On January 31, 2018, approximately 20 individuals from UCB and LBNL (including PIs, researchers, leads, and EHS support staff) gathered to discuss best practices for ensuring the safety of undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers. This discussion was in recognition of incidents throughout the national laboratory complex that highlighted student vulnerabilities.
Senior research management and the Laboratory Directorate have expressed the importance of this matter.
The participants in this workshop had been identified as successful mentors to students. The event provided an opportunity to share best practices and approaches among their peers that have led to positive outcomes in attaining a strong culture of safety and success in student safety performance.
The following questions were used to solicit feedback and guide discussion among the participants.
1.) What are key steps you take to ensure students work safely in your workgroup or area?
2.) How do you evaluate and assure students have the competence to perform their work safely?
3.) What are some examples of ways you work to ensure student activities are limited to the tools and techniques in which they were safely trained?
4.) What are ways to ensure students seek consultation before attempting something new?
5.) How are work and safety procedures integrated and communicated to students?
6.) What types of assistance or guidance would help improve safety mentoring of students?
7.) Any other insights into best practices for student mentoring? Please share your ideas and experiences.
The following themes emerged from the interactive discussion. These themes speak to the overall approach that is critical to instill the optimal safety culture within the work environment, especially where students are contributors.
• Engagement is key. There is no substitute for personal face-to-face interaction in a mentoring relationship with students. The more time is spent with students providing guidance and answering questions, the more the student will understand and apply prudent safety behaviors.
• As a mentor and within peer groups, it is crucial to establish a culture of openness. That is, questions (no matter how seemingly insignificant or obvious) are encouraged and received in a welcoming manner. This approach is one that promotes not only knowledge transfer and understanding, but is consistent with the learning environment that academic settings promote.
• Safety must be integrated into all aspects of the work and research to be truly effective. Experimental procedures and standard protocols should contain safety information that provides worker and environmental protection, in addition to proper execution of the operation or use of a particular piece of equipment. Safety must be seen and valued as an important part of work planning and therefore achieving the desired scientific outcomes.
The following best practices (presented in no particular order) were identified as having a beneficial effect on the safety performance of students.
• Be present with student and focus on on-the-job training (OJT) until the student can demonstrate competence to work independently. Focus on less risky work initially.
• Utilize easy to access tools (such as Google Drive) to store and share written procedures as well to encourage collaboration.
• Reinforce the concept that all questions have value and ensure constructive feedback for learning. One particularly effective way to do this as a mentor is to lead by example and admit unfamiliarity with a subject and demonstrate to all group members how to find the relevant information.
• Introduce a safety topic as a regular feature of group safety meetings. Occasionally emphasize a non-work safety topic to drive home the overall importance of 24/7/365 safe behavior.
• Use workplace walkthroughs as an opportunity to engage in safety conversations on a smaller scale – demonstrate that safety is a part of successful science planning and execution.
• Reinforce the concept of personal responsibility (“It’s Your Lab”) and the importance that
individuals play by encouraging actions such as lab clean-ups on a periodic basis.
• Employ teaching aids (such as safety checklists) to enhance communication and understanding – especially useful for areas with a high turnover of individuals.
• Develop references that specify trigger points and provide guidance for hazard evaluation when experimental conditions change.
• Pair up a student with a colleague to provide consultation on a particular piece of equipment or procedure – this works well in larger research groups.
• Bring in EHS specialists to inform on certain safety aspects or subjects, and develop a relationship so they are seen as a resource in safely carrying out operations.
• Lead by example; always seek to learn and improve safety, and remember that not only everything you say but everything you do is an example—one that looms proportionately large in their experience.
When we take on students, we’re building the scientists of tomorrow and sending them forth into the world. Let’s build them with baked-in awareness of safety and health protection and environmental stewardship as an essential part, from start to finish, of everything they do.
Kees Welten, Space Sciences Laboratory – UCB
Lane Martin, Material Sciences and Engineering – UCB
Kevin Lesko, Physics – LBNL
Armin Karcher, Engineering, LBNL
Carl Grace, Engineering – LBNL
Martin Neitzel, Chemical and Material Sciences – LBNL
Hendrik Bluhm, Chemical Sciences – LBNL
Peter Sorensen, Physics – LBNL
Sergio Zimmerman, Engineering – LBNL
Peter Seidl, Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics – LBNL
Hans Bechtel, Advanced Light Source – LBNL
Csaba Toth, Accelerator Technology and Applied Physics – LBNL
Dula Parkinson, Advanced Light Source – LBNL
Weilun Chao, Material Sciences – LBNL
John Joseph, Engineering – LBNL
Nate Hohman, Molecular Foundry – LBNL
Peter Hosemann, Nuclear Engineering – UCB
Maurice Garcia Sciveres, Physics – LBNL
Ingrid Castro-Rodriguez, EHS – UCB
James Floyd, EHS – LBNL
Alyssa Brand, EHS – LBNL
James Basore, EHS – LBNL
Jack Salazar, EHS – LBNL