Deanna Csomo McCool | July 7, 2019
Striving for safety should be part of the regular culture in chemistry laboratories, professors say, and a new program at the University of Notre Dame is solidifying that mindset.
Walk-through of chemistry lab
“When I was a grad student, truthfully, it was kind of uncool to wear personal protective equipment, but we’re trying to do the opposite tack, where it’s cool to be safe,” said Mary Prorok, assistant chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, who, along with Masaru K. Kuno, chemistry professor, are co-directors of the new Laboratory Safety Officer (LSO) training program in the department.
To meet that goal, Kuno devised the LSO program, which began in January. About 50 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers were trained during a two-day safety workshop taught by labsafety.org. This has since led to LSO-led walk-throughs of departmental laboratories. The walk-throughs take about an hour to complete and are extremely thorough. They are different from safety inspections—those are the domain of the University’s Department of Risk Management and Safety and would require knowledge of electrical and other systems outside the purview of chemists—and focus on laboratory-specific safety requirements.
“One of the motivations here is we want to empower the students, because the students are the ones who are actually seeing things in the laboratory,” Kuno said. “They are sort of on the front lines, so to speak, as opposed to me, who’s behind a computer much of the day.”
Rachel Miller, a biochemistry graduate student, decided to be an LSO because safety is important to her, and yet, not a topic people talk about unless there is an accident. Also, she wanted to receive more training because knowledge of safe practices and procedures is necessary for any laboratory work she will do in the future.
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