Safety Protocols in Civil & Environmental Engineering Laboratories

Alexa Rihana, Hoback, Alan S.

2019 ASEE Conference and Exposition, 2019/06.


Promoting and achieving safety in academic laboratories for students and researchers is every institution’s goal. To this end, lab practices are constantly reviewed and revised, and safety policies are generally documented. For this paper, a survey related to lab safety procedures was conducted of civil and environmental engineering department heads, with a 25% response rate for 56 institutions. The questions asked were related to the process for approving new experiments, whether students were allowed in labs alone, when inspections occurred and how they were performed, and reporting of safety problems. The results demonstrate wide variation in the procedures followed to keep labs safe. At about half the institutions, the faculty member in charge of a lab is solely responsible for determining whether new experiments will be safe, while other institutions follow alternative procedures in which authorities inside and outside the department are consulted. A significant number of department heads surveyed felt that publicity and university or personal priorities could impact approval of new experiments. At 14% of the institutions, the health and safety officer was involved in approval of new experiments. Graduate students were much more likely to be allowed in labs unsupervised (80%) than undergraduate students (40%). Students were granted access to wet/environmental labs with the same frequency as civil labs. Permission to be in the lab was most commonly granted by the faculty member or other departmental authorities. Labs were inspected on average once per year, most commonly by a health and safety officer. Wet/environmental labs were more likely to be inspected by health and safety officers (91%) than other labs (82% and 34%). Reports of unsafe situations were most commonly handled through protocol inside each university’s department. Considering the low incident rate reported at academic institutions, the current practices all seem well-warranted, despite the wide variation in the safety protocols followed.

Link to full paper


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