safety community within and between departments.

[cu]We’ve been doing peer walk throughs since 2012. I like the competition aspect. I’m guessing that it caused more groups to take this more seriously and look more deeply. What were the prizes? Again, who sponsored the prizes?

[cv]It very much did. Much of the department was abuzz after the winners were announced and the prizes were handed out. We had a $500 prize to the winning lab (across both departments), and a $250 prize to the top-scoring lab in the runner-up department and the second-scoring lab in the winning department. These awards were provided by the deans. We also gave out bonus awards for creative things we saw in the labs that weren’t acknowledged by our rubric (like a cool color-coded tape system to designate chemical-free and contaminated spaces). They weren’t monetary, just recognition. This year, the deans have doubled our available award money because of demonstrated success. People were also highly interested in the award ceremony, which we initially weren’t sure about! (:

[cw]Since the publication, have these walkthroughs been repeated and has % of labs participating changed?

[cx]Sort of! We started the second round of walkthroughs in winter 2020 and nearly doubled participation! Unfortunately, we had to cancel the event because of COVID, but we’re now working on revamping a virtual walkthrough and reaching out to the many labs and volunteers who signed up last year.

[cy]Is this rubric open/ accessible?

[cz]Yes! It is included in the supporting information (which is openly accessible) here: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acs.chas.9b00012

[da]Thank you so much! I had not yet looked at the supporting info 🙂

[db]Do you think having a more publicized way of acknowledging winners helped encourage future participation and heightened safety compliance? Did you see attendance at this ceremony restricted to the participating labs or more global participation?

[dc]I can’t speak to whether it heightened safety compliance on such short terms and without good measuring metrics, but it absolutely encouraged future participation and interest. Participation nearly doubled the next year, and people were chatting about the award ceremony for a while after. There was more global participation than I personally anticipated, but it was definitely mostly participating labs. We had deans and department chairs speak at the event, and had the department chairs boost our invitation email as well

[dd]What were the prizes? Was it a motivating factor?

[de]$500 / lab award for first place, $250 / lab for two runner-ups. The money was to be used for a lab event of their choosing. It seemed to be a major motivator, initially, though we were not able to survey. I can say that participation doubled the next year.

[df]A scoring rubric or some checklist is a good idea, as it doesn’t come across as capriciously walking through the lab looking for safety violations. Providing the rubric or checklist ahead of time also helps focus things like lab clean up.

[dg]lesson learned for me here. I did not take a rubric for my first set of lab walkthroughs. Checklists create a baseline.

[dh]We did indeed provide the rubric to the lab ahead of time!

[di]This is a major science education opportunity, so professional scientists often visit other people’s labs and need to be comfortable in asking questions to make the visit as productive as possible for both the hosts and the guests

[dj]I agree that this is a vital learning moment and should happen more often. 

Has this been attempted again?

[dk]The Univ of New Hampshire EHS hires chem grad students to update chemistry dept chemical inventories in the summer and this is very popular with the students because they get to learn about the rest of the Chem Dept. they also avoid being stuck in one lab all day when they don’t have classes to get then out

[dl]Videos showing model situations could also be useful from the perspective of minimizing meetings (especially for members who have participated longer and feel more comfortable with the material and are less inclined to participate with a hands-on training).

[dm]I have seen a variety of videos about safety inspections with many different tones and attitudes. they are very hard to do.

[dn]I agree – I think having a video very specific to the safety rubric is most helpful versus more generalized videos about safety inspections in general.

[do]One strategy that we found to be very effective at UMN was to have the LSO event taking place before the walkthroughs be a training event for walkthroughs. It was also a place for people to voice concerns about the walkthroughs, which allowed the committee in charge of them to adjust accordingly

[dp]I like this incorporation!

[dq]Can someone elaborate on what is meant by fragmented infrastructure? That part is not clear to me.

[dr]The Chemical Safety Board described it with a Swiss Cheese model.  Not everyone on the same page and holes in oversight, among other things.

[ds]That explanation helps. Thank you!

[dt]it seems like we have lots of educational materials, what is often lacking is those materials being presented in a way that impacts. A student led team might be able to present that information more effectively.

[du]Agreed. Our department’s approach to safety before was “here is a list of things you can read.” TBH, I never read a single one before I started working on these things because I had no direction in terms of what was actually useful for me to read.

