The University of California recently introduced three systemwide policies in an attempt to improve safety for researchers, staff members and other workers in campus laboratories and workshops.
The first two policies — one clarifying procedures concerning minors in laboratories and workshops and another mandating that new lab members take a two-hour online course on lab safety — took effect Oct. 31. The third policy, which will take effect March 31, reinforces the requirement that people in laboratories wear appropriate protective equipment, such as lab coats and safety goggles.
The move comes in the wake of a 2008 fatal accident at a UCLA laboratory, where a research assistant died from severe burns after conducting an experiment while not wearing a protective lab coat.
“That caused everyone in higher education to re-examine how effectively our safety message was getting out to researchers in colleges,” said Mark Freiberg, director of UC Berkeley’s Office of Environment, Health and Safety. “(The policies) help clarify requirements that in essence have always been in effect.”
The requirements for minors, such as rules that limit their exposure to hazardous materials, are designed to protect them in labs and workshops, he said.
The university will also be distributing free safety eyewear and lab coats that will be individually fitted for every researcher and lab worker at UC Berkeley in February 2014, Freiberg said.
Dennis Dunnigan, a UC Berkeley junior and a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said he currently wears an “incredibly small” lab coat.
“Some labs order it for each individual, some have stockpiles,” he said. “(To have them) be ordered in the correct size — that’s a lot more effective.”
Robert Price, UC Berkeley’s associate vice chancellor for research, said that implementing these policies will take “considerable effort,” and that the university will be relying on lab leaders to enforce the policies.
The UC Environment, Health and Safety office also launched an online “lab roster” tool to keep track of every individual working at each lab of and whether each has completed the lab safety training. Inspectors will also visit each lab four times per year, Freiberg said.
“The new policies don’t have much impact on the day-to-day business of the lab,” said doctoral researcher Benjamin Ricca in an email. “There is an increased time-cost by individual lab safety officers in ensuring compliance … but the new online lab-roster tool has already proven useful.”
According to Freiberg, the policies will affect more than 40 departments and roughly 10,000 people at UC Berkeley laboratories, studios and workshops.
“We want to better prepare students that are going through our labs for the next steps in their careers,” Freiberg said. “Safety is part of science — that is the expectation in the workplace. We think we can do a better job of getting that message across.”