The most compelling reason for ensuring that proper safety practices are followed in academic laboratory settings is, of course, that the health and well-being of the researchers is of paramount importance. As such, it is in the best interests of Principal Investigators (PIs), health and safety personnel and school administrators to provide a safe laboratory environment and the researchers themselves to know and follow proper safety protocols to minimize the potential for laboratory accidents leading to injury or even death.
Other incentives for awareness and enforcement of safe lab practices include increasing government oversight from OSHA and the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board following a series of laboratory accidents resulting in serious injuries and/or deaths at universities across the U.S. In addition, the companies, government laboratories and universities that will hire students after graduation will require them to follow strict safety protocols. Knowing and having used correct safety protocols throughout their academic laboratory experiences enhances the students' marketability to these employers. A relatively high percentage of reportable safety infractions involve new hires in their first few years working in an industrial setting because these protocols are not ingrained in their minds and laboratory habits during their years in school.
In 2012, Dow Chemical Company embarked on a pilot-scale initiative to enhance the safety culture in materials science and engineering, chemistry and chemical engineering departments at three universities with which they have strategic alliances. This intense program involved visits by Dow personnel to the universities and students, visits by faculty and staff from the universities to Dow for a safety workshop, as well as a series of teleconferences on building an effective safety culture. While each department began at a different safe practices baseline, each came away with concrete steps to take to improve their safety culture. Dow is using feedback from each school to develop safety modules and resources, including short videos, that will be rolled out initially to all the schools in their strategic alliance network and, eventually, nationwide.
This tutorial will be valuable to students and faculty involved in laboratory research at academic institutions of any size. It will provide an interactive forum for discussing the positive effect of the Dow initiative at the three universities (Pennsylvania State University, University of Minnesota and University of California, Santa Barbara) on the safety cultures at these schools.
Tutorial participants will be provided with resources and strategies to accomplish an enhanced safety culture at their own institutions and learn ways to effectively initiate or enhance an effective safety culture by communicating, incentivizing and positively enforcing safety initiatives.