paperstack_shutterstock_242530234The Association of Public & Land Grant Universities (APLU) has established a Task Force on Laboratory Safety, which held its first face-to-face meeting in Washington, DC this week.

The goal of the task force is to build on academic lab safety reports issued by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 2012 and the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2014, says one of the task force's chairs, Taylor Eighmy, vice chancellor for research and engagement at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Eighmy was Texas Tech University's vice president for research when an explosive materials incident there injured a graduate student.

One goal of the task force is to look at the recommendations made in those prior reports and figure out how to implement them, Eighmy said. On the first day of the meeting, the agenda included speakers from multiple organizations slated to discuss lab safety culture as well as models of accreditation and certification. The meeting was closed to the public.

Eighmy and his task force colleagues expect that federal funding agencies will start to hold universities accountable for "their ability to ensure that research can be conducted on campus in a safe and reliable manner," he says. "We know full well the importance of other accreditation processes relative to federal funding," such as for research on animals and humans, he adds.

While the ACS and NAS reports focused on chemical laboratories, the task force may look at research safety more broadly, including areas such as field research and art studios, suggested Mark McLellan, the other task force chair. McLellan is vice president for research and Dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Utah State University.

The NAS report included a specific recommendation aimed at ACS, APLU, the Association of American Universities, and the American Council on Education, saying that they should "work together to establish and maintain an anonymous reporting system, building on industry efforts, for centralizing the collection of information about and lessons learned from incidents and near misses in academic laboratories, and linking these data to the scientific literature." The ACS Board of Directors declined last year to support an ACS Committee on Chemical Safety initiative to create an incident reporting system.

After the first meeting day, it wasn't clear whether APLU would pick up the charge, either. Howard Gobstein, executive vice president of APLU, calls the database concept "unwieldy."

"We have to wrestle with this and other recommendations so that they're implementable, they make sense, they're longstanding, and they result in cultural change," Eighmy says.