Research Safety First Campaign

Karl Jepsen, PhD joined Michigan Minds during National Safety Month to discuss the Research Safety First campaign, which was put into place to ensure the safety of those in research and studio settings and works to create a culture of safety at all times.

He explains that an audit team about eight years ago discovered a lack of interest in regard to safety at the institution, which led to the creation of the Laboratory and Research Safety Committee to strengthen the culture of safety. 

“Our task was to set up an infrastructure for safety and initially when we looked at U-M, its large geographic distribution of buildings, and diverse hazards  in terms of academic activities, we felt that a centralized committee was insufficient to really make a dent and strengthen culture safety,” Jepsen says. “About three years ago, we were asked to establish a policy and at that time we realized that this infrastructure was in place but they didn’t really have any accountability plans. We spent a lot of time to build up these plans so there is a clear line of communication that can be relied upon for the faculty, staff and trainees who are working in a safe manner.”

The university refreshed its commitment to safety as a core institutional value, specifically emphasizing that this is the institution asking its community to be safe and not just the individual committee members. 

“This is a campaign based on culture and shifting the culture of safety because we know in the long run that will be a better, more sustainable approach to improving safety on campus. The main charge of our committee was to strengthen the culture of safety on the U-M campus and this includes all faculty, staff, and trainees who conduct academic research work. This includes your traditional laboratory setting but also all shops and studios.”

“At U-M our job is to push the boundaries of knowledge and we are also training new individuals. So we have this dilemma, we are trying to push the boundaries and also train at the same time and be productive. We have to do all of this and wrap it in this envelope of safety so that people come into the work day being safe and end the day being safe. That is one of the goals to move that culture forward.”

Karl Jepsen

Jepsen emphasizes that safety is not something that someone does alone and it requires trust and caring for others. 

“We need our senior students and staff to watch out for the new students that are coming into the lab, to make sure they are training them, ensuring that the training is effective, and that they are proficient in doing the procedures in a safe way,” he says. 

“As you go about your academic programs, pause briefly just before you begin a project. This is called a safety moment. This is just one to two seconds of your time to reflect whether or not you are to do the work safely. If your gut says you are not ready? Please have the strength and the courage to stop, to reboot, to start a project over and get new knowledge on how to do it safely.”