|Credit: Alex Goldberg|
“So I was making a drug the other day. Well, not a drug, but a drug intermediate. Okay, so I wasn’t making it, I was watching other people make it.”
This sums up a conversation I recently had with some friends. Even though my position does not allow me to actually touch anything in the manufacturing plant, there’s still something rather awe-inspiring about watching barrels-on-barrels being charged into a reactor that is orders of magnitude larger than anything I’ve used previously. Then I say “yep, looks like a mobile slurry,” and I get back to the lab bench.
I started my first “real job” in July. I also have a Costco membership. These and many other reminders that I’m on the cusp of completing the delayed transition to adulthood that my generation is known and loved for.
And while there remains a great deal left for me to learn, several differences between practicing chemistry in academia and industry became quickly apparent. Broadly speaking, in industry, there’s more structure, and there are more resources.
This is clear in the culture of safety at my company: safety for the employees and for our customers. There is a lot of training for new-hires: including hands-on training, and reading of SOPS, and seminars about Good Manufacturing Practices, and seminars on harassment, and e-signatures and lots of them on everything that light touches.
And we have regular meetings about safety: we discuss near-misses and incidents and accidents (and we learn about the differences between them in safety training) that occurred in the previous month. And absolutely everyone wears his or her labcoat and safety glasses.
Reflecting back on my academic training, I think about what universities can do to make safety an ongoing conversation, not just an onboarding exercise or an annual seminar. If we take long-hours and limited resources as a given in academic Chemistry departments — a topic which merits another discussion entirely — what can be done to build a culture of safety around those constraints? What does your lab and department do to accomplish this goal?