[dv]Also agreed! However, there are also cases where resources are lacking. For instance, there were no resources (training, reference, or otherwise) for Lab Safety Contacts at our university.

[dw]I think this is such a good idea. Having all safety resources in one easily accessible place would really help to build general safety knowledge.

[dx]This is a problem that we are dealing with as well at UMN. We have an LSO guidebook that we are in the process of overhauling, and we also have an annual LSO training meeting, but many LSOs still feel lost early on. We are attempting to implement an LSO liaison program as well as a training video to overcome this probem

[dy]Communicating about safety in the lab is not easy for anyone and takes practice. Encouraging new people to get involved to learn about other people’s science while talking about safety is one way to help break the ice

[dz]We also implemented a soft-skills-training workshop with first-years to try and help them develop and practice effective ways to communicate about safety

[ea]forcing? Wouldn’t interest be a stronger driving force?

[eb]Yes, it seems like that would lead to resentment and people taking safety culture and the JRSI less seriously.

[ec]I think this quote has suffered by being out of place or bad phrasing? I think the idea is to “force” those who are providing the safety resources to present them in a more useful way for researchers to access….?

[ed]^Jessica’s got it.

[ee]Is this further explained in the paper? Interpersonal conflict seems to be a large reason for students not correcting their peer’s behaviors and I would love to learn more about how this training was conducted.

[ef]This is addressed in the supplementary information PDF pretty well

[eg]Thank you! I hadn’t looked at the SI yet so that’s very good to know.

[eh]Agreed. I also think a great deal of the tension between graduate students and their PIs (and how their PIs regard safety personnel) is a big part of what graduate students learn or don’t learn about research safety.

[ei]I agree to that tension point, Jessica. We’ve also had a lot of people report that they don’t verbally correct peers if they have in the past and haven’t seen changed behavior and that’s something we’re trying to figure out how to best address.

[ej]I introduced a competitive game into my lab when we had several undergrads during a summer to get people to wear their safety glasses. It was much more effective than me constantly saying “put on your safety glasses.” I can definitely understand the fatigue inherent in constant reminding. One of my fellow grad students used the gamification idea to get undergrads in a teaching lab to “bust” each other as well so it saved him having to do it all the time. I don’t really think the game could extend well to most safety practices though.

[ek]I like the peer aspect of this. We have a faculty-led course for first-year graduate students as well as EH&S face-to-face and electronic training, but I wonder if peer training sticks better, plus it allows students to ask more direct questions without feeling intimidated.

[el]We do peer training, grad to undergrads, during our lab audit teams. I think it works really well!

[em]I will be interested to see how the remote work covid requires inspires new training media. We are all going to be developing new communication skills (such as table reads)

[en]These are science skills as well as safety skills

[eo]I would push this to “these are great life skills to have”. knowing how to be supportive while recommending changes or improvements helps all over the place!

[ep]These are great life skills to have in general!

[eq]We need a course on effective communication and conflict resolution in safety!

Starting and Sustaining a Laboratory Safety Team (LST): A CHAS DIscussion

Presented by Jessica Martin, University of Connecticut

02/03 Table Read for The Art & State of Safety Journal Club: excerpts from Starting and Sustaining a Laboratory Safety Team (LST)

The full paper can be found at: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.chas.0c00016

INTRODUCTION

What is a Laboratory Safety Team (LST)[a][b][c]

“In recent years, graduate and postdoctoral researchers began leading safety groups called laboratory safety teams (LSTs), which have begun spreading as an increasingly popular grassroots movement. LSTs have the potential to enhance communication among researchers at all levels, enrich the professional development of newer researchers, and improve the culture of safety across academic institutions[d]. The modern researcher-led LST was first defined by the efforts at the University of Minnesota (UMN). In 2012, UMN already had a system in place that required each laboratory to have a designated Laboratory Safety Officer (LSO) who was a graduate or postdoctoral researcher.[e][f][g] [h][i][j][k][l][m][n][o][p][q]From this pool, leadership from the Chemical Engineering and Materials Science (CEMS) and Chemistry departments recruited seven volunteers to begin assessing safety practices and attitudes in conjunction with mentors at Dow Chemical, thereby establishing what they called the Joint Safety Team (JST). It is important to emphasize in this structure that the LST was not looking to step into a responsible training function such as that of a faculty member, nor was it looking to take responsibility for EH&S compliance functions. The LST was meant to function in addition to and in collaboration with both of these pre-existing structures. The stated purpose of the LST was to address “the need for an improved culture of safety in research-intensive science departments … which involves enabling leadership by graduate student and postdoctoral associate laboratory safety officers.” Since this time, LSTs have launched across the United States with differing structures and objectives depending on the institution’s organization, needs, and resources.”

