Department Partners with Industry to Promote Safety Culture

Professor Isaac Sanchez's group research labThe department has teamed up with key industry partners to roll out new initiatives to share best practices and keep safety at the forefront of day-to-day operations. The partnership has established lab safety visits and increased safety seminars.

“The primary objective is to raise awareness and foster a safety culture,” said Gary Rochelle, chemical engineering professor and Safety Committee chair. “We understand how to run safe labs, but activities we’re initiating provide checks and balances and act as regular reminders, so that safety is a priority every day.”

The Safety Committee worked with the department’s External Advisory Council (EAC) to identify representatives from industry and government laboratories with skillsets that would best serve particular teaching or research areas. These representatives have performed walkthroughs of both teaching and research labs, providing valuable input about best practices, hazard recognition and the planning of new experiments. Participating companies and agencies include: ExxonMobil, Phillips 66, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Membrane Technology and Research, Texas Commission of Environmental Quality, Pfizer and Gelest.

“Our target is for every lab running experiments to have a safety visit with an industry or agency rep every 12 to 18 months,” said Rochelle. “Safety visits so far have resulted in a very informative exchange of ideas between industry engineers, faculty, staff and student researchers.”

ExxonMobil helped spearhead the initiative under their newly created Partners in Academic Laboratories Safety (PALS) program led by Chief Engineer, former EAC member, and department alum Tony Go.  Go together with colleagues Tim Alford (Senior Research Technician, Polymers Technology Business Group) and Debbie Davis (specialist, Polymers Technology Business Group) have participated in several safety visits thus far and presented on-campus safety seminars. They have also arranged for students and faculty to visit ExxonMobil facilities and attend a company Safety Symposium in Baytown, Houston.  The company hopes to host students and faculty for another safety event in January 2015.

Students working in a research labThe Departmental Safety Committee also liaised with the university’s Environmental Health & Safety to host a Chemical Safety Symposium targeting chemical engineering and chemistry students. Committee members hope to raise awareness by increasing safety advertisements in high-traffic areas throughout the Chemical & Petroleum Engineering building. Established in 2009, the Safety Committee is made up of faculty, staff and one student representative tasked with establishing safety policies, procedures and protocols and addressing safety concerns.

“With these efforts, we’re not only striving to build a knowledge and experienced based safety culture, but we’re also ensuring our students are prepared to enter a workforce with understandably high expectations in this are,” said Tom Truskett,  Department Chair. “This is another way our department produces world-class engineers ready to contribute to industry, and society.”

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