Building Strong Safety Cultures

Strong safety cultures will evolve only if leaders in the institution, as well as throughout the department, are fully and visibly committed to safety. Below are a few suggestions that may help strengthen and build strong safety cultures.

Mission, Vision, and Values

The institution’s mission, vision, and values statement should place equal emphasis on safety and productivity. This should be reflected in the behavior and statements of the senior institutional management.

Mentoring Systems

Departments should assign a more experienced graduate student as a mentor to a less experienced student, but the overall safety of the laboratory is the responsibility of the principal investigator (PI). The mentors can teach their protégés the laboratory safety policies, including specific laboratory safety protocols, the location of safety equipment, and the location of the Chemical Hygiene Plan and SDS. The PI must be responsible for assessing the mastery of laboratory procedures and techniques by less experienced students.

The experienced graduate student will be able to build effective communication and teaching skills and establish expectations and accountability. The less experienced student will benefit by having a peer to ask questions and discuss safety issues. The involvement of the PI helps to reinforce the importance of the laboratory’s safety culture.

Safety Presentations and Discussions

Including safety topics in each laboratory session and/or in weekly research group meetings will reinforce the importance of safety. Some institutions begin each laboratory session or meeting with a brief discussion of safety, as applied to the group’s research. The use of case studies or incident reports is an effective method of evaluating the root cause of an incident and applying those lessons to the current laboratory activities.

Include Hazard Analysis in Research Proposals

Hazard analysis is the process of recognizing hazards, assessing the risks of those hazards, and identifying ways to minimize the risks of those hazards. Research proposals could include a hazard analysis. This will help the student consider the potential hazards and consequences of their work should an incident occur. This hazard analysis could include a checklist of items to consider and the necessary controls needed to prevent or minimize exposure and injury, damage to apparatus, and property damage.

Include Safety Assessments in Cumulative Examinations

Safety is an integral part of all chemical operations. Safety knowledge and its application by graduate students should be evaluated in cumulative or comprehensive examinations.

This collection of methods and tools for assessing hazards in research laboratories is based on the publication, Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories [PDF]. The guide was published in 2015 by the Hazard Identification and Evaluation Task Force of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety in response to a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.

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