The role of academic faculty members who have laboratory research programs has expanded from that of Principal Investigator and academic mentor to laboratory supervisor with responsibility for laboratory safety and the health and safety of all personnel who work in his or her laboratory.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations hold the employer responsible for workplace health and safety. As an agent of the university and a supervisor, laboratory supervisors may be considered to be the “employer.” Laboratory supervisors are responsible for the operation of the laboratory, including the safety of all personnel who work in the laboratory. Although tasks can be delegated to others, supervisors cannot delegate away their responsibility.
Laboratory supervisors are not expected to be present in the laboratory at all times or to be able to control people’s behaviors; however, supervisors are responsible for ensuring that an effective laboratory safety program is implemented, for ensuring that safety expectations are communicated and that personnel are trained, for assessing personnel safety behaviors, and for enforcing established laboratory safety procedures. Additionally, the supervisor must make sure that a Volunteer Agreement form is submitted to the Risk Management Office for each volunteer working in the laboratory.
If a laboratory incident occurs that results in a fatality OSHA will conduct a thorough investigation. OSHA may also conduct an investigation if a worker is hurt seriously. The laboratory supervisor may be considered to be the employer and to have responsibility for conditions or actions that resulted in the death or injury. In these cases, the supervisor may be subject to criminal charges and civil suits may also be a possibility.
As stated in the University Laboratory Supervisor Safety Responsibilities policy, laboratory supervisor responsibilities include the following: