Principal Investigator (PI)
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:
- Promote a laboratory culture where safety is a valued component of research;
- Analyze proposed work tasks to identify hazards and determine the appropriate controls (engineering, administrative, and PPE) needed to sufficiently mitigate the hazards;
- Seek ways to make hazard analysis an integrated part of the research process, so that it becomes a natural part of the process;
- Include the researchers who will be performing the work in the hazard analysis process;
- Ensure the hazards and controls are clearly communicated and understood by those performing the task;
- Set the expectation that participation in the research project is contingent on an individual contributor’s willingness to abide by the controls established through the hazard analysis process;
- Reach out to support personnel and subject matter experts for assistance, as needed, and defer to their expertise regardless of their position on the research team or within the organization (e.g., junior staff members or safety professionals);
- Meet with research staff on a regular basis and lead by example;
- Engage in the daily operations of the laboratory and be available, as needed, to ensure workers are performing in accordance with the agreed upon controls;
- Use lessons learned from abnormal events inside and outside the research group to improve planning;
- Solicit feedback from coworkers and colleagues to improve safety and the process;
- Address risks faced by visitors, including maintenance staff, during the hazard analysis process;
- Manage change control carefully by routinely reviewing procedures and the hazard analysis to identify changes; and
- Ensure training is appropriate, effective, and documented.
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.