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Universities focusing on better lab safety

Universities focusing on better lab safety
Universities focusing on better lab safety

Several incidents, investigations and court cases all over the country have put the spotlight on the safety of laboratories on college campuses, and several are responding to the issue by making significant changes.

According to Minnesota Daily, department heads at the University of Minnesota cite safety concerns as one of the most serious issues in the world of academia, with anything from poor hygiene, cleanliness and preparation to broken glass and other assets creating a more dangerous lab setting.

"[It’s] something that I lose sleep over," Department of Chemistry chair William Tolman said.

To confront these issues, two of the school's science departments have employed the help of the Dow Chemical Company, and together they are working on a new lab safety initiative. The program is the brainchild of graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from the university's chemical engineering and materials science departments.

These students are collaborating with faculty and representatives from Dow to increases safety awareness and improve lab safety best practices. The initiative plans to take its message to laboratories in schools all over the country.

According to the media outlet, aspects of the program include calling for better signage in labs, updated emergency contact information and a "Safety Starts with U!" campaign. The initiative will also perform laboratory audits and safety training seminars.

"There aren’t good standards and compliance across the board," said Kathryn McGarry, a graduate student in the Department of Chemistry.

When the program began, some faculty said the program was not worth the time and effort, however support for the initiative is growing, considering the great "need for a culture change in academia," McGarry added.

A new dawn in lab safety
One event in particular has set off a sequence of investigations and trials that have led to a new age for lab safety, the Montreal Gazette reports.

According to the news source, in 2008, a research assistant was killed from burn injuries sustained in a University of California-Los Angeles chemistry lab, which an investigation found was caused by "willfully violating occupational safety and health standards."

These standards are set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is also working to improve lab safety. 

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