Date: Tue, 19 Apr 2011 08:01:19 -0400
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From: Ralph Stuart <rstuartcih**At_Symbol_Here**ME.COM>
Subject: 2 more RE: [DCHAS-L] 6 re: SAFETY
From: Moorefield, Mubetcel 

I am curious to know how many of the members of this list have "STOP"
training in place at their institutions.  I wouldn't mind receiving your
private answers and compiling them for the list.

Mubetcel Moorefield

From: Robin M. Izzo 


I agree that the rate of positive cultural change in universities is slow.
When he was president of Princeton University, former President Woodrow
Wilson said, "effecting change at a university is like trying to move a
graveyard."  And that was 100 years ago.
I've been working at universities for more than 20 years.  Things have
definitely improved, but it's not an easy task.  You are right that the
culture change needs to come from the top, but that's never going to be
enough.  What it comes down to is this...

Supervisors make the difference.  It doesn't matter how many EHS staff you
have, they can't be in the labs, especially at a large institution with
hundreds or even thousands of labs, all the time.  In industry, there are
supervisors in the lab, supervisors supervising those supervisors, etc.
Employees are professional adults with a vested interest in keeping their
jobs.  There is incentive to follow the rules.  You have a mix of ages, of

Contrast this with a university.  The supervisor in the lab is a faculty
member.  The faculty member has a teaching load, is writing, is mentoring
students and is running the lab.  In most cases, this person has never
worked outside academia and doesn't know any other way.  The supervisor of
the faculty member is the chair of the department, who may or may not be a
lab researcher and is generally not micromanaging the labs.  

The "employees" of the lab are students - graduate and undergraduate.  There
are very few, if any, professional staff in the lab.  They are looking to
get good grades and complete research projects.  The grad students often
teach, as well.  The undergrads are pulling a full courseload.  

You can go to any science or arts building any time of the night or day and
find students conducting research, trying to meet a deadline, trying to use
the equipment that they are forced to share with others.  

My point is that the students don't act or see themselves in the same way
the employee does.  There is less incentive to always follow the rules.
They see themselves as indestructable.  It's a group of young people working
together, rarely with a mix of ages and the experience that comes with it.  

The faculty don't see themselves as supervisors in the same way that an
industry supervisor does.  It varies, but some spend very little time in the
lab.  They are at an academic institution, where they question everything
and feel comfortable doing their own risk assessment.  

They follow safety rules that they HAVE to follow.  They can't get
radioactive materials unless they follow certain very specific rules.  They
can't get biological materials unless they follow certain very specific
rules.  It doesn't matter what they think of the rules, they just follow
them because they must.  They will do the least that they have to do.

But for chemicals, it's different.  For chemicals, shops and other potential
hazards in the lab, the training they receive relies on risk assessment,
rather than hard and fast rules.  And when the faculty is not there, which
can be often, students will do what feels, seems right.

A student who has just completed five hours of classes, three hours of
homework and has a lab project due tomorrow is going to take shortcuts.  And
if there is nobody watching them and forcing them to follow the rules, they
are making themselves vulnerable.

My point is that it's not as easy as having a president and deans interested
in safety.  Our president is a molecular biologist who ran a lab here at
Princeton for many years before becoming president.  She sets the tone and
is very, very supportive of EHS.  The Dean for Research is just as
supportive, as are chairs and other deans.  It's still not enough.  Until
faculty start running their labs in a professional manner, change will be

I am painting faculty with a broad brush.  There are some fabulous ones out
there, promoting safety.  The chair of our chemistry department is one of
them.  He wanted to be sure that every researcher wears a lab coat, so
purchased flame-resistant lab coats for everyone, embroidered their names on
them, hired a cleaning service for them, made it as simple as possible.  But
without him going into labs and calling out those not wearing them, they
will just be coats on chairs.  And that is only one small piece.

We will get there.  It's going to take a lot of work and many of us are
trying.  I meet with every new faculty member before they open their lab,
focusing them on supervision, talking about the culture we expect to see.  I
see some real progress, but it's going to take time to move this graveyard.

Robin Izzo
Associate Director, EHS
Princeton University

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