The University of Nevada, Reno has been selected to receive the American Chemical Society (ACS) Division of Chemical Health and Safety’s SafetyStratus College and University Health and Safety Award for 2022. The award recognizes an outstanding comprehensive laboratory safety program and comes after a joint nomination by Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S), which is part of Research & Innovation, and the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science, two departments that work closely to maintain and enhance the chemical and laboratory safety throughout the University.
The award-winning application satisfied all ten award criteria which ask undergraduate chemistry departments to detail their safety policies, hygiene plans for instructional laboratories, evidence of safety concepts in the teaching curriculum, evidence of waste minimization and beyond.
Exceptional teamwork, consistent communication and meticulous protocol between students, teaching assistants, laboratory principal investigators and researchers laid the groundwork for safe and noteworthy laboratory practices. “A successful safety program is about people, caring enough about people to make their safety a priority and working together to implement programs to ensure their safety,” said Ben Owens, director of EH&S.
This will be the University’s second time winning the award after receiving it in 2005. The latest nomination highlighted four initiatives that have been implemented into the campus-safety program since the last award.
Green chemistry experiments were added to the organic chemistry teaching laboratory curriculum introduced in the Fall Semester of 2010. By integrating green chemistry principles, safer experimental conditions and the use of less hazardous chemicals within the program’s laboratories, the risk to students and teaching assistants is reduced. The nomination for the award also mentions that “students are trained to incorporate environmental sustainability into their future professional activities and personal lives.”
The Safety Training for Academic Research (STAR) Laboratory was incorporated by the Department of Chemistry and EH&S into their undergraduate program. Previously recognized for its demonstration of leadership and safety, the STAR Lab received the Innovation Award of Honor in 2017. Its training curriculum was developed by EH&S staff members Owens; Luis Barthel-Rosa, chemical management services manager; Chet Carpenter, senior specialist of laboratory safety; Marty Schwender, program officer; Chad Stephens, regulated waste programs manager; and Brock Young, training manager. The STAR Lab is dedicated to hands-on laboratory safety training for students and faculty in four areas: chemical hazard information, use of chemical fume hoods and hazardous waste management, identification of laboratory hazards and cleanup of chemical spills. Undergraduate students conducting research, stockroom assistants and teaching assistants are required to participate in the training.
A thorough chemical inventory strategy using radio frequency identification (RFID) technology has been established to inventory and track chemical containers. The use of this technology produces a more accurate chemical inventory by facilitating the removal of waste containers and tracking them thoroughly. This initiative and those in charge of inventory help to strengthen the chemical safety programs in teaching labs, stockrooms and research labs across the University.
The Safest Teaching Assistant Awards program, previously mentioned by Nevada Today for receiving a national award from the Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association, are given to the teaching assistants whose classes demonstrate the best laboratory safety performance. The safety assessment program for undergraduate instructional labs takes place each fall and spring semester. Along with the EH&S and chemistry department’s clear-cut chemical principles and laboratory techniques, the awards encourage properly executed laboratory procedures in teaching laboratories and they are well received by faculty and students.
EH&S Laboratory Safety Specialist Kristin Eliasen notes that recognizing teaching assistants and students for a job well done creates a more engaged and supportive laboratory safety environment. “During the EH&S semesterly walkthrough of chemistry teaching labs, some of the new TAs were curious to know what they were being scored on and how they could improve. There was a noticeable improvement in scores between walkthroughs performed at the beginning and the end of the week for all the sections assessed,” Eliasen said.
For this award, ACS will grant the University a $1,000 honorarium and an engraved plaque. Barthel-Rosa will accept the award on the University’s behalf at the ACS Fall national conference. The winner is also expected to deliver a presentation on any topic related to chemical safety at the conference.