By Alice Young
As a TTU faculty member, you know your research and creative work better than anyone else—and you share a core responsibility to teach students to recognize and assess the risks of their research with you.
Who can you turn to for assistance as you and your trainees plan your work? Your chair and dean are key resources for space and major infrastructure needs. Your Departmental Safety Officer also can provide invaluable help with departmental and building resources and strong safety practices. Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) staff can provide assistance and consultation about minimizing hazards and risks in labs, studios and field sites.
EH&S staff are available to work with you:
- as you set up your lab or studio.
- as you plan a new project or start working with a new material. For example, they can help you answer questions such as,
- Is there a way to minimize exposure to fumes or particles?
- Is a new hoist braced in the best way?
- Can we make a project “greener” by switching to a different type or amount of chemical?
- How should we store flammable chemicals in the studio as students are trained?
Don’t, however, look at EH&S as being “responsible for safety.” The university has tasked EH&S with the responsibility for campus-wide compliance with environmental regulations and occupational health and safety regulations. To achieve that goal, EH&S is responsible for providing consultation to faculty on best practices and how to meet the many state, federal and agency regulations that affect faculty and student work. They are resources to help determine if chemicals and other materials are stored correctly. They provide management of chemical and biological wastes. They can help you determine if you and your students are wearing correct personal protective equipment, such as closed-toed shoes while working around corrosive chemicals, or steel-toed boots around cattle or car engines on hoists. They can consult with you and your students as you assess the hazards and risks of a new project or of scaling up a current experiment.
There are other resources available to faculty and staff on laboratory safety, including:
- Dow Lab Safety Academy (please note you’ll have to sign in to the Dow website)
- American Chemical Society’s report: Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories
The university has tasked faculty with the responsibility of being experts in their fields—which includes knowing or learning about the risks of new research, asking for help, and teaching students how to recognize, assess and minimize the risks that come with groundbreaking work in unexplored areas.
Teach your students to be situationally aware! Don’t expect students to walk through the door knowing all they need to know to research or create safely. They don’t—and as a faculty member, you can teach them and hold them accountable—and your department, college and university will help you do it (and recognize you for doing it).
I will be happy to talk with you about the ideas above: firstname.lastname@example.org or (806) 742-3905.
Alice Young is associate vice president/research integrity, in the Office of the Vice President for Research. Her area oversees Environmental Health & Safety.