By Staff Reports
(Victor Valley) – Laboratories are often considered the site of important breakthroughs in science, inspiring students to pursue careers in research, but they could also pose a potential safety and health hazard.
Cal State San Bernardino is working to ensure research and academic laboratories on campus are safe, through inspections and distributing personal protective equipment, such as flame-resistant lab coats to faculty, researchers and teaching assistants. It is believed to be the first lab-coat distribution of its kind in the CSU system, said Michael Nguyen of the CSUSB Environmental Health and Safety Department.
Spurred by reports of accidents and deaths in several university laboratories in the past few years, EHS rededicated its focus on the importance of having a robust and proactive laboratory-safety program as part of its Protect Our Professors program or POPP, said Nguyen, who serves as an analyst and specialist.
Jon Mohoroski, director of EHS, made POPP a major initiative. “Faculty are the lifeblood of a university and as such they deserve to be protected as well as, or better than, their industry counterparts,” said Mohoroski.
The program began in 2013 as a multi-phase program promoting employee safety, lab safety training, new employee safety orientation and ergonomics assessments, Nguyen said. In its first phase, the department distributed POPP bags to every faculty member on campus. Each tote bag included a water bottle, granola bar, pen, magnet and information on EHS services.
More than 1,000 POPP bags were assembled and distributed across campus in the fall of 2013, Nguyen said.
“The response from our faculty was overwhelmingly positive,” Nguyen said.
The department then moved to Phase 2 rededicating its efforts on a proactive laboratory-safety program. Since that time, EHS has done more than 400 inspections of academic and research laboratories in the Biology and Chemistry and Biochemistry departments, Nguyen said. Mohoroski said he was pleased to recognize that faculty, teaching assistants and instructional support technicians in the College of Natural Sciences have been supportive of the program.
The department is also revamping an 80-point lab-inspection form to make it more user-friendly while still reflecting the comprehensive nature of the inspection, Nguyen said. Elements of the lab safety program also included relabeling chemical bottles to meet the federally-mandated “GHS” standard as well as training personnel on GHS and principles of laboratory safety.
One of the most popular aspects of POPP involved EHS buying, at its own expense, and distributing nearly 100 Nomex® and Bulwark® flame-resistant laboratory coats to faculty and staff in the university’s biology and chemistry departments, Nguyen said. Each coat is stitched with the CSUSB logo and recipients’ names, he said.
These are the same state-of-the-art coats which were distributed to thousands of lab personnel throughout the University of California system in response to the Sheri Sangji incident, Nguyen said. In 2008, Sangji, a research assistant at a UCLA chemistry lab, was transferring a dangerous chemical when it sparked a fireball that quickly engulfed her in flames. She died of complications from her burns three weeks later. A UCLA chemistry professor was later charged with four felony labor code violations.
Environmental Health and Safety hopes to buy additional coats in the near future for researchers in the Geological Sciences, Health Science and Human Ecology, Physics and Psychology departments as part of its ongoing efforts to build on the POP program, Nguyen said.
Set in the foothills of the beautiful San Bernardino Mountains, CSUSB is a preeminent center of intellectual and cultural activity in inland Southern California. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015, CSUSB serves more than 20,000 students each year and graduates about 4,000 students annually. CSUSB is listed among the best colleges and universities in the western United States, according to The Princeton Review, Forbes and U.S. News and World Report.
For more information about Cal State San Bernardino, call the university’s Office of Strategic Communication at (909) 537-5007 and visit news.csusb.edu.