Working Definition of Safety Culture 

“In an exhaustive analysis of the literature on safety culture in industrial, applied, and occupational psychology, Megan E. Gonzalez defined safety culture for academic research laboratories as “the shared values, beliefs, attitudes, social and technical practices, policies, and perceptions of individuals in an organization that influence the opportunity for accidents to occur.” She goes on to say that a “healthy safety culture will be one that minimizes the opportunity for accidents and near-misses and are characterized by open communication[r][s][t][u], a system designed to continually improve upon the culture of safety, and provides for the confidence in the efficacy of training and preventative measures.” It should be noted that all three of these parameters are related to reciprocal communication throughout the hierarchy of an institution. While LSTs are not designed to solve every challenge related to safety culture (nor should they be), they have the potential to make a valuable contribution by enhancing communication pathways to enable this reciprocal communication within and across the institution.”

ESTABLISHING YOUR LST

In order to start an LST, five common components have been identified:

  1. Identify a Champion[v][w][x][y] 
  2. Connect to the Network
  3. Locate Resources
  4. Establish a Project Management Structure
  5. First Project: high profile and low resource

Identify a Champion

“So far, each LST had some sort of champion at the outset. The champion needs to be someone who will be with the institution for the long-term. This person also needs to show a level of commitment to the survival of the LST that will inspire that person to look for ways to make the LST longer lasting. Finally, this person needs to be in a position to know of ways to make the LST permanent, beyond the scope and view of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.”

“It was also notable throughout these interviews the warmth with which students discussed engaged faculty and EH&S staff. Many of the heavily involved students have used these teams as vehicles to forge relationships outside of their own research laboratories. Those individuals who are both intimately knowledgeable about the potential safety issues faced in laboratories and physically present in an accessible space to researchers would naturally make the most sensible champions. To that end, those schools that have made strides to develop the role of their safety personnel beyond compliance enforcement appear to be enjoying a synergistic effect between LSTs and EH&S personnel.[z][aa][ab][ac][ad][ae][af][ag][ah][ai]

“The majority of teams have partnered with EH&S staff and identified them as a source of a champion. Some teams were originally launched with primary support coming from EH&S staff members. The relationship between student researchers involved in these teams and EH&S personnel speaks to the robustness of the culture of safety that exists in the department. On the other hand, a small number of LSTs avoid EH&S altogether. There are views expressed that EH&S personnel are primarily focused on legal compliance and function as “the police” [aj][ak][al][am]within the university; other schools have teams that are actively trying to change this perception.”

“Alongside the growth of the LST movement has been a parallel movement to find ways to transition the roles of safety professionals from being merely the “compliance police” to more of a partnership role with departments[an][ao][ap][aq][ar] in supporting better (and safer) research. These strategies have manifested in many ways including changes to how EH&S personnel do business, the establishment of Research Safety offices, and the use of embedded safety professionals within research departments. Anecdotally, the success of these campaigns is highly variable in research universities throughout the US, leading to a multitude of approaches to safety. There is also very little in the published literature regarding the institutions’ experiences with these new approaches although the need for understanding the impact of these changes is great. Elevating the role of EH&S as a critical component of good research has been cited both by Dow Chemical and ExxonMobil as a key component to the programs that they have launched with universities (discussed further below).”

Connect to the Network

“In his interview for this paper, Tim Alford of ExxonMobil stated, “Safety is not proprietary.” It was expressed by student researchers from several of the teams that within the safety space, instead of competing with each other, all of the teams were working to help each other. These sentiments speak volumes to the importance of the collaborative network that has developed among all of the participants in this movement (Figure 2). This network is maintained via social media, websites, email lists, ACS workshops and resources, company mentorship, and team members directly communicating with one another[as].”

