Preparing Chemists for Industrial Careers – Chemical Safety Competencies
The American Chemical Society (ACS) has been committed over the past five years to living its strategic value of Safety in the Chemistry Enterprise by holding ACS Presidential Safety Summits. The summits gather stakeholders for focused discussions on selected safety topics of interest to the community at large, with the intended outcome of developing actionable strategies to advance chemical safety.
During each of the previous three summits, representatives from industry voiced the need for ACS to engage more in preparing Ph.D. graduates to have the safety competencies needed to onboard in industrial jobs. Therefore, the fourth summit created a space for industrial partners to expand and clarify what safety competencies or knowledge, skills, and attitudes (KSAs) would enable a newly hired Ph.D. to transition more successfully from academia to an industrial R&D career.
In October 2022, industrial partners joined ACS leadership, ACS staff, representatives from more than 10 ACS stakeholder Committees and Divisions, and external ACS members from National Laboratories, the Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA), and the Green Chemistry & Commerce Council. Importantly, graduate students involved in organizing Peer-Led Laboratory Safety Teams at their institutions were invited to share their perspectives related to safety education.
The discussions were guided by the results of a survey sent to industrial partners before the summit. Responses were specifically requested from individuals who onboard new Ph.D. scientists in their company. The survey asked about 29 KSAs related to chemical safety. For each KSA, two questions were asked:
- When it comes to the expectations of Ph.D. new hires, would you consider the following safety expectations as “must have”, “should have”, “nice to have”, “not expected to have”, or “not applicable”?
- On average, how frequently do Ph.D. new hires have to apply each of the following safety expectations within the first year of employment?
For Question 1, responses of “must have” and “should have” were combined for each KSA, because of their similarity. The top five desired chemical safety competencies were:
- Recognize how to select and when to use personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Properly use a laboratory chemical hood
- Handle materials using best practices of laboratory safety
- Identify common laboratory reaction hazards
- Properly use electrical equipment.
One important point made during the summit discussions was that chemical safety education needs to be continuously advanced throughout the curriculum, from high school to graduate research. The ACS Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS) has been working on the guidance and resources to support such an integration of chemical safety into chemical education. The CCS also worked with the ACS Committee on Professional Training (CPT) on safety requirements for the next iteration of the ACS guidelines for undergraduate programs. The 2023 ACS Guidelines and Evaluation Procedures for Bachelor’s Degree Programs will have a complete section on safety indicating the Critical Requirements, Normal Expectations, and Markers of Excellence for safety instruction in approved programs.
Ultimately better development of safety competencies in chemistry undergraduate programs will prepare students entering graduate schools to better recognize hazards and manage risks encountered during more independent graduate research. If the broadening and deepening of safety competencies continues during graduate and postdoctoral educations, new Ph.D. hires will be better prepared to onboard safely into a career in industry. The CCS is committed to supporting academic instructors in advancing chemical safety education.
A report on the 2022 Presidential Safety Summit will be released in 2023. For information about ACS safety resources and programs, please see www.acs.org/rampupsafety.
Please contact us with any questions at email@example.com.
Chair of the Committee on Chemical Safety (CCS)