University of Wisconsin–Madison

Lab Safety Task Force Looks into Campus Safety Culture

Recently, the Association of Public & Land Grant Universities (APLU) has instituted a Task Force on Laboratory Safety to enhance the academic laboratory safety1. This comes on the heels of separate reports and recommendations issued by the American Chemical Society’s Safety Culture Task Force2 and the National Academy of Sciences3. Although the ACS and NAS reports have concentrated on chemical laboratories, the APLU task force may look at research safety more broadly, including areas such as field research and art studios/labs.

The ACS Safety Culture Task Force report provides guidance, suggestions, examples, and endorsements that can help support the safety culture in universities and colleges. The report has identified over fifteen best components and best practices of a good safety culture that could be used by universities and colleges to strengthen their safety culture; and can provide tools and resources to enhance the overall safety culture.

Some of the recommendations from the ACS Safety Culture Task Force, designed to create a vibrant and strong safety culture in academic institutions, are described below:

  • Establish the lines of authority for safety; develop a safety policy that includes laboratory safety and includes safety responsibilities in the job descriptions and performance plans of all employees.
  • Encourage every leader to become a proponent of safety and safety education, and to demonstrate care for safety in their actions with other staff members and students.
  • Establish a strong, effective safety management system and safety program for the institution, including laboratory safety.
  • Ensure graduating chemistry undergraduate students have strong skills in laboratory safety and strong safety ethics by teaching safety lessons in each laboratory session, and by evaluating and testing these skills throughout the educational process.
  • Implement hazards analysis procedures in all new lab work, especially laboratory research.
  • Build awareness and caring for safety by emphasizing safety throughout the chemistry programs.
  • Include safety education and training (for undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars participating in proposed research) in research grant proposals, and oversight of research for safety.
  • Adopt a personal credo: the “Safety Ethic” value safety, work safely, prevent at-risk behavior, promote safety, and accept responsibility for safety.
  • Establish and maintain an Incident Reporting System, an Incident Investigation System, and an Incident Database that should include not only employees, but also graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and other non-employees.
  • Establish an internal review process of incidents and corrective actions with the Departmental Safety Committee (faculty, staff, students, graduate students, and postdoctoral scholars), and provide periodic safety seminars on lessons learned from incidents.
  • Publish or share the stories of incidents and the lessons learned (case studies) to your institution’s website, a public website, or an appropriate journal where students and colleagues from other institutions may also use these as case studies for learning more about safety.
  • Establish a close working relationship with EHS personnel at every departmental level, seeking their advice and experience in safety, and offering departmental and faculty advice to EHS based upon their experience and knowledge of chemistry.

The Environment, Health & Safety Department strongly supports these efforts towards finding ways to improve the safety culture on college campuses and is working towards implementing many of these recommendations. Got ideas for improving safety culture here at UW-Madison? We want to hear from you. Email us and get the conversation started.

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