Locate Resources[at][au][av][aw][ax][ay][az]

“One way to secure resources that was found to be successful by many groups is incorporating LST ideas into pre-existing programs. Many members of LSTs have strengthened their networking skills by identifying and pursuing projects in which an LST activity would be an add-on to an already occurring event or assist in the restructuring of an event. As an example of an add-on, some LSTs have successfully introduced “Safety Moments” (also known as Safety Minutes) to the beginning of seminar lectures or classes required for first year graduate students.[ba][bb][bc][bd][be][bf] As an example of a restructure, many LSTs have become more involved in the safety training given by their institutions, with an emphasis on making training more interactive, relevant for the individual, and accessible. Finally, some LSTs have worked closely with EH&S or department safety committees to provide feedback from researchers on safety concerns in the department.”

Establish a Project Management Structure

“How the LST interacts with pre-existing actors also varies widely. There are some cases in which a faculty or staff member takes a direct management role[bg][bh][bi][bj], although this is rare. Much more commonly found is a structure in which a faculty or staff member plays an advisory or supporting role, either suggesting possible projects and collaborations or giving feedback on LST member ideas[bk][bl][bm]. In some cases, either LSTs have worked collaboratively with department safety committees, or a member of the LST has served as a representative on the department safety committee. Finally, several teams have at least one member of EH&S staff keeping current with LST activities and looking for ways to collaborate on projects of joint interest.”

First Project: High Profile, Low Resource

“Communication projects are often focused on written communication methods (newsletters, flyers, and posters) as many described these as the easiest to design and distribute, either in physical spaces in the building (bathroom stalls, elevators, display boards) or online (social media, websites, listservs). Near-miss reporting projects include another layer of complexity as the project is requesting that department members provide the content by sharing their near-miss stories, which often requires anonymity in reporting and trust building with the LST. Safety Moments have taken the form of written communication distributed by electronic means but have also been delivered in person to captive audiences (seminars, classes, group meetings). Roundtable Safety Q&As are a creative upgrade to this idea that invites an interested audience to take in a Safety Moment and add to it by sharing stories, experiences, and guidance with peers.”

“As groups start planning events, lab safety can quickly become a rather serious topic, and LSTs have reported feeling overwhelmed by the safety “horror stories” from their colleagues. This has left many with a feeling of great responsibility that comes with trying to change a department’s safety culture. Successful groups stressed the importance of quickly organizing and prioritizing project goals in order to take advantage of the initial rush of excitement rather than being paralyzed by the enormity of the issues at hand.”

THE BROADER CASE FOR AN LST

“As laid out in the Introduction, LSTs can play an important role in enabling the reciprocal communication necessary to improve a department’s culture of safety. However, given all of

the demands of a graduate-level program and the “short-timer” status of graduate students and postdoctoral scholars within these universities, why would they expand their responsibilities and lead on initiatives that likely will not make a noticeable difference until they have long since moved on? The answer lies within the critical element of professional development of researchers. On one hand, an institution’s educational mission aims at preparing early career researchers for their professional career with an implied expectation for leadership in safety [bn][bo][bp][bq][br]involving hazard assessment and planning of experiments and processes. On the other hand, early career researchers contribute to the research mission of the institution by conducting innovative and groundbreaking research that requires a deliberate approach to safety considerations.”

“Another aspect to documentation and reporting that LSTs need to consider is how best to support their champions, in particular when those champions are faculty members. Faculty members are typically evaluated by their departments based on three components: research, teaching, and service. While it is typically understood that service is weighted the least of the[bs][bt][bu][bv] three in evaluations, it is still a component that needs to be strategically considered by any faculty member that may be approached as a champion. Care needs to be taken to ensure that a champion supporting the efforts of an LST not become invisible work.[bw] Documentation and reporting of activities done and the results of a regular evaluation survey can be utilized for others in the institution to make the argument to heads of departments, tenure committees, and administrative management that the service work being done by a faculty member through support of an LST is of great value and should be considered in evaluations.”

