Thursday, July 31, 2014

NRC Releases Safe Science Report: Safety in Academic Laboratories

A report entitled "Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research" by National Research Council (NRC) says that everyone involved in academic chemical research, from researchers to university leadership, plays an important role in promoting a culture of safety, and calls for constant commitment to safety throughout the organization. Simply establishing rules and fixing blame when the rules are not followed is not acceptable, NRC says. Rather, organizations should emphasize identifying and solving problems.

“The shift away from mere compliance and toward promoting a strong, positive safety culture has already yielded benefits in industries such as aviation and health care,” says H. Holden Thorp, provost at Washington University in St. Louis, who chairs the committee that wrote the report. “We hope our recommendations help move academic chemical research in a similar fashion--toward the adoption of a culture of safety in laboratories that goes beyond inspections, standard operating procedures and chemical safety plans, all with the ultimate goal of protecting the lives and health of those who work there.”

The report identifies five major stakeholder groups at universities and recommends actions they should take to support a strong safety culture:
  • Presidents, chancellors and provosts should demonstrate that safety is a core value of their institutions by discussing safety frequently and publicly, and encouraging others to do so as well.  They should use university resources in ways that support safety, for example by paying for PPE and hazardous waste disposal. They also should have in place a comprehensive risk management plan for lab safety that addresses prevention, mitigation and emergency response.
  • Vice presidents for research and deans should ensure that their institutions only undertake areas of research that they can carry out safely. They also should make sure everyone involved in the research knows his/her role in supporting safety and should develop reporting structures that better integrate safety management into overall research management.
  • Principal investigators and department chairs are responsible for establishing a strong, positive safety culture in the laboratories they oversee by demonstrating safe practices and wearing PPE, ensuring researchers are properly trained in safety before they begin any work and encouraging open, ongoing dialogue about safety concerns.
  • Researchers have a responsibility for supporting safety culture in the laboratories where they work and should be encouraged to take on leadership roles, such as serving on safety committees and taking part in non-punitive, walk-through inspections of other laboratories. Institutions should provide researchers with the equipment, training, systems and support they need to work safely. 
  • SH&E staff should partner with administrators, faculty and researchers to go beyond compliance and support these groups as they undertake actions to establish a strong, positive safety culture.

The report also says that laboratories should conduct analyses to help them identify and mitigate hazards, and recommends collecting and reporting data on near misses as a key approach to recognizing these hazards before they cause harm. The report also recommends that comprehensive, ongoing lab-centric training that ensures understanding of potential hazards and risks, as well as protective measures and mitigation techniques.

Download a free PDF of the report or order a prepublication copy from the National Academies Press website.