Comparing safety culture in industry to academia

Chemjobber had a guest post last week by Alex Goldberg, who started working as a pharmaceutical process chemist six months ago. He says, in part:

And we have regular meetings about safety: we discuss near-misses and incidents and accidents (and we learn about the differences between them in safety training) that occurred in the previous month. And absolutely everyone wears his or her labcoat and safety glasses.

Reflecting back on my academic training, I think about what universities can do to make safety an ongoing conversation, not just an onboarding exercise or an annual seminar. If we take long-hours and limited resources as a given in academic Chemistry departments — a topic which merits another discussion entirely — what can be done to build a culture of safety around those constraints? What does your lab and department do to accomplish this goal?

Examples, anyone?

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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  1. I think it’s important for PI’s to set the tone and ensure that adequate training is provided, but I think it’s just as important that senior researchers in the lab (whether they be postdocs or older graduate students) lead by example on safety. My PI does a great job emphasizing the importance of safety and questioning the risks when we propose something new, but, like most PI’s, he’s rarely in the lab, which means the day-to-day lab mentorship comes from older lab members. We need to realize that safety is part of that mentorship, and that making smart decisions about when to run or not run certain protocols is *more* important than cranking out good science in a limited time. When new chemists see more experienced ones cutting corners and pushing too hard, they’ll do the same.

  2. My awareness of chemical safety increased tremendously during an internship in R&D of a chemical company. When I came back from the internship, I was eager to share the new knowledge with other people at my department. Unfortunately, little came out of it due to the lack in interest from the faculty.

    I think that a lot has to be done in academia to change the mindset about the lab safety.

    It was alarming to me when (after having worked in chemical industry for several years) I was talking to a young faculty in one of the top universities and heard phrases like “Oh, you worry too much about safety” and (when visiting their lab and asking for safety glasses): “Oh, I know you work in industry, but do not worry, we are not running any hazardous experiments right not”.

    That last phrase was said in front of one of their graduate student. What kind of lesson would that teach them?