Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, No. 6, March 29, 2013
   
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Human Resources Addresses Lab Safety

The Environmental Health and Safety Department provides campus with advice and technical guidance on occupational and environmental health and safety issues.
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Human Resources Addresses Lab Safety

As a result of some serious high-profile laboratory accidents that took place at various university campuses in recent years, increased attention has been given to lab safety at higher education institutions throughout the nation and in the media.

At Rensselaer, there are 554 labs on campus that are used frequently by faculty and staff, along with more than 3,800 undergraduate and graduate students. According to the Division of Human Resources, Rensselaer is unique among most other colleges and universities because of its commitment to involving undergraduates in the research experience, working alongside principal investigators and graduate students.

“We know that issues associated with lab safety have been highlighted in mainstream media and often serve as a cause of concern for many colleges and universities,” said Curtis Powell, vice president for human resources. “At Rensselaer, this renewed focus on safety was not necessary because we have always made lab safety a priority; however, it did confirm that our emphasis on safety was necessary and important.

“At Rensselaer, our intent is to provide the safest living, learning, and working environment possible for our students, faculty, and staff,” Powell added. “In order to support this effort, we have worked to develop a comprehensive safety program for all our labs, from basic chemistry labs to those working in nanotechnology.”

The Environmental Health and Safety Department supports a collaborative partnership with faculty, staff, and students by providing advice and technical guidance on occupational and environmental health and safety issues. The department regularly audits all on-campus labs, providing guidance and feedback to the principal investigator or lab supervisor in improving safety and compliance with protocols in the lab. In addition, the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control annually inspects all Rensselaer labs.

“Any member of the Rensselaer community who works or studies in a laboratory must complete lab safety training, either through Traincaster, a learning management system for faculty and employees, or in-person training,” said Annette Chism, director of environmental health and safety. “The lab safety program is intended to define the minimum standards necessary to limit individuals’ exposure to hazards to the lowest amount that is reasonably achievable.”

Chism noted that if an accident occurs, environmental health and safety staff would work to conduct a root cause analysis, a step-by-step method that helps to answer the questions of why and how an accident occurred. The overall goal of the process is to ensure that proper protocols are implemented in order to prevent further accidents of the same nature.

For more information regarding the lab safety program at Rensselaer, contact Annette Chism at (518) 276-6114 or at chisma@rpi.edu.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 7, Number 6, March 29, 2013
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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