CONCLUSION

“Safety training[bx] does not work if it does not influence perceptions and attitudes about how researchers approach their jobs[by][bz][ca][cb]. Offering a multitude of resources makes no difference when researchers are not regularly encouraged to engage them as a standard part of their work. [cc][cd][ce][cf][cg]Peer-to-peer correction does not happen without the continual support of superiors. Empowering researchers to take on these challenges as leaders within LSTs strengthens the institution today and improves the workforce of tomorrow.”[ch][ci][cj]

[a]Because our research is so broad we decided to create Local Research Safety Teams, so that we could include as much of the CSU research community as possible. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THE INSPIRATION!!!

[b]Do your Local Research Safety Teams include individuals in academia and industry throught the immediate community? What is the range? Very cool BTW 🙂

[c]We are exclusively CSU-only at this point. We will probably expand into industry this year.

[d]I think that it is important to note that this is a 21st Century phenomenon. When I was a full time lab employee In the 1980’s at two different institutions, I was involved in faculty / staff based safety committees that served many of the goals cited in this paper.

In this setting, the power differential between faculty and staff is less significant than with grad students and more frank and productive discussion were often had than within lab groups on similar issues,

In addition, staff were able to establish long term relationship with facility and science support offices that were often leveraged to address concerns that arose.

On the other hand, lab techs at both institutions were involved in (semi-successful) union organizing efforts due to workplace concerns. The efforts uncovered a variety of lab-specific employment practices that went against both institutional policy and applicable employment law.

Since that time, both institutions have significantly expanded their research efforts, primarily by hiring additional faculty charged with recruiting short term researchers (grad students and post-docs).

[e]Wish this was more ubiquitous expectation.  In my experience highly variable between institutions and departments/disciplines.

[f]Agreed. Often, even places that do have LSO-type positions don’t have clear information/resources about what the role means or what types of responsibilities it entails!

[g]Agreed – we are working to address this based on great examples from other institutions though

[h]We have “safety captains”. This was suggested to us in 2011 by Rick Danheiser at MIT. I agree with Chris and Sarah that I wish this were more of the norm

[i]Do you have a department-wide document that explains their roles, responsibilities, etc? We have LSOs at UConn, but nobody in the department seems to have any idea what they are or what they are supposed to do. Graduate students who have taken the role seriously have found it extremely frustrating as they express that they have very little support in their roles within their own labs.

[j]Jessica’s experience seems similar to UNC. Labs are required to have designated LSOs but they are not always up-to-date, and there isn’t any training on what their official role should be. Often times it comes down to the expectations of the faculty members who selected the LSOs and that is mostly where any support would come from.

[k]Is the role and responsibility of each captain divided up per lab or other?

[l]For those of you who already have this role established, who determines who fills this role? The PI? EHS? Also, is it one LSO per lab? Per department? Looking at options.

[m]At UChicago, the PI determines who fills the role (and the PI themselves can fill the role if they wish). There is no standard on how these roles work, though, or who fills them / appoints them

[n]In our department, each lab has an LSO designated by the PI.

[o]At UNC the LSO is assigned by the PI and this is tracked by EHS. There is officially one per lab, but a number of labs that operate in multiple spaces have one per space (though only one is officially recognized).

[p]During my graduate career the PI defined the role and informed me on Day 1 that I would understudy with the current LSO for a period of 1 year before taking over the responsibilities.

[q]Hmm, understudying seems like a good idea. My PI changes who fills the role every 1-3 years, and it’s usually a pretty rapid transition with little to no cross-talk or training

[r]Does this infer transparency about incidents and near-misses?

[s]I am not sure what exactly is meant by “open communication” in this context, but I think that ideally, yes, it would include transparency about incidents and near-misses (perhaps protecting identities as appropriate to encourage safe reporting).

I think this is the case because, in order to engage in and improve upon safe behavior, it’s necessary to talk about it and know about it when incidents/near-misses happen. If there is no transparency or if people don’t feel comfortable talking about it / reporting or otherwise don’t think it’s necessary, I think this harms collaborative engagement and works to “hide” the problem.

[t]I don’t know if the safety profession understands how to share information about incidents and near-misses well enough to call anything related to incident review “transparent”

[u]Agreed, I was simply relating to transparency within the institution.  Which I’ve seen across the spectrum in terms of openness.

[v]A lot of the champions at the University of Tennessee would be junior faculty already stretched to publish/secure grants. I feel they would be reluctant to take on the Champion role.

