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Universal chemical hygiene guidelines to protect UWRF laboratory students

October 9, 2008

A one-time only Faculty Senate Committee has formed to make a chemical hygiene plan that will establish a universal standard across campus to provide safety guidelines for individuals working in campus laboratories that will require the approval of the Faculty Senate.

The motion to create an “ad hoc” Faculty Senate Committee was requested by Connie Smith, risk management officer, at the Faculty Senate on Sept. 10. This nine-member Committee will make universal safety guidelines that include all departments that use chemicals. Currently there are eight departments that use chemicals: biology, chemistry, plant and earth science, agriculture engineering, animal and food science, physics, art and theatre. Each department will be represented in the “ad hoc” Committee.

“I knew this project had the potential for significant faculty time from the eight departments represented, so I wanted to make sure the Faculty Senate was informed of the scope and goals before I started and would support the work,” Smith said.

The Committee decided at its first meeting Sept. 19 that they will follow the federal regulations for chemical hygiene in laboratories as established in the Code of Federal Regulations. According to Smith, who was elected the chair of the “ad hoc” Committee, it is crucial to look at examples from other universities to make sure the plan coincides with other institutions. The Committee is looking at examples from Purdue, Harvard, Texas A&M, UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee.

“As we follow the UWRF values for excellence and continuous improvement, it only makes sense to compare what we are doing to other campuses both in Wisconsin and across the nation that are considered to be ‘best of practice,’” Smith said.

Many departments already have chemical hygiene plans. Written plans were established in 1995 under Chancellor Gary Thibodeau. Smith, however, said she noticed a “redundancy” to the plans when she became the risk management officer last fall. After some research, she said she noticed that most of the major campuses in the UW System had one chemical hygiene plan per campus. The “ad hoc” Committee will work to reduce repetition and implement a universal plan.

“It was [Smith’s] plan to essentially draft an overall plan that the Committee would then look at, rather than have the Committee work to try to come up with planning. It made more sense. I would agree with her that she can make plans then have the Committee look at it to modify it to meet the needs of the campus,” Faculty Senate Chair and science professor David Rainville said.

Although the types of chemicals and associated equipment between departments will change, the safety guidelines will not undergo much change. Some departments, such as physics, use lasers and specific procedures need to be followed for their use. Some of the departments may include in the plan the need for special equipment to provide safety.  Even the art department uses hazardous chemicals, such as flammable solvents and paint thinners, which will be included in the chemical hygiene plan. According to OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) its role is to provide a safe and healthy workplace for employers, which could be associated to students who work with chemicals on campus.

“I think it’s important to have a universal plan because that’s what OSHA does and it’s important to follow regulations,” art education major Margaret Nelson said.

The chemical hygiene plan is not something that is new, its aim is to be more consistent and enhanced on documenting procedures.
“It will increase efficiency because we will only be updating and following one plan instead of eight,” Smith said. “It will also increase knowledge and understanding of the regulation and associated requirements because we will have standard procedures that can be applied no matter which lab on campus a person is working.”