One question that occasionally resurfaces from postdocs is, “Will my safety training benefit me after my time at Argonne?” That’s a great question and fortunately, one with a great answer.
In the wake of several fatal laboratory incidents, university leaders are taking a serious look at how students and postdocs are trained to work safely. A March 2011 editorial in Chemical & Engineering News highlighted a roundtable discussion on graduate education conducted by the Council for Chemical Research (CCR), which is led by President Seth Snyder, Biochemical Engineer and Section Leader in Argonne’s Energy Systems Division.
The workshop brought together leaders from industry, government and academia to address critical skills needed to prepare a thriving STEM workforce. One finding from the discussion, which is outlined in a December 2010 CCR Report, was that students who had experienced a strong safety culture through internships in industry and government laboratories stood out to prospective employers compared to peers without this experience. Industry has taken note of the need to prepare graduate students for the “culture shock” of strict adherence to safety standards, and is teaming up with academic institutions to make this happen.
The Dow Chemical Company, a multinational chemical conglomerate, recently began such a safety outreach program to foster a safety culture among university students. The Dow-University Laboratory Safety Partnership seeks to take safety education to the students so they are prepared to work in industrial and laboratory settings.
“Safety is primary and supersedes everything we do at Dow,” says Pankaj Gupta, senior strategy leader for research and development at Dow. “We are proud to be associated with premier research schools that are actively taking steps to build an excellent safety culture.” Gupta will present his findings at the CCR Innovation Forum on May 20. Snyder will provide an update for Argonne postdoctoral fellows after the forum.
Safety is a challenge many times at university laboratories. Much of the student body is in a state of flux, which creates a difficulty in nurturing an active safety culture to a transient population. The universities are grateful to have an industry partner to bring home the importance of safety. Dow provides intensive workshops and in situ laboratory safety training for not only students but faculty as well. The idea is to teach best practices along with a focus on incident prevention and on spurring a high level of engagement in safety awareness. Dow establishes a baseline on safety, along with a culture and behavior, and then seeks to develop a program in partnership with the university to address their specific needs.
Dow began the program because it observed a significant gap when students transitioned from an academic setting to their industrial laboratory setting. Having a pool of workers who are familiar with laboratory and industrial settings and safety procedure decreases the chance for employee injury and disruption to operations. This safety outreach program is part of a larger partnership where Dow has committed $25 million per year for 10 years among 11 institutions. This partnership seeks to increase not only safety responsibility, but to enhance education and research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) among its partners. The motivation is to increase innovation, research and development at all levels in scientific fields.
So, referring to the original question asking if safety training will benefit postdocs after Argonne, the answer is a resounding yes!