[w]What about a lab manager or some one who might already be fulfilling the role of a Champion?

[x]few of our labs have full-time staff, but that is a good starting point. Thanks

[y]I think that one characteristics of a safety champion is that they will step forward to address out of personal conviction rather than waiting to be asked. 

I have experience with people who accepted the responsibility but didn’t seek it out. They almost always found out that they were in over their head, either technically or in terms of their time budget. 

For this reason, I prefer rely more on short term project based teams rather than open ended commitments such as safety committees.  The mission these teams can be tailored to the resources available to the people interested in working on them

[z]Faculty champions, particularly those in upper structure of administration, are highly valuable.

[aa]I love this idea and am wondering how people have created this synergistic relationship

[ab]@anthony.appleton@colostate.edu has mentioned trying to advocate for safety to be included in faculty evaluations at his institution, as have others including @dominick.casadonte@ttu.edu. Would be great to read their comments in this thread!

[ac]We now have a monthly meeting between Safety Pros and researchers.

[ad]We are required to include what we have done to improve the state of safety in both our teaching and research as part of our faculty evaluation, and we just started a $25,000 annual prize for departments exhibiting strong or improved safety cultures.

[ae]Surprisingly – I am getting pushback from faculty about including a safety component in evaluations. They think it could not be done fairly due to higher/lower hazard levels of research being done.

[af]That’s one of the reasons why it is a bit more open-ended in our evaluations. Safety education can be included in a variety of ways, not just in research labs.

[ag]Do not just focus on research aspect of safety…there are others: do you feel welcome, reducing incidents of harassment, work-life balance to name a few. I now have the Statistics Department requested yearly trainings on such topics. Research safety is more than just what happens in the lab.

[ah]@Dominick – how is the prize decided?  Criteria?  Evaluating process?  Thanks, Jon

[ai]There is a university committee that evaluates the applications. It is a six-page narrative answering three questions. Applications are rated on how well they address the criteria in the questions. If interested I can share the application.

[aj]This is one of the reasons our School utilizes in house H&S, separate from EH&S. We help mediate the balance with the labs to make them more comfortable.

[ak]Nice!

[al]I have been learning a great deal about attempts like this within the last year. So much seems to depend on how they are funded and/or who their “boss” actually is in terms of effectiveness. @jonathan.klane@bioraft.com had proposed a White Paper on this topic within CSHEMA awhile back – I keep hoping someone picks this up and runs with it because I think knowing about how to structure this role effectively will be very important for other institutions exploring the idea.

[am]That’s a great approach, assuming you can get collegial collaboration between the two entities.

[an]This is something in my experience that is even individual lab-dependent. Some graduate students/labs in our department feel that their relationship with EHS is a partnership while others view it as more antagonistic. Unclear if this is from existing biases or due to individual lab cultures.

[ao]This is something that we also experience at Tennessee.

[ap]This is a really good point & something I think needs to be discussed more when talking about “safety culture.” It is very difficult to argue that there is a university-wide or even department-wide “safety culture” when labs can function so independently from one another.

[aq]Some of this may be related to the metrics being used by EHS to assess program efficacy.  Compliance elements may often be easier to track.

[ar]Agree with all! This is something we definitely experience at UC. I also see Chris’s point, that the ease of compliance tracking can make their role appear a certain way, at least to some people.

[as]The ACS division of chemical health and safety maintains an LST listserv open to join!

[at]Has anyone created an LST through an official university student group in order to tap into those funds?

[au]At our university it was considered, but funding restrictions made it not worth the hassle. I.e. Events planned with funds from the university must be open to all disciplines. Most of our events would not have qualified.

[av]The JST @ UNC is an officially registered student group with the university for this purpose. We’re still new and haven’t actually applied for any funds explicitly, but it seemed like a smart idea, as student fee funding may be more widely accessible than departmental discretionary funds given the current times.

The only “trade-off” we’ve encountered so far is it places some restrictions on who can hold official leadership positions (have to be students) and the makeup of the “club” has to be predominantly students

[aw]At Uchicago, we recently became a Registered Student Organization and now have access to different/more funds. It remains to be seen what type of impact this will have since there are many more constraints on funding and event-type for RSOs. However, as of now, it looks like as long as we keep two separate streams of revenue and maintain good bookkeeping, we will be able to have the best of both worlds (ie, RSO money only goes to events that are open to all, that don’t have alcohol, etc.) If we need more insular events or want to purchase awards, gifts, alcohol, etc., we use other sources of funding.

