Scientists who want to learn or teach laboratory safety can now turn to a free, online resource, the Dow Lab Safety Academy. Launched 19 May by the Dow Chemical Company, the academy provides 38 concise videos that present the practical information needed to establish and sustain an effective safety culture.
Maintaining such a culture throughout the company is an essential value at Dow, the company’s chief technology officer, William Banholzer, tells Science Careers in an interview. New hires coming from campuses are badly deficient in their knowledge and understanding of safety culture, he notes. (Banholzer also served on the commission that authored the American Chemical Society’s recent report on graduate education. Improved safety standards at universities is one of the report’s top recommendations.)
Professors often think that a messy lab is a sign of productivity, but we’d shut that lab down because it’s not safe. And studies have actually proven that it’s not as productive.
At Dow, “we have to take people when they come out of college and put them in remedial training for safety,” Banholzer says. “The Ph.D.s tend to need just as much remedial training as the undergraduates.”
“If you can’t do the work safely, you can’t do it in our company,” he continues. “If you do it unsafely, we will call you on it. If somebody violates our safety protocols, we’ll dismiss them. I’ll go into a lab and shut them down.”
An effective safety culture does not just happen, Banholzer says. “It’s a mindset” that emphasizes a determination to “think about what I’m doing. … It’s culture, a willingness to challenge each other and [even] to tell a professor, ‘Look, I’m sorry, I know you’re my advisor, but you can’t be standing here without your safety glasses on.'”
“I find it unacceptable that we would tolerate different standards for academia and industry. We do exactly the same work,” Banholzer says. “Professors often think that a messy lab is a sign of productivity, but we’d shut that lab down because it’s not safe. And studies have actually proven that it’s not as productive.”
He emphasizes that “students have the right to expect that the university or faculty member did everything they could to make them as safe as they could be. Although a strong safety culture requires continuing commitment, and attention to detail and sound procedure, he adds, “a lot of this is not very hard, … nowhere near as hard as [a] thesis.”
Available here, the Dow Lab Safety Academy can help students and faculty in labs everywhere to understand and put into effect the potentially lifesaving principles of lab safety culture.