Spotlight on Safety – Weekly Checklist
by Kathy Heinemann, Research Safety Specialist

Keeping up a safe and well-managed laboratory is no easy feat. In this edition of Spotlight on Safety, EH&S would like to commend the researchers in Professor Brent Stockwell’s laboratory, who demonstrate an effective, collaborative approach to laboratory safety. Starting in September of 2014, the Stockwell Lab began using their own weekly checklist, based off of EH&S’s NOV Prevention Measures, to prevent and correct unsafe conditions. Staff Researcher and Lab Manager Elise Jiang designated each postdoc to be in charge of different areas of the lab. Each week they survey their section to maintain compliance with EH&S and FDNY regulations. Members of the lab, including postdoctoral research scientist Jennifer Chambers, have seen the benefits and buy-in. The following is an interview with Jennifer about the Stockwell Lab’s system:

Kathy: How did the Stockwell Laboratory come up with this approach?
Jennifer: Elise realized that having a designated person for each area would be an efficient approach. We all know that everyone should be aware of safety issues and report them as necessary, but now there were particular people in charge of a given area. This gave me and the other postdocs more room to enact changes that we saw fit to avoid citations.

Kathy: How did you choose who would be responsible for each room?
Jennifer: Postdocs were assigned based on their relative area of expertise-chemists in the synthesis rooms, biologists in the biology areas.

Kathy: It’s great that the designee for each area is a senior researcher or postdoc. With more experience and also authority, they are ideal for internal checks.
What happens if you or another postdoc discover an unsafe or noncompliant condition?

Jennifer: They are to immediately report the situation to the postdoc in charge of the area and fix the issue if it is safe and prudent to do so (e.g. take a glass bottle off the floor), or alert others in the lab, then report it to the postdoc in charge, if it is unsafe for them to attend to (e.g. a hazardous waste spill). No matter what, the postdoc in charge of the area should know about all issues that have occurred in a timely manner so that they can work on prevention systems for the future.

Kathy: How does the rest of the laboratory find this system?
Jennifer: Everyone has found it works smoothly and avoids assuming someone else has taken care of an issue.
Kathy: How does the laboratory’s day-to-day safety today compare to before using the weekly checklist?
Jennifer: Having a systematic approach to safety has improved the conditions in our lab and made being compliant with regulations less work (and involve fewer surprises) for everyone. Everyone is responsible for safety in the lab, but having one person in charge of each area eliminated the guess work of who to report things to and ensuring regular check ins were being done.

Many thanks to Professor Stockwell and staff for sharing their experience and insights!

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