[ax]Also, some groups (including UConn JST) have applied to become ACS-GSOs in order to access funds & support through ACS – however, this requires a certain amount of your leadership be ACS members which wouldn’t make much sense for groups that are not chemistry-dominated. Because of that requirement, I know LSTs that have decided not to become ACS-GSOs.

[ay]We have a university-wide (undergraduate) student group that is run out of chemical engineering.

[az]All great feedback! Thank you! I plan to share some of these ideas my colleagues.

[ba]I love the use of safety moments or minutes! It makes thinking about safety more mainstream and less of an add-on or speciality.

[bb]Seconded! More first hand help over accident follow ups. We have been adding these to our LSC (lab safety coordinator) meetings to promote the exchange of stories between the researchers.

[bc]We’ve had some trouble getting this implemented effectively at UChicago. Some of the problems we’ve had are:

  • -Ensuring that we’re presenting correct information / getting EHS signoff
  • -Getting community buy-in

[bd]So much of the value they can bring depends on how they are used. I have read some articles/blogs talking about what I see happening in academia as well – if it is just someone (somewhat reluctantly) doing “the thing”, then moving on, they are not effective. However, if the presenter turns to the group and begins engaging them on the topic, then it is more effective. I mention in the paper at some point an LST that used “Safety Moments” to start meetings specifically focused on a particular hazard and invited those researchers to contribute their personal stories and how they deal with challenges – so there is more of a “group share” opportunity to engage.

[be]This raises an interesting point to me about the psychology of safety. As researchers/presenters begin to share their experiences with their audience or research group, I wonder if they become more invested or take more ownership in their safety training or understanding?

[bf]My experience is that safety champions do evolve from personal experiences. However, they can also burn out on safety over time and may not be thinking in terms of recruiting successors to carry the program on

[bg]Is there gauge as to the efficacy of this vs. 100% student led?

[bh]Good question. We did not start out with questions regarding effectiveness. This was an exploration of who was actually doing this organizational structure at all. We were specifically seeking teams in which graduate students (plural) were involved in the management of the team itself. A few teams were included who I would argue now are not quite what we had in mind – however, they were heavily involved with Dow early on which is why we included them here. As the movement as moved beyond the initial Dow influence, we have seen less “faculty leadership” and more graduate student leadership.

[bi]maybe less about “management”. Just wondering if having a faculty or staff member (specifically EHS type) could help the LST craft wording on comments/concerns to faculty/dept./etc… so that they might be more effectively addressed.

[bj]I do see your point in that regard. The opposing concern I have comes from experiences in “student-led groups” in which a non-student becomes the dominating force. This can often shut down conversation, sometimes in very settle ways. Students will often look to that non-student to tell them what to do. Once you kick “the adults” out of the room, you often find that the students are much more aware of the issues than you might have thought and come up with things that “the adult” never would’ve thought of. It is why I think it is important that leadership truly comes from the students – with a good supporting role played by faculty + safety professionals.

[bk]I agree that this faculty or staff champion is core to the success of a LST program. However, their good is not likely to be sufficient to develop a successful safety program.

The papers we reviewed last semester demonstrated that there is significant safety-domain expertise that needs to partner with the subject matter expertise provided by faculty champions. For that reason, I think that compliance issues need to be recognized as part of the LST environment and well understood at the LST leadership level.

[bl]Agreed!  And I think safety personnel can/should offer the background into the necessity for the compliance aspects as educational opportunities.  Rather than simply the “because its required/regulatory” explanation.

[bm]I also agree. Students need to see many sides of the safety process.

[bn]This is a primary reason we are considering creation of an LST. Our industry partners want their employees to be able to walk in and know A LOT more about safety and be able to be a safety leader

[bo]We are trying to use this a selling point to try to establish an LST

[bp]Our LST had an initial moderate success with this approach.

