Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry recognized with a CSHEMA Award

For the second year in a row, NIU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has been recognized by the national professional organization CSHEMA (Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association).

The 2017 award recognized the department and the Office of Research Compliance, Integrity and Safety for developing a laboratory safety course. This year’s award honored chemistry graduate students for their work in enhancing the safety culture of the department.

“Our graduate students believe that in order to affect change in the department’s safety culture, they need to be agents of change,” said Ralph Wheeler, chair of the department. “They know what needs to be done. They just needed to be empowered to act.”

The students formed the Student Advisory Safety Committee, co-chaired by Kathy Hoerchler and Travis Mackoy, and advised by two members of the Lab Safety Team – Michele Crase, lab safety manager in the Office of Research Compliance, Integrity and Safety, and Andy Small, retired lab manager in Chemistry and Biochemistry. Then the students jumped into action.

In their first year alone, the committee undertook 14 initiatives. Some of the committee’s work involved improved signage and adding communication tools. Other projects involved regularly laundering lab coats, periodic testing of the safety shower and eyewash station, and the creation of the Annual Laboratory Spring Cleaning Event.

Among their projects, several are ongoing – tracking safety audit observations/statistics, planning events involving industry safety professionals, conducting safety training or doing presentations and coordinating efforts to improve the safety of undergraduate teaching labs.

“In a short time this group has made quite an impact,” Crase said. “We are very proud of this group and supportive of their efforts.”

The committee will continue working on last year’s initiatives while focusing on undergraduate teaching laboratories and the hazards in those labs.

The committee is always looking for students who are willing to get involved. The first introductory meeting for all graduate students is Friday, Aug. 31, at 3 p.m. in LaTourette, room 201.

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