a student wears safety glasses in a lab


Fostering a culture of safety through inclusion and collaboration

Building a Culture of Safety

Above all, the chemistry department at Washington University is committed to providing a safe workspace for all our students, post-docs, staff and faculty. Our department is dedicated to supporting safe practices, managing potential risks and promoting genuine consideration for the safety of oneself and neighbors all while maintaining competitive standards in our instructional and research labs.

Safety is everyone’s responsibility, and our department is steadfast in sustaining our safety culture through inclusion and collaboration. Anyone can get involved in our safety initiatives by joining our Department Safety Committee, sharing safety concerns through our Near-Miss/ Hazard reporting forms or by providing positive feedback about peers through our Safety Stars program. Students can play more active roles by becoming lab safety officers and joining the Peer Safety Group. Our commitment to safety extends beyond our department through our collaborative efforts with campus Environmental Health & Safety to have regular safety inspections and though our industry partner, Exxon Mobil, by participating in their annual Partners in Academic Laboratory Safety (PALS) workshops. Our ultimate goal is simple – “Safety first because injuries last.”

Awards & Notables

Our department has made an investment in fostering and developing a valuable culture of safety and compliance that extends from the students and front-line researchers all the way to the top of the administration. As chair of the National Research Council Committee, Provost Holden Thorp made recommendations to universities to promote a culture of safety in academic chemical research. The department further fosters this culture by requiring all incoming graduate students to attend a semester-long safety course, after which, some students choose to advocate for safety by joining the peer-led safety committee. For this effort in cultivating lab safety both the chemistry department and peer safety group have won numerous awards in the field of safety. One of these awards was given by the Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA), which recognized the department with an outstanding program that improves research safety on campus.

Partnering to build a strong safety culture

Partnering to build a strong safety culture

our safety program

safety committee meeting

Safety Committee

The Chemistry Safety Committee is composed of faculty, staff, postdocs, and graduate students. We discuss issues regarding safety and compliance in chemistry, develop new department safety initiatives, and listen to feedback from our department members, facilities, EH&S, and others, all to foster a strong culture of safety in our department. The Committee leads the annual safety training for the department, tracks and educates about near-misses, and presents “Safety Star” awards to students, staff, and faculty who exemplify a commitment to safety.

students wearing safety goggles

Peer Safety Group

The departmental peer safety committee is comprised from at least one member of every chemistry laboratory. This group meets at least once a semester to discuss best practices, share experiences and talk safety. Through inviting guest speakers to our meetings, this group fosters a working relationship with EH&S which allows for the cultivation of a departmental safety culture, as well as much needed transparency in the evaluation of hazards and implementation of safer practices. Additionally, this group conducts peer-to-peer lab walk-throughs, which provides labs and students with the ability to share their own ideas about hazard management and safety procedures—in addition to creating a conscious environment of safety hinged on teamwork and interactive feedback.

three people in lab coats and safety glasses look at lab equipment

Annual Safety Training

Every spring, a couple members of this group take lead on presenting departmental safety training. Attendance to this training is required for all individuals of the department (undergraduate students, graduate students, post docs, faculty and staff). This interactive training highlights the importance of safety and discusses areas in which we as a department excel and areas where we can improve (and provides an opportunity to win a prize!).

Safety Course

Chemical Laboratory Safety (Chem 599) covers a range of safety topics, including safety culture, personal protective equipment, safe practices in the laboratory, chemical incompatibilities, hazards associated with toxic, flammable, and explosive materials, fire safety and emergency management, radiation safety, chemical containment, compressed gas and cryogen safety, waste management, and safe practices working with electrical equipment and lasers.  Guest lecturers from Environmental Health & Safety, WU Emergency Preparedness, the Chemistry faculty, local industry and law enforcement representatives, and Provost Holden Thorp participate in the course, helping to give incoming first-year graduate students a broad view of safety and compliance topics across campus.  Students also learn how to write Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), a technical skill that helps orient lab personnel to safety concerns with specific lab procedures and operations. Chem 599 is a required course for all first-year graduate students in the Chemistry Department.

WashU Safety

Environmental Health and Safety

Washington University's office of Environmental Health and Safety provides compliance oversight and consulting help in all areas of safety, health and environmental compliance. Please make note of the following EHS resources:

Chemical Hygiene Plan
Emergency Contacts
Lab Safety
Safety Data Sheets
Waste Checklist
Waste Pick-Up Form


Department of Radiation Safety

The mission of the Department of Radiation Safety is to promote and maintain a safe radiation environment for our institution by providing appropriate programs and services. 


Safe Science Brochures from The National Research Council