UMass Amherst Experts Help Set Up Lab Safety

AMHERST, Mass. - Experts at the University of Massachusetts have been tapped to help a university in Mexico set up a lab-safety training program. Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana is establishing a formal laboratory safety program and has turned to the University''s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) office for assistance.

EHS staff members Yung Morgan and Jim Field traveled to Mexico City in late June to consult with university officials and share their expertise with faculty and staff. Morgan is an environmental hygienist, involved in laboratory safety training at UMass, and Field is the hazardous waste officer for the University. They conducted a three-day seminar in a range of safety issues, from general safety to lab safety to fire safety, to hazardous waste management. "Afternoons were spent in individual laboratories, evaluating labs for safety and offering recommendations to address safety issues in a cost-effective way," Field said.

The concerns around general campus safety were spurred by Beatriz Cardenas, who earned her Ph.D. at UMass and now teaches at Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana. It was Cardenas''s suggestion that UMass be consulted in setting up the new program after a fire destroyed a laboratory building. This campus, located in Mexico City, is an 8,000-student satellite campus of the Universidad National Autonoma Metropolitana, also in Mexico City.

"One key element in an effective safety program is a commitment from the administration. A campus this size needs at least one full-time staff person to be in charge of safety and be responsible for enforcing safety guidelines," according to Field. "Other issues discussed include establishment of safety training programs, effective communication regarding safety issues, and consistent enforcement of safety policies." Morgan and Field are writing up a report that will be sent to officials at the Mexican university, Field said. They have already provided the faculty members there with a resource list that will enable the researchers to get answers to safety-related questions.

The UMass safety program is under the aegis of the office of Environmental Health and Safety, which is responsible for an array of services ranging from fire safety to hazardous materials to air quality to radiation and sanitation, according to EHS director Donald Robinson.

Robinson attributes the University''s successful program to a variety of factors. First, the UMass system works under a series of checks and balances. Secondly, he also credits strong support from the University. "Sometimes it''s not exciting, but that''s where you prevent problems. We have a high degree of outreach and presence on campus. Folks who carry out these functions do not spend a lot of time sitting at their desks," said Robinson.

NOTE: Jim Field, Yung Morgan, and Donald Robinson can be contacted at 413/545-2682.