Safety First: Students Fighting For Sustainable Chemistry Labs
The student led SHE (Safety Health and Environment) Committee was set up in 2016 by ex-industrial placement chemistry Masters students who recognised the vast difference in safety practices and regulations from their time in industry compared to academia. Through their industrial experience the students worked with such companies as GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Infinium, Pfizer, and Roche to improve the safety standards in the undergraduate laboratory experiments due to the large amount of reported safety incidents.
Founded in 2016 by Holly Foster, the group endeavoured to educate their peers through the creation of online videos on the VLE. The committee also introduced policies such as a traffic light card system with cash rewards to praise good practices in teaching labs with the aim of pursuing a cultural shift in attitudes towards safety.
To date, the card system has helped the committee to identify numerous problem areas, such as glass safety and solvent disposal. The issues have been discussed at length in meetings with senior members of staff to develop additional training and precautions to reduce incidences of these events.
The committee aims to act as mediators between students and staff, helping to foster a well informed and safer chemistry department. Communication to students was also key; posters from the committee continue to be made and added to teaching labs to remind students to dispose of chemicals the correct way.
Having spent a year working on green chemistry and reaction optimisation at GlaxoSmithKline, Oliver Ring actively sought to bring back much of what he had learned about sustainable practices in the pharmaceutical industry to Leeds in his final year.
Elected Chair of the SHE committee in 2017, Oliver has continued the drive policies supporting safer practices in teaching labs while additionally focusing on improving the schools environmental impact. Under the leadership of Oliver, the committee has supported policies involving the appropriate disposal of chemical waste, as well as organising sustainability seminars hosting external speakers from GlaxoSmithKline. Oliver has also lead projects whereby committee members have reviewed the sustainability of undergraduate teaching experiments, making recommendations where necessary, and even proved and successfully trialled alternative chemical processes to be less environmentally impactful whilst not inhibiting the learning process. Alongside this, committee members have designing green chemistry questions to be introduced into lab Proformas in 2018/19 with the aim of requiring students to actively consider the sustainability of the chemistry they have undertaken.
So far, the SHE committee has been a great success, with a 50% reduction in chemical accidents/ incidents, leading to SHE being awarded the 2017 Vice-Chancellor’s Health and Safety award. However, there is much more to be done and they will continue to make the Department of Chemistry a safer place!
Liam Maddison, Joe Heeley, Oliver Ring & Sam McMaster