Outstanding teams and individuals have been recognised by the Provost for the significant improvements they have made to health and safety.
Between them winners of this year’s Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Health and Safety have introduced annual inspections in the NHLI, a new approach to managing nanofabrication labs in the Department of Physics, and given more responsibility to postdocs in the Department of Materials.
Imperial’s Provost Professor James Stirling said: “As a College we are committed to the highest possible standards of health and safety. But excellence in safety is something that cannot be achieved from the top down – it’s about creating a culture of safety within the institution. These awards recognise the contribution to this culture from so many staff from right across the College.”
Safety on a small scale
David Mack, a Nanofabrication Technician from the Department of Physics, was awarded this year’s individual award. David manages several nanofabrication labs, which are used to design and create structures and devices on the scale of nanometres – millions of a millimetre. Unlike most labs in the department, the nanofabrication labs use hazardous chemicals for this work. David brought in an online system to catalogue these chemicals, which enables lab users to keep track of what is in stock and to dispose of chemicals safely once they reach their use-by date.
David has also introduced a standardised approach to training and induction procedures for staff and students who are new to working in the labs. He said: “I’m aiming to get to a point where academics are considering health and safety right at the beginning of the process, when they’re just starting to design a new experiment. I want to cut out unnecessary paperwork for researchers, and just focus on activities like risk assessments that will have the most impact.”
Gareth Hyde is the NHLI’s Safety and Technical Services Coordinator, and a member of the department’s Health and Safety Compliance Team. Bringing together technicians from across the four campuses where NHLI labs are based, the team runs annual lab inspections to maintain and improve standards and share best practice. The inspection process is collaborative rather than critical, and offers research groups the opportunity to ask questions and learn from the successes of other areas. Gareth said: “It is very much a team effort – and not just the compliance team, but also all the academic and research staff in the NHLI who are willing to engage with us and work together to improve standards.”
Dr Ben Britton is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Materials, and member of the Engineering Alloys research theme. This theme includes six different research groups, who share two lab spaces. One of the changes they have made to improve the approach to health and safety is to give more responsibility and control to the postdocs in the group, as these are the staff who have the most hands-on experience. Postdocs from across the different research groups are part of a working group who meet to share best practice, as well as developing new processes to be followed by everyone in the theme. In line with this recognition of on the ground expertise, Ben Wood, the lab technician for the theme, is now a key decision-maker on issues relating to lab management and health and safety.
Dr Britton said: “We wanted to change the culture so that everyone felt ownership and responsibility for our shared spaces. The changes we’ve made have broken down barriers between the research groups and enabled us to work together in a more unified way.”
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