Editor-in-chief of Science featured in MSU online discussion on lab safety importance

Contact: Allison Matthews

STARKVILLE, Miss.—More than 120 Mississippi State faculty, staff and students listened to advice from the editor-in-chief of the Science family of journals Thursday [April 6].

Holden Thorp is a chemist who climbed the ranks of academia to the positions of chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and provost at Washington University, where he continues to hold appointments in both chemistry and medicine and is the Rita Levi-Montalcini Distinguished University Professor. He joined Science in 2019.

The online webinar hosted by MSU’s Office of Research and Economic Development and Environmental Health and Safety included an overview of a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine study, chaired by Thorp, which evaluated laboratory safety across a spectrum of academic settings. “Safe Science: Promoting a Culture of Safety in Academic Chemical Research” looked at serious incidents within chemical research labs at U.S. universities to make recommendations to improve safety and foster “a strong, positive safety culture.”

Thorp emphasized that all researchers, and especially principal investigators, should see Environmental Health and Safety staff as collaborators who can help prevent accidents rather than viewing them strictly as compliance enforcers who require certain checklists.

MSU Director of Risk Management Colorado Robertson said Thorp’s presentation on the importance of establishing a strong lab safety culture “was both informative and a sobering reminder of the impact that lab accidents can have.”

“We hope that this session provided our researchers with practical strategies to enhance their laboratory safety practices and the inspiration to reflect on and promote a culture of safety within their own labs,” Robertson said.

Alex Thomasson, professor and head of MSU’s Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering, said, “My main takeaway was the need to establish and maintain a culture of safety, which is set at the top of the organization.”

He added that agricultural research in the field brings its own set of distinctive challenges, risks and additional safety protocols.

“Training and regular refresher meetings are critical, as well as oversight by direct supervisors,” he said.

Vice President of Research and Economic Development Julie Jordan said, “It is paramount that we realize each of us has a role to play in safety. This seminar focused on a culture of safety in the research environment, our labs and field experiences. But no less important is safety for our employees in facilities, housing, athletics, custodial services, etc. In our offices and classrooms, people can trip over misplaced cords and slip on wet floors. It is incumbent upon each of us to do our part in building the culture. And if you see something, say something.”

Learn more about MSU Environmental Health and Safety and additional training opportunities at www.ehs.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

Monday, April 10, 2023 - 3:55 pm