EHS Safety Advisor Team Program

Background

This program was launched in 2008 for the purpose of supporting the UI’s research goals by promoting safe research and assuring sound laboratory safety, health and environmental management. This is accomplished by providing oversight of occupational and environmental safety programs with emphasis in the areas of biological, chemical, and radiation safety as well as waste management.  

Lab Safety Advisors

The primary purpose of the Lab Safety Advisor role is to provide labs with the knowledge and resources, where needed, to execute their research within the envelope of a safe work environment that is also in compliance with safety and health regulations.

Each lab is assigned a Lab Safety Advisor who is the lab’s primary contact with EHS.  The goals are to help the research laboratory employees know who to contact in EHS when they have questions and to assist the Lab Safety Advisor with understanding the resource needs of the labs they support and thus provide lab staff more informed guidance.  The Lab Safety Advisors are EHS generalists and can assist the lab with a broad range of health and safety topics, as the team has been cross-trained in biological safety, chemical safety and radiation safety issues and programs, as well as environmental and waste programs. However, each of the advisors specializes in one of these areas for their primary EHS position and can also address more detailed and/or technical questions in their area of expertise.

As often as possible, safety advisors are assigned to investigators whose EHS consultation needs match the safety advisor’s primary area of expertise.  For example, a lab with a lot of chemical handling and very little biological or radioactive materials would be matched with a safety advisor with a strong chemical background. A lab with heavy biological use and very little chemical use would be matched with an advisor with a strong biological safety background.

The Laboratory Review and Support Program (Lab Review Program)

The comprehensive lab review and support program consists of multiple aspects.

1.  The Annual Biological/Chemical Lab Review

The annual Biological/Chemical lab review is used as a means to inform lab staff about safety program requirements and to answer questions about them.  The Lab Safety Advisors use a check list which is distributed to PIs and lab contacts prior to the EHS lab review.  This list is located on the EHS web site at EHS Lab Review Checklist [2].  Labs are encouraged to use this checklist for their own self-reviews throughout the year.  

Frequency

Each principal investigator’s laboratory spaces are visited once per year (every 12 months) for the Biological/Chemical lab review.  

Preparation/Scheduling and the EHS Visit

The annual EHS lab review is scheduled in advance with the PI or delegate.  Instructions and preparatory information are sent to the PI or delegate prior to the scheduled EHS lab visit.  During the visit, EHS goes through the items on the EHS Lab Review Checklist. This aspect of the lab review program requires that someone from the lab is present to answer questions and escort the safety advisor through the lab space.  

Follow-up

Lab review results are e-mailed to the PI and delegate.  The email will include recommendations for improvement for issues identified through the visit that require the lab’s attention. 

The Lab Safety Advisor will request certain information to be sent to EHS after the lab visit if it was not available during the visit.

2.  Radioactive Materials Review

Radioactive material reviews are unannounced inspections that focus on:

  • radioactive material/radioactive waste security,
  • user contamination survey and inventory records,
  • radiation signage posting, and
  • a survey of the radioactive material use and storage areas in the lab.

Frequency
The frequency of radiation safety reviews is regulatory-based and determined by the type and quantity of radioactive material usage in the laboratory.  The frequency of review may be monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually. Labs using radionuclides with  higher radiotoxicity and/or with larger inventory amounts are reviewed more frequently.

Preparation/Scheduling and the EHS Visit
Since these are unannounced inspections, EHS does not require an escort during the radiation safety review.  However, lab staff will need to allow the EHS Lab Safety Advisor access to the space and radioactive material inventory and survey records.  Acceptable performance standards are provided in the EHS Radiation Safety Guide; these are based on regulatory and license requirements, which are enforced by the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Radiological Health.

Follow-up
The Principal Investigator/Authorized User is notified of any item not meeting the standard and the appropriate follow-up action is explained.

3.  Lab Safety Rounds

Lab Safety Rounds (LSR) are unannounced walkthroughs of lab spaces by Lab Safety Advisors to assess safety issues.

Frequency

A lab can generally expect one unannounced LSR per year.  The Safety Advisor Team conducts LSRs approximately at the midpoint between one annual lab safety review and the next.  The advisors may conduct additional LSRs if multiple issues of concern are found or if requested to do so by the lab.

Preparation/Scheduling and the EHS Visit

No preparation by the lab is needed for Lab Safety Rounds.  Lab staff members are not required to escort the Lab Safety Advisor during the LSR.  The Safety Advisor will notify a member of the lab team when entering the lab and will report any safety observations to that team member before leaving the lab.  Other than this contact with lab staff, lab personnel are not expected to be present to answer questions or to escort the advisor through the lab during the LSR.

Follow-up

Results of the Lab Safety Rounds will be sent to the lab’s PI and primary contact person on file with EHS.  EHS will request that issues of concern observed on the Lab Safety Rounds Checklist [3], be corrected.

4.  New Principal Investigator Orientation

An EHS Safety Advisor will contact new PIs when EHS learns of their arrival at UI.  The Safety Advisor will arrange a meeting with the new PI to share UI health and safety program information that PIs need to know when setting up a research lab (New PI Orientation Topics List [4]).

5.  Lab Consultation and Resource Services

Safety Advisors are available to consult with labs regarding how to complete corrections or implement recommendations for improvement that arise from the Annual Biological/Chemical Lab review, Radioactive Materials Review or Lab Safety Rounds.  They are also available at any time to help with questions regarding lab safety programs and possible safety issues or concerns.