In order to strengthen the culture of research safety on campus, the University of Michigan Office of Research and the Department of Environment, Health & Safety announced a new laboratory safety campaign on Wednesday called Research Smart.
This announcement comes after the University was ranked the No. 1 public research university by the National Science Foundation in 2016 — a designation supported by 428 new invention reports as well as $1.39 billion spent in research expenditures that year.
In an email sent to the student body, S. Jack Hu, vice president for research, and Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, outlined the goals of the campaign — part of the overall Laboratory and Research Safety Initiative intended to increase the quality of research at the University. They explained safety can sometimes be a challenge inside laboratories at the University due to the large number of students and faculty performing research.
“Safety is an on-going challenge at U-M because of the extraordinary size and diversity of our research enterprise; the turnover of students, post-doctoral fellows, faculty, and staff engaged in research; and the potential hazards that often arise as our cutting-edge programs push the boundaries of knowledge,” they wrote.
They further explained how the campaign was implemented to bring researchers together in order to work toward safer laboratory practices, as well as to sustain the University’s reputation as the nation’s top public research university.
“The Research Smart campaign is intended to clarify and keep us alert to the risks we may encounter in our research as well as of the proper procedures and guidelines for dealing with them. Ultimately, safety is everyone’s responsibility,” they wrote. “Working together, we will be able to establish a strong culture of research and laboratory safety that will sustain U-M’s reputation as the nation’s leading public research university.”
Terry Alexander, executive director of the Department of Environment, Health & Safety, explained the role of his department and how the new safety initiative will further the goals of the University in increasing research quality.
“EHS is the University department that helps the rest of the University community maintain a safe, healthy and compliant place to live, work and learn,” he said. “We are the primary liaison between the University and the federal and state regulators. Our staff of safety and environmental professionals work with key University members on safety and environmental programs to make sure the rules are being followed and that University operations don’t have an adverse impact on our faculty, students or staff.”
In their email, Hu and Hegarty also noted the creation of safety coordinators and safety committees to help foster secure research environments by suggesting improvements that can be made in the face of potentially hazardous conditions.
Alexander discussed how EHS intends to work with lab directors, as well as the University administration, to follow both state and federal regulations, while creating a “culture shift” with regard to research safety.
“Lab directors are responsible for the safety of everyone entering their lab,” he said. “Our goal is to work with them to make this as easy and non-impactful on their work as possible. The safety committees being established in the schools, as well as the safety coordinators appointed by the school administration, provide direct internal coordination of the safety programs and work as the liaison between our department and the lab directors. The state and federal rules are in place for a reason and the culture shift we are looking for is a recognition of these requirements in all operations.”
LSA senior Colin Martin, who is studying pre-med, said he believes his advisors have carefully implemented safe lab procedures. These regulations remind him to follow such examples in his own research.
“All of my advisors do a great job of setting an example for the undergrads of what it means to run a safe lab,” he said. “When I was oriented I reviewed an extensive PowerPoint which I was tested on to make sure I familiarized myself with the common safety procedures in the lab, and I am constantly reminded to uphold those practices by the people I am working with.”