[bq]We also use this as a selling point

[br]This right here is why I was interested in this domain. I came to grad school knowing I wanted to go into industry. I kept hearing that PhD programs are under-preparing for this aspect of chemical work and I felt like that was  A PROBLEM! Especially since chemistry is one of those fields in which you typically see more students wanting to go into industry than academia.

[bs]I think this also speaks to the safety culture of the institution in terms of how much this is weighed as service. The stronger the safety culture, the more this is valued?

[bt]Agree. I think there comes a tipping point where enough members of faculty agree that safety has to be a priority to push it forward into a more generative safety culture. An LST can help bring attention and some action toward letting faculty know it is important to students.

[bu]Maybe we are anomalous, but I agree with you in the sense that our administration listens very strongly to our graduate students, being “front line workers” and all.

[bv]I think it can be tough for many grad students to be the ones to bring these issues forward. When you start, you don’t know what is going on (and you naively trust that everything is functioning as it should) and by the time you are knowledgeable enough to identify problems & suggest solutions, you are frantically writing your thesis and trying to graduate.

[bw]Agreed on not becoming invisible work or even a burden on the researchers. Some documentation like SOPs are encouraged but not mandatory/forced. Ultimately the Faculty have the final say and approval in this regard but the support is there.

[bx]I believe the safety training is minimum. What matters is lab specific training using the LST and PIs.

[by]Effective safety training also requires a clear definition of the work to be done; often these descriptions are not available, too vague or quickly out of date in the modern research laboratory. Addressing this challenge requires an ongoing communication bridge between people in the lab and support services provided at other levels of the institution

One example of this is the false distinction between biosafety and chemical safety. This distinction is based the requirements of funding sources rather than prudent risk assessment of laboratory hazards.

[bz]Agree with Ralph!

[ca]Agreed!

[cb]As a biological chemist, agreed 🙂

[cc]I think this is key, but sometimes struggle with how to go about doing this effectively without it seeming like  a bunch of extra work is being heaped on to people who are already feeling spread pretty thin.

[cd]Part of it may be poor/limited awareness of the value-added aspects of safety and quality management.  Both find FAR greater emphasis and expectation in industry/private sector.  Many have yet to experience those expectations in their graduate careers.

[ce]My experience is that the extra work associated with safety efforts today pays off 6 months later when safety documentation is an important source of information about what someone who left the lab was doing.

[cf]Preach!

[cg]This is definitely a tough one. Our LST recently did a training on RAMP. While I think it was good info & a well done single training, I full well know that if the PI doesn’t turn to their grad student and say “show me your RAMP analysis on this experiment”, the grad students will very likely NOT be performing them – no matter how great the training made them sound

[ch]The PIs play an important role in laboratory safety. Only having LST will not make great progress in overall lab safety.

[ci]Agreed. I have been frustrated by a great deal of the safety culture literature because it is aimed at leadership. If I am a graduate student whose leadership is taking no action, basically I feel like I am left out to dry. In this sense, LSTs can organize those feelings into a voice to attempt to make leadership pay more attention.

[cj]There’s also quite a bit of work on the effects of buy-in from on-the-ground workers, as well as leveraging their expertise and knowledge since they’re the ones actually working with the hazards. The way I see it, an equal collaboration between top-down and bottom-up approaches would be the most effective.

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

Led by:
Ralph Stuart, Keene State College

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

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

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

Who Pays? Discussion summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Discussion of Emergency Response issues

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

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

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

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

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Resources discussed in the talk:

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Texas Tech does not have unions.

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

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

Q: Could the safety award programs introduce perverse incentives?

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

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

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

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

Led by:
Dr. Anthony Appleton
Colorado State University

Resources discussed in the talk:

Dr. Anthony Appleton’s introductory talk

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

General Conversation

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

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

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

Dr. Schroeder’s presentation can be downloaded here:

The papers she shared:

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS

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

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

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

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The papers she shared:

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

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS

Dr. Mary Beth Mulcahy’s introductory talk

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

General Conversation

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

By 3:12 PM, we had 26 participants

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

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

Resources Dr. Mahantappa highlighted in his talk are are:

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

Led by:

Jessica Martin

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS

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

Measuring Safety Culture

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

Defining Safety Culture

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

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

Led by:

Jessica Martin

CONVERSATION HIGHLIGHTS

The questions sent out to everyone to contemplate:

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

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

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

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

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

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