Lab safety task force launched by Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities

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.

Update to add links to other coverage:

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. FYI – established law says that academic chemists ” cannot ” be forced to become Safety Directors of the whole campus. More info & judges 10 page published decision is available.

    Is there a list of appropriate lawyers by ACS & other academic organizations for faculty who are involved with campus safety ?

  2. @Frank Gadek–No attorney lists that I’m aware of, although in any case I don’t know what criteria you would judge to define “appropriate.” Nor is it clear what your comment or question has to do with this post.

  3. 1] Simply & briefly, you are in a dispute with your employer over safety & it is going to court. You will be their ” scapegoat ” for their refusal to obey the law.

    2] Should not these professional organizations provide you with
    “ at least “ a list of competent lawyers in this area for you to consider hiring ? None provided me with any. Eight [8] lawyers all in some form of burnout over a decade of lawsuits. One even had a BS in chemistry – he was top notch ! Bottom line, settled out of court after a week of our testimony, but before they began theirs.

    3] Academics in our area are well aware of it and use it when their administrators try similar tactics.

    4] So it has ” everything ” to do with this post. Yet the ACS still has “ not one [1] chemical safety course “ in the ACS approved chemistry curriculum as far as I am still aware. I was told I was the
    one of the “ first “ to develop and teach one. The students who took it, many got jobs in safety in industry because of it – few if any with a chem degree had such a course.

    5] I went on to industry with a Fortune 500 company where “ safety was all “ – so I found out what it really meant. They had long since learned the hard way ! Best company & people ever worked for. Many stories to tell.

    6] First I would contact the former President of the ACS Ned Heindel, now retired from Lehigh U. in nearby Bethlehem, PA. He is
    “ very familiar “ with all this. We are old friends from back in the 1960’s.

    7] By the way, Jay Young and Warren Kingsley were my “ expert witnesses “ at the trial. Jay was the obvious hit, if you knew Jay !

    8] How many other academic chemists are in the same situation ? What is being done to help them by professional organizations ?

    9] So good luck in all this. You will all need it. If want more info just ask. I have nothing to hide, but many I have dealt with sure do and want to keep it that way.

    10] Go to my website – http://WWW.KAYPROSTSNSF.ORG for a lot more information on me and my life and careers – “ well beyond my wildest dreams, “ but with a lot of heard work and sacrifices.

    11] Nice to see some more “ realistic action “ finally taking place. But of course what are the real motivations ?

    12] Chemists and chemistry are at great risk. How can they be helped best ? Do we even have to mention the “ UCLA Harran case ? “
    I was amazed that so many chemists comments indicated they did not know the specifics of OSHA as employers !

    My only motivation is to help others who may be in the same situation as I was. I have moved on in retirement for my decades of continued STS research, again much on my website.