> Rather than row against the current (most or perhaps many academic EHS measures pale in comparison to best practices and to practices at most industrial labs),
I have heard this comment in a variety of contexts and have thought about it a lot and I would like to point out a couple of the limitations associated with that generalization:
1. Funding limitations explain many of the creative solutions we discuss on this list. It is important to remember that the revenue streams associated with industrial organizations are very different those associated with academic institutions. Academic institutions are very likely to be under pressure (much of it self-inflicted) to do more that they are funded for. And the primary funding mechanism for academic science varies wildly over time as political budgets expand and contract. See
for today's news in this regard.
2. Academic lab buildings are built in a speculative way for a very long planning horizon; they are expected to be used for 50 or more years without major renovation. (Look up the deferred maintenance budget of any campus of interest.) With the rate of change in science techniques and interests we're seeing, guessing who will be president in 2050 sounds like a sounder bet than guessing what kind of laboratory science will be conducted in 2050 in the labs being built today. Industrial organizations, on the other hand, have abandoned research campuses less than 20 years after they are built, when organizational priorities change or the organizations are reorganized. I have been on the receiving end of one of these buildings and it was seriously trashed by previous industrial laboratory uses.
3. I have had a chance to visit a handful of industrial research labs and I can't say that I saw different entirely safety behaviors exhibited once you're past the orientation session. And I have observed similar facility and management challenges to those we find in academia. I'm sure that there are industrial laboratories that are able to develop model safety programs, but I've seen evidence that there are many, particularly smaller, industrial lab settings that are very similar to the academic setting in terms of safety performance.
I do appreciate the interest of industrial lab leadership in improving safety in academic laboratories and I regularly point to this leadership in discussing this topic with upper management stakeholders. But I also believe that suggesting that the challenge of research safety is sector-specific often gets in the way of productive discussions about how we can improve safety practices throughout the laboratory community. I suspect that learning can go in both directions.
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
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