National award honors chemistry department’s safety innovation

peer safety inspection
From left: Graduate students Jason Schaffer, Natalia Gutierrez and Erin Gemmell conduct a peer safety inspection, one of the innovations noted in a recent national safety award to the chemistry department. (Photo: Chanez Symister)

Graduate students develop and lead the department’s annual safety training. Students and staff can participate in a “peer safety group” that’s truly made up of their peers. There are opportunities to win gift cards for submitting near-miss reports or identifying a “safety star.”

The Department of Chemistry in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis has made an investment in fostering and developing a valuable culture of safety and compliance that goes all the way to the provost. The Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA) and Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) recently recognized the department with an Innovation Award for its outstanding program that improves research safety on campus.

“Washington University in St. Louis received an Award of Honor for the chemistry department’s multipronged approach to improving research safety culture. The department has become a model for other departments at the university,” Peter K. Dorhout, president of the American Chemical Society, said in a July comment in Chemical & Engineering News.

In the application submitted by Bruce Backus, assistant vice chancellor for environmental health and safety, Washington University summarized its safety culture innovations as follows:

  • Leadership from the top
  • Safety education from the beginning for incoming graduate students
  • Take ownership and responsibility for one’s own safety program and training
  • Reward, don’t stigmatize, near-miss reporting
  • Partner with industry safety experts to take safety culture and programs to a higher level
  • Safety committees led by graduate students and front-line researchers, supported and encouraged by department leaders
  • The department shares its knowledge and safety expertise with others and actively promotes inclusion of those outside of the department in safety initiatives

Read the application materials in full, including descriptions of Washington University innovations.

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