Recommendations: Institution-Wide Dynamics and Resources
Recommendation 1: The president/chancellor renews commitment to improve the culture of safety for all academic research, scholarship, and teaching.
Tools for Recommendation 1
Actions for the president/chancellor that help strengthen a culture of safety
- Responsibility for fostering and sustaining a safe campus rests on all members of the university community, and the ultimate accountability rests with the president/chancellor.
- Demonstrate that safety is a core value of the institution through public discussion of the importance of safety, by providing adequate resources, and by developing effective policies.
- Understand that hazards exist not just in the labs of chemistry departments, but in other settings, such as other types of laboratories, performing arts spaces, art studios, and field research sites.
- Appoint an institutional lead and leadership team responsible for facilitating the building of a culture of safety (include language on authority and accountability). The senior research officer might be the ideal appointee.
- Be transparent on roles, responsibilities, and accountability. Align the reward and recognition system with efforts to promote safety, attending to hiring, promotion, tenure, and salary decisions for faculty.
- Assume ultimate responsibility for safety.
To help presidents and chancellors effectively communicate the importance of safety, the task force highlights core institutional values for a culture of safety
- Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Each institution should commit to a campus environment that ensures the health and safety of their entire community (faculty, students, staff, and visitors) and empowers the community to be responsible for the safety of others. A safe campus environment for workers is a right of employment. A safe campus learning environment is a right of all involved in education and research.
- Good science is safe science. Scholarly excellence and responsible conduct of research includes safety as a critical component.
- Safety training and safety education are essential elements of research and education. They are important for instilling a culture of safety in the next generation of researchers and future faculty, and they are important for our students’ career development and employability.
- An improved culture of safety is necessary to truly reduce risk.
Timeline of recent notable university safety accidents and reactions
- Lab safety accidents
- 2009 UCLA - Researcher (Sheharbano “Sheri” Sangji) Dies After Lab Fire. Available at C&EN.
- 2010 Texas Tech – University Lab Accident (Preston Brown) Under Investigation. Available at C&EN.
- 2010 University of Florida – Student (Courtney Mason) has wrist severed in an equine farm accident. Available at Gainesville Sun.
- 2011 Yale University – Yale student (Michele Dufault) killed as hair gets caught in lathe. Available at NY Times.
- 2015 Florida State University - An employee of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University was killed in a workplace accident while working on a magnet construction project. Available at WJHG.com.
- Responses to lab safety accidents
- 2011 Texas Tech University - Chemical Safety Board releases Investigation into 2010 Texas Tech Laboratory Accident. Available at CSB TTU Case Study.
- 2011 UCLA - Charges brought in UCLA researcher’s death. Available at C&EN.
- 2012 UC System - University of California reaches agreement in connection with charges in lab researcher’s death – The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office dropped felony charges against the University of California Regents as part of an agreement involving labor code violations relating to the 2008 death of a chemistry staff research assistant. In the UC agreement, the Regents, the governing body of the University of California system, accepted responsibility for the laboratory conditions that led to researcher Sheharbano (Sheri) Sangji’s death. Available at C&EN.
- 2014 - UCLA Professor Harran was charged with four felony violations of the state labor code. The deal mandates that Harran complete multiple forms of community service and pay a $10,000 fine. The charges were not dismissed. Instead, the case against Harran is effectively on hold while he completes the terms of the five-year agreement. Available at C&EN.
- 2015 UCLA – Legal fees for Harran case approach $4.5 million. Available at LA Times.
- 2016 University of Hawaii - The University of California (UC) Center for Laboratory Safety has been retained to carry out “an independent investigation to determine the cause of the explosion” in a Hawaii Natural Energy Institute biofuels research laboratory at the University of Hawaii (UH), Manoa, on 16 March. The explosion severely injured a postdoc, who has now been released from the hospital. Available at Science.
- National reports on lab safety in response to lab accidents
- 2012 American Chemical Society Report – Publishes guidance and recommendations to help strengthen safety culture. Available at ACS.
- 2013 ACS Hazard Analysis Tools – At the request of the CSB, the ACS develops and releases Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories. Available at ACS.
- 2014 Stanford Report – Advancing Safety Culture in the University Laboratory (2014). Available at Stanford University.
- 2014 National Research Council – Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research (2014). Available at National Academies Press.
- Interest from federal agencies in improving a culture of safety
- 2015 USA Today Investigation – Transparency is an important cornerstone in maintaining public trust in biological research, says the National Institutes of Health, which has issued guidance to laboratories that receive federal funding. Available at USA Today.
- 2015 USA Today Investigation – Senators, health experts demand action to address biolab accidents. Available at USA Today.
- 2015 ACS Meeting – Sangji Family's presentation at ACS meeting asking that federal funding be dependent on a safe culture in the PI's lab. Articles in Science Magazine, Chemistryworld, and CHEMJOBBER.
- 2015 White House Memorandum – The National Security Council and Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a memorandum to federal agencies on next steps to enhance biosafety and biosecurity in the United States. These next steps build on two sets of recommendations released from the Fast Track Action Committee on Select Agent Regulations (FTAC-SAR) and from the Federal Experts Security Advisory Panel (FESAP), which include guidance on culture of responsibility; oversight; outreach and education; applied biosafety research; incident reporting; material accountability; inspection processes; and regulatory changes to improve biosafety and biosecurity. Available at WhiteHouse.gov.
Comparison of Recommendation 1 with other key resources
- From Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research (NRC, 2014):
- Recommendation 1. The president and other institutional leaders must actively demonstrate that safety is a core value of the institution and show an ongoing commitment to it.
- From Creating Safety Cultures in Academic Institutions (ACS, 2012):
- Recommendation 2. Encourage every leader to become a proponent of safety and safety education, and to demonstrate this care for safety in their actions with other staff members and students.
- From Creating a Safety Culture (OSHA, 1989):
- Obtain Top Management "Buy-in." This is the very first step that needs to be accomplished. Top managers must be on board. If they are not, safety and health will compete against core business issues such as production and profitability, a battle that will almost always be lost. They need to understand the need for change and be willing to support it. Showing the costs to the organization in terms of dollars (direct and indirect costs of incidents) that are being lost, and the organizational costs (fear, lack of trust, feeling of being used, etc.) can be compelling reasons for looking at needing to do something different. Because losses due to incidents are bottom line costs to the organization, controlling these will more than pay for the needed changes. In addition, when successful, you will also go a long way in eliminating organizational barriers such as fear, lack of trust, etc.: Issues that typically get in the way of everything that the organization wants to do.
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