What is the role of the principal investigator (PI) in establishing a lab’s safety culture?
It’s absolutely central, according to chemistry professor Dominick J. Casadonte Jr. of Texas Tech University in Lubbock. “The PI sets the tone for how a lab is going to act and operate,” he says, as quoted by Jyllian Kemsley in a very useful article at Chemical & Engineering News. “If the PI is very safety conscious and has safety as a priority, then students and professionals in the lab will also have it as a high priority.”
Casadonte and four other professors who share that priority explain in Kemsley’s piece how they convey the importance of safety to their lab members. Common themes include being clear about expectations from the moment someone joins the lab, being available to discuss issues and techniques with lab members, putting safety above saving time, and maintaining vigilance about what is going on from day to day.
Imbuing the habits and attitudes needed for safety is an important part of mentoring, the interviewees agree. Casadonte calls himself “very much a mother hen” where safety is concerned. “It’s not an extra because inspections are coming up or certain paperwork needs to be done,” says Andrew L. Zydney, chair of chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, expressing a view common to all those quoted. “Safety just becomes part of what one does in the laboratory.”