This month, three teaching assistants in the college of science became the first at the University of Nevada, Reno to be formally recognized for their success in chemistry laboratory safety. These three — Jade Horton, Radha Bam and Rajendra Gautam — were selected both for their effectively safe environment and for the safe practices of their students. Throughout the week, each were visited during their lab sessions by Training Manager Brock Young of Environmental Health & Safety, who presented each with a congratulatory certificate.
While the success of these lab sections is very much due to their leaders, Young noted that the award could not have been won without help from the students in the lab. Consequently, each student in the winning lab sections also received a button as a thank-you for their efforts.
Young believes that this new program can help initiate a more positive attitude towards safety across campus. He took charge of this project in hopes that safety practices could move away from a punishment system and towards a more rewarding system. While implementing disciplinary actions for safety violations is important, Young argues that promoting safety through more supportive methods is far more effective.
In his words, Young hopes the campus can continue to grow the "safety culture," where students and faculty will be more and more inclined to stay safe and to assist their peers in safer practices.
In order to fairly distribute this new award, Chet Carpenter, laboratory safety specialist, and Young observed 85 different lab sessions to check in on the efforts of the teaching assistants and students. Each section was scored on their safety procedures, with specific attention to use of personal protective equipment, work practices and housekeeping issues.
This "Safety Issue Score" was totaled and divided by the number of students in each respective session. The three teaching assistants awarded had the best scores in their category; one was chosen each from the General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Introductory Organic Chemistry labs.
"We chose to award a teaching assistant in each of those three course types because we felt there was a teaching assistant for each that was deserving of recognition," Said Young. He also noted that each of these lab types differ enough to warrant an individual review and award.
Until now, no official University award program had been created for undergraduate chemistry lab safety. Looking forward, the hope is that such a program will help drive the teaching assistants and students in labs to give further attention to safety practices.
Each lab section was excited to hear the news about their success in chemistry safety. With such efforts on both the faculty and the student sides, it appears the campus safety culture is already seeing new growth.