Injuries or deaths that occur in academic science labs sometimes go unreported and there’s little comprehensive data to analyze trends, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Windsor.
Earlier this week, clinical psychologist Dana Menard and chemistry professor John Trant, published an initial review this week with Nature Chemistry — a chemistry research journal — outlining concerns about lab safety.
The two plan on continuing to work together to uncover the truth around lab safety, as well as highlighting patterns and solutions.
“We have a problem with establishing a safety culture in academia,” said Trant. “We don’t know how safe the university labs are. We’re not sure how to provide the best training and safety to the people coming through here. And that’s really, really essential and it’s kind of scary that we don’t know how big the problem is.”
Although reporting lab incidents is mandatory, some both big and small do fly under the radar.
That’s where Menard’s expertise comes into play. She’ll be researching why lab accidents go unreported, among other concerns. She calls deaths due to lab experiments gone wrong a “terrifying problem.”
“I can’t think of another discipline in academia where that’s just sort of accepted, that’s just part of the work. I don’t want to say no big deal, but there hasn’t been a lot of outcry about this,” said Menard.
And that doesn’t include the countless injuries and damage to property caused by lab incidents. With no real way to understand the scope of the problem, it can be concerning — especially for parents.
“You send your kid off to grad school, you don’t expect that you could get a phone call one day that they’ve been seriously injured or worse, but that’s just become the norm in the field,” said Menard.
The married couple expects this research to take decades, with yearly updates possible along the way.
“This could be the rest of my career, just answering this question of how do we keep people working in labs safe,” said Menard.