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Safety

University leaders must take responsibility for lab safety, report says

APLU issues recommendations to help schools improve safety culture on campus

by Andrea Widener , Jyllian Kemsley
April 14, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 16

Presidents and chancellors of U.S. universities must take personal responsibility for changing the lab safety culture in academia, a new report says.

APLU’S core values for a culture of safety

Safety is everyone’s responsibility.

Good science is safe science.

Safety training and safety education are essential elements of research and education.

An improved culture of safety is necessary to truly reduce risk throughout the academic enterprise.

It is best to recognize that diverse methods and flexible approaches will be used by each institution to develop a strong culture of safety, unique to its situation.

Note: To learn how some educators are teaching hazard assessment, turn to page 26 of this issue of C&EN.

The document, published by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (APLU), also lays out core values for a culture of safety. It challenges top university officials to create high-level committees responsible for lab safety, to modify tenure and promotion requirements to include safety, and to promote open communication about accidents and near misses on campuses.

APLU and the Association of American Universities additionally sent letters to leaders of more than 260 top U.S. universities calling on them to change the safety culture at their universities.

“We took it upon ourselves to really step up and say to the academic community that we need to own this,” says the University of Tennessee’s Taylor Eighmy, cochair of the committee that authored the report.

Most of the report’s 20 recommendations have been made before by commissions organized by the National Academy of Sciences, the Chemical Safety Board, and the American Chemical Society, which publishes C&EN.

What makes the APLU guide new is that “there was never really a process that was put together to collect, map, and reference all of the things that are needed to change a culture of safety,” Eighmy says. Each recommendation includes citations to previous reports and a list of best practices.

The APLU report “does a better job of making it clear that the faculty are responsible for the safety of the work they supervise and that the chief honcho of the campus is ultimately responsible,” says Neal Langerman, founder of the company Advanced Chemical Safety.

In particular, adopting the suggestion that safety become part of tenure and promotion decisions “would change the ball game completely,” Langerman says.

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