I'm not trying to paint a glowing picture of academia or sing kumbaya. I was simply explaining that there is no simple solution and that none of us are sitting around waiting for the next accident. We are all working at this. The purpose of being active with ACS, CSHEMA and other organizations and being active on listserves like this is to learn from each other.
Even training is not as simple as it might seem. People come into universities from so many avenues. Universities are decentralized. A single lab could have graduate students who show up before the first semester starts in order to get ahead on their research, undergrad majors, an undergrad from a different major working on a project, a post-doc hired sometime during the semester, a visiting research here just for a couple of months, a high school student here for part of the summer - each of these people got to the lab from a different route. As a result, it is a challenge to identify every person who requires training and then to ensure that they receive it. Relying on the PI is not enough - some are better than others at this. Much of the training has to be done within the lab, based on the particular process.
In the UCLA case, we don't really know if the young person had been told to wear a lab coat, not to wear synthetic materials, what to do when clothing was on fire or that a different method was warranted for handling this material. UCLA did not do a good job of documenting training, so the assumption is that she was untrained. In no way am I trying to dismiss or diminish the responsibilities of the PI or UCLA. A strong, positive safety culture includes ensuring that people practice safety, not just making sure they hear about it.
Because of the issues I mentioned in my post, we need to workeven harder to change the culture. I have colleagues in universities across the US and in other countries who are working diligently. We are not waiting. Last month, I attended the CSHEMA conference, where there were many presentations on solutions that are making progress. DCHAS has a task force working on laboratory risk assessment tools, as well as other ACS groups working on safety culture, training programs for students and TAs and so much more.
At Princeton, our art department is treated like a science or engineering department. They receive the same amount of attention as the labs, because we see the similarities. Their department safety manager is part of our laboratory safety management team.
All I know is that the research laboratory environment in academia, from what I've seen up close, is a far cry better now than when I was an undergrad and a grad student. But just having authority is not the final answer. It's a lot more complicated than that and we are taking on the challenge.
Robin M. Izzo, M.S.
Associate Director, EHS
If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month.
~ Theodore Roosevelt
Glad you weighed in Robin. But UCLA was not vulnerable because a young person made a bad choice. They were vulnerable because UCLA's program for handling certain types of chemicals and for training those handling them was so deficient they were charged with criminal negligence. That's why the AG's settlement reads like a rudimentary CHP. It identifies program elements which will now be enforced under a legal order.
As long as any school can document due diligence in the form of an effective safety program, they are not subject to criminal charges like those brought in UCLA's case.
So I say yet again, we should only be discussing one thing: How to make safety personnel and their programs more effective. For example, since lack of training was an issue in the UCLA case, how are people planning to get everyone trained and regularly updated? An untrained person is a school's weak link. If nobody wants to enforce attendance, I'd be interested in what alternate strategies people are using and how is that working out.
Look, if everyone just wants to share glowing words about the life and mission of academic safety people and not even discuss making changes in these hallowed programs, fine--I'll back off and wait for the next accident. But I'm not blind. I can see that in most of the schools in which I work the programs are not working. And it is especially dangerous in the art and theater departments--appalling actually.
I hoped to see some direction for improving programs coming from the cooler heads in the science departments that could be applied to my endangered art consitutents as well. I'm waiting in vain. Remember, the Yale School of Drama had two student deaths and the Yale science shop had one before UCLA's recent accident. And that's just Yale. What's it going to take?.
In a message dated 8/7/2012 11:06:21 AM Eastern Daylight Time, secretary**At_Symbol_Here**DCHAS.ORG writes:
Like most of my peers in academia, my group has the authority discussed in these posts. In our case, we have an escalation process that reaches the Dean for Research or the Dean of the Faculty. I can shut down a lab if I feel it necessary. I can impose safety requirements. We have policies and procedures, resources, training and other elements that are part of a good safety program.
But that doesn't mean that we are not just as vulnerable to what UCLA, Texas Tech and others have experienced, because at any given time, a student, faculty, post-doc, visiting researcher, etc can make a poor choice. SNIP.
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