University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Go to chemistry home page.


Innovative safety program receives national award

The innovative safety program developed by the Department of Chemistry and Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science has received the inaugural Council of Chemical Research (CCR) Safety Award. This award is presented to academic departments that are engaged in chemical research, which have demonstrated significant progress in creating a culture of safety.

Two years ago, the departments, working in collaboration with Dow Chemical Company, embarked on a unique initiative to improve the culture of safety. Graduate students and post-doctoral associates lead this initiative. They established a Joint Safety Team (JST), which is composed of laboratory safety officers from each research group in the departments.

The JST developed recommendations and launched a safety campaign in the fall of 2012 focused on four key areas—CARE. CARE stands for

  • Compliance: improve compliance with lab standards on hazardous waste handling, sample and chemical storage, lab cleanliness, and the wearing of personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Awareness: improve awareness of safety hazards, best practices, and available resources around the theme of Safety Starts with U!;
  • Resources: improve the quality of and access to safety resources, including the standardization of laboratory signs, development of a safety website, and PPE such as goggles, lab coats, and gloves; and
  • Education: improve the training and ongoing education of laboratory safety officers and researchers.

The hard-working Joint Safety Team created and implemented a number of successful initiatives, including:

  • Regular safety visits by JST teams to all laboratories to provide input and advice on safety issues;
  • Safety Moments, which are short presentations on safety topics that are given prior to every departmental seminar and most research group meetings;
  • Safety posters throughout all three buildings housing the two departments;
  • Safety notes in every electronic newsletter (posted weekly) in the Department of Chemistry;
  • Safety video contest;
  • Cleanup weeks to eliminate potentially hazardous waste and clutter;
  • Website with extensive resources; and
  • Incentive program with awards to specific laboratories for best safety practices.

As a result of these initiatives, there is greater adherence to safety procedures and protocols and more effective communications. The use of personal protective equipment has skyrocketed, laboratories are less cluttered, and safety is a regular topic of discussion at department events.

“I am proud of the extraordinary efforts of the students and postdoctoral associates who initiated the JST and developed the array of initiatives that have contributed to making safety an integral part of the work we do,” said William Tolman, chair of the Department of Chemistry. “This award is terrific recognition of their efforts, which must continue as we keep improving our safety culture.”

The work of the JST complements that of the departmental safety committees that are officially responsible for safety compliance. The JST also works closely with the university's Department of Environmental Health and Safety, and its representative to the departments. The departments provide financial support, and JST members are supported and empowered by the departments’ leadership.

Interest in this model of a student- and post-doctorate-led safety program is growing. The departments and JST leaders are sharing this innovative program with others through publications, visits to other institutions, webinar, and other means.

Members of the Joint Safety Team Administrative Committee are, from left, Katie Peterson, Ryan Knutson, Committee Chair Katherine “Katie” Hurley, Chris Smith, Alyssa McKenna (from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science), Research Safety Specialist Anna Sitek from the Department of Environmental Health and Safety, and Melissa Baudhuin.