Safety in the research laboratory is the responsibility of all stakeholders involved in research activities throughout the institution (e.g., administrators, researchers, etc.). Everyone associated with the research laboratory should know and be committed to their respective roles and obligations. Here, we focus on the roles of the administration, principal investigators, researchers and lab workers, and support personnel.
The administration's primary role is to ensure that:
Administrators also determine the level of acceptable risk, including consequences that are not acceptable (e.g., injuries, death, property loss). Assessment of the processes and procedures is vital throughout the organization, with the goal of continual improvement. At the departmental level, there should be established expectations for who can authorize a research project, experiment, or task and under what conditions reauthorization needs to take place.
Many organizations define a PI as being responsible for managing sponsored research projects. Here, we define additional responsibilities of managing laboratories as relates to hazard assessment in the research lab.
The PI's role is paramount in developing successful strategies for the analysis and mitigation of hazards in individual research laboratories. The PI is most able to provide guidance concerning what constitutes a hazard in the performance of an experiment or research plan. Ideally, the hazard analysis will complement the development of written research procedures or protocols for the operations that will be performed. Among other responsibilities related to safety, the PI should:
A responsible research member, such as a co-PI or laboratory manager, may assist with the performance of the daily laboratory operations and oversee some of the chemical hygiene duties. The PI should be very selective in the assignment of this person (or persons) and ensure they have the qualifications required to assume this role. Expectations must be clearly articulated and directed. Delegation of chemical hygiene responsibilities to other staff or faculty members should not be viewed as diminishing the responsibility or accountability of the PI.
Researchers and lab workers in the laboratory are on the frontline of safety. As such, they must participate most fully in the hazard analysis and mitigation process. Researchers must:
Support personnel (e.g., safety or chemical hygiene officers, industrial hygienists, field surveyors, inspectors) provide quality control and assurance and are essential partners in the development of a culture of safety in universities and research institutions. Support personnel should actively participate in the hazard analysis process, as needed. Their expertise is especially valuable for:
This collection of methods and tools for assessing hazards in research laboratories is based on the publication, Identifying and Evaluating Hazards in Research Laboratories. The guide was published in 2015 by the Hazard Identification and Evaluation Task Force of the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety in response to a recommendation from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board.