November 2012

Promoting A Culture Of Safety

Drexel University created the Lab Safety Committee (LSC) during the 2012 winter term to form a partnership between the Office of Research and the Drexel University Department of the Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) that brings additional awareness to promoting a “culture of safety,” according to Dr. Sreekant Murthy, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Research Compliance.

“The university is concerned and wants to ensure the safety of students and faculty in lab practices,” said Dr. Michele Marcolongo, Senior Associate Vice Provost for Translational Research and chairperson of the LSC.

By forming the LSC to address high priority issues in lab safety, researchers can work effectively with EH&S to produce policies through observing researchers first hand and better understanding the challenges faced in the lab.

“The LSC invites members representing all aspects of research at Drexel to engage in the development of practical policies,” said Jon Chase, Executive Director, EH&S, and co-chair of the LSC. “The intent of the LBC is to provide a platform for Drexel to openly discuss proposed compliance initiatives.”

For the past ten years, EH&S has been developing standard operating procedures and compliance programs for the research community by conducting audits. EH&S did not, however, have much input from those individuals actively engaged in research, which resulted in impractical policies in some locations.

These factors can lead to unnecessary tension and animosity between those engaged in research and those trying to protect them, Dr. Chase said. EH&S now works with the research and teaching community to develop creative solutions to unique situations when it is obvious that the rules don't exactly fit or pertain to research and development operations.

“The hope is that bringing the research community into the process will provide them with a better understanding of regulatory affairs and will help ensure that policies are developed from the researcher's point of view – for the researchers by the researchers – in ways that will enable practical implementation,” Dr. Chase said.

The LSC is composed of sub-committees for auditing safety violations, enforcing lab attire and promoting lab safety training.

“I have attended some of the LSC meetings and observed that members are committed to the mission,” said Dr. Murthy, who serves as the liaison between the Office of Research and EH&S. “They are carefully evaluating the use of personal protective equipment and laboratory safety audits to bring some basic standards that reflect Drexel’s research and teaching needs and the nature of risk.”

It is the combined responsibility of laboratory personnel, EH&S and the administration to create a safe environment for laboratory workers at Drexel, Dr. Murthy believes. Dr. Murthy noted that it is also the individual's responsibility to practice and follow general safety guidelines for their own well-being and the well-being of their co-workers.

Faculty members with any concerns or questions should contact their lab safety representative to be connected with the LSC, said Dr. Marcolongo.