By Russ Phifer
Efforts to improve safety culture in chemical research laboratories generally focus on bench chemists, principle investigators, and laboratory managers. The backbone of these labs in both academic and industrial R&D, however, is frequently those working behind the scenes in positions such as storeroom managers or chemistry department “coordinators.” The professional organization for this group of people is the National Association of Scientific Materials Managers (NAOSMM). As I attend the organization’s annual meeting in Niagara Falls this week, I’m struck by how unpretentious the members are and how much of their jobs concern safety.
People in these positions rarely have advanced degrees, and many worked their way to their current positions from other facets of the chemical enterprise. Nonetheless, they are often the primary problem solvers in their workplaces. Having attended more than a hundred national and regional meetings of various scientific groups over the past 40 years¸ I can say unequivocally that NAOSMM members are among the most active and dedicated people when it comes to encouraging safe laboratory operations. NAOSMM meeting programs are typically incredibly diverse and cover topics such as laboratory inspections, waste management, lab animal care, inventory management software, and, this week, the science behind wine making. The sessions are full, often with standing room-only crowds despite many concurrent sessions. The NAOSMM e-mail list also maintains a lively discussion on laboratory management and safety.
As we work to improve laboratory safety across the wide horizon of academic and industrial R&D laboratories, I find it heartening to know that this group has the energy, desire, and means to work behind the scenes to encourage improvement in all aspects of laboratory safety.