Spotlight on Safety

Chicago and Evanston lab leaders earn distinction

January 11, 2018

More than a dozen Northwestern research laboratories have been recognized for their commitment to excellence in safety management.

The Office for Research Safety bestowed the inaugural honors in December, recognizing seven biomedical/biotechnology laboratories on the Chicago and Evanston campuses. The facilities enable a variety of discovery to occur, including in the fields of neurobiology, molecular biosciences, medicine, and pediatrics. In addition, two research labs at the Chemistry of Life Processes Institute — one of more than 50-plus Northwestern University Research Centers and Institutes — were also honored.

“This recognition reconfirms that our efforts to get lab staff to work together and communicate is helping maintain a high level of safety,” says Joann Taylor, a lab manager in the Department of Pediatrics. As the safety designate in the Farrow and Epting labs, Taylor helps train Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago and Northwestern staff to work alongside one another in the lab. “A well-organized and safe space results in a more productive lab,” she says.

Iwona Spath, a biological safety specialist at Northwestern, was invited to deliver a presentation about implementation of the safety recognition program. She did so in October at the American Biological Safety Association’s annual meeting in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Spath and other members of the Research Safety team are credited with transforming an informal recognition policy for “safe labs” into a more prestigious institutional honor.

“The notion of improving the culture of safety at American universities has been a popular topic over the last decade,” says Michael Blayney, executive director of Research Safety. “At Northwestern, we have chosen to formally recognize those exceptional, well-run laboratories that exemplify a positive safety environment.”

Principal investigators were allowed to opt into the program, and those receiving recognition met a set of criteria established by the Research Safety team.

To be considered for recognition, the labs first had to meet several minimum requirements. Each had to be operating at Biological Safety Level 2, while maintaining up-to-date training and safety form compliance and keeping the lab organized and operational. Each lab was inspected three times during the process, with two of those inspections being unannounced.

Biological Safety Level 2 laboratories work with materials that are known to pose moderate risk to lab personnel and the environment. BSL2 agents include such materials as human blood and body fluids, human tissues, and certain viruses and bacteria. Additional precautions are required in these labs to prevent potential exposure through direct contact, cuts or lacerations, sprays, or splashes. Excellent housekeeping and disinfection/treatment of all biowaste is essential.

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