25, No. 10, Nov. 17, 2005
seeks to find out what is needed to improve lab safety
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
photo to enlarge
by L. Brian Stauffer
Irene Cooke, director of the Division of Research
Safety, is surveying people who work in labs on campus
to determine the types of training programs and materials
they need to do their jobs safely. The Division also
has revamped its Web site, which contains an online
training program that was developed in response to
department heads’ requests for a basic safety
program amenable to graduate students’ schedules.
you work in a lab, what sort of training do you need to help you –
and your colleagues – work safely? And what is the best way to
communicate that to you? The Division
of Research Safety and its director Irene Cooke want to know.
DRS is conducting an online
survey asking people who work in labs on campus about the most effective
vehicles for training them and their staff, whether it’s printed
materials, e-mail or live training sessions.
The survey is part of the division’s effort to improve communication
with members of the campus community.
here safe and healthy; we want to make sure they go home safe and healthy,
or at least in the same state as they came here,” Cooke said.
DRS is the campus resource that provides information and develops general
safety programs related to the use of biological, chemical and radiological
materials, which are widespread on campus and can be found in various
forms not only in labs, but also in art studios and other places.
The division’s services include registering biological projects
and lasers and issuing permits for using radioactive materials. Cooke’s
staff of about 20 provides general safety training, conducts inspections
for higher-risk biological projects and all radioactive labs, are on
call to assist the fire departments with chemical spills on campus,
and collects and disposes of biological, chemical and radiological hazardous
waste on campus free of charge.
The division’s recent efforts have focused on increasing research
and lab safety awareness since the primary concern voiced by many people
who work in labs “is simply not knowing what they need to do and
wanting to know where they can find appropriate information,”
Cooke said. And sometimes, busy people just forget procedures and policies
and need little reminders.
As part of its efforts to improve communications, in mid-December DRS
is launching an updated Web site that is designed with tabbed sections
that make finding forms and fact sheets easy.
Last year, DRS initiated online training programs on its Web site in
response to requests from unit heads, who said they needed the flexibility
of online training to accommodate the schedules of graduate students.
However, anyone working in a lab is encouraged to go through the training,
which takes approximately 30 to 40 minutes “and covers the basics
of working safely in a lab,” Cooke said.
DRS also created and distributed a laminated poster titled “Research
Safety in UIUC Laboratories,” which lists a variety of general
safety guidelines covering topics such as working with sharps and biohazardous
waste, and provides contact information for DRS and Web addresses for
While DRS is an advisory partner to the campus community, “it
really is up to every individual to take responsibility for their safety.
And it’s also the responsibility of the principal investigator
or supervisor where hazardous materials are being used to make sure
that people understand what they are using, know the risks and work
safely,” Cooke said.
Vice Chancellor for Research Charles Zukoski, who oversees DRS, recently
formed an ad hoc faculty committee that is looking into developing a
research safety-training program to ensure that all lab staff on campus
receives appropriate training and to ensure compliance with all safety
regulations. DRS also strengthened its follow-up procedures for safety
inspections, requiring principal investigators and supervisors to provide
plans for addressing any deficiencies noted during the inspections within
two weeks. However, all lab managers are encouraged to conduct their
own inspections a minimum of once per year, and can use a lab inspection
checklist available on the DRS Web site.
Ideally, Cooke said she would like to see a full-time safety coordinator
in every large research unit, but in most units this function is assigned
to an administrative staff person who has many other responsibilities.
In general faculty members have been good about complying with safety
requirements, Cooke said, especially in light of the heightened security
procedures and increased vigilance of regulatory agencies precipitated
However, the greatest challenge on a large research campus like the
UI’s Urbana-Champaign campus is keeping informed of changing technology
and evolving user needs, Cooke said.
“Technology is extremely complex, and we have to keep pace with
our faculty’s expertise,” Cooke said. “We have to
understand what they’re doing and be able to partner with them
to make sure they and the campus are safe.”