back to news Sept. 17, 2018

Spotlight: Chemistry and Biochemistry Joint Safety Team

In 2013, Susan Olesik, professor and chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry (CBC) tasked graduate students with the creation of a student-led safety group in hopes of creating an intense safety culture within the department. Now — five years after the CBC Joint Safety Team (JST) was formed — the department is one of the safest in the country.

The CBC JST was modeled after a similar graduate student laboratory safety group at the University of Minnesota, and founding members include former graduate students Chris Durr, Sarah Border, Alycia Palmer, Damian Beauchamp, Ben Garret and Ryan McKenney. The organization works closely with the Faculty Safety Committee to address the safety needs of faculty. Since its beginning, the JST has been working to shift the safety culture within the department so that students aren’t just following rules, but are excited to work in a safe lab environment.

In its early years, the JST established the Lab Safety Officer role and lab coat policy. Each active research group is required to designate a safety officer, who acts as point of contact between the lab and JST. CBC’s lab coat policy states that the following four items are required to enter a lab space:

  1. A department-issued lab coat
  2. Eye safety glasses or chemical splash glasses
  3. Long pants or skirts that reach the ankles, and
  4. Closed-toe shoes.

Chemistry and Biochemistry Joint Safety Team organization chartSince then, the goals of the group have evolved into maintaining the organization and structure that the founding members built by improving compliance and safety culture and by building relationships within and outside the university. The group hopes to provide a safety culture where researchers and students can develop their intellectual and laboratory skills, as well as achieve broader professional skills.

The JST’s greatest accomplishment to date is the increase in usage of personal protective equipment (safety glasses and lab coats) in research labs — from 5 percent compliance to 99 percent in the last year. The team is also in the process of issuing lab coats to all undergraduates within the chemistry major sequence, while a long-term goal is to create a lab coat policy in the entire General Chemistry population, issuing lab coats to about 4,000 students each year.

The JST has close connections with organizations inside and outside of the university. Inside, the CBC JST works closely with Facilities Operations and Development (FOD) and Environmental Health and Safety (EHS). The group has worked closely with EHS Safety Engineer Mitch Baker, who performs yearly lab inspections and helps the group to improve training documentation and specific chemical hygiene plans. FOD manages the “Green Buckeye Certification,” and EHS awards a “Research Safety Dean’s List,” both of which CBC research groups have been recognized in.

Outside of the university, the JST is in close contact with Dow Chemical. Every other month the group collaborates with Lori Seiler, associate director for global research and development at Dow, and graduate student safety groups at Northwestern University, University of Chicago and University of Minnesota. These industry-university relationships provide marketable experience for group members, which will better prepare Ohio State graduates for industry jobs.

The JST is open to all undergraduate, graduate, and post-doc researchers! Open JST meetings with staff and administrators take place on the last Friday of every month at noon (alternating meeting locations between NW2136 and BioSci 144).