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Safety Protocols in Civil and Environmental Engineering Laboratories

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2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

October 19, 2019

Conference Session

Environmental Engineering Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Tagged Topic


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Paper Authors


Alan S. Hoback University of Detroit Mercy

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Alan S. Hoback is Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at the University of Detroit Mercy. He is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Michigan. Dr. Hoback received his Bachelor’s degree in Physics from Hastings College, Nebraska in 1987. He earned his B.S., M.S and Sc.D. from Washington University in 1989, 1991, and 1993, respectively.

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Alexa Rihana Abdallah University of Detroit Mercy

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Alexa Rihana Abdallah is a Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Detroit Mercy. She earned both her M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Engineering from the University of Michigan.

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Promoting and achieving safety in academic laboratories for students and researchers is every institution’s goal. To this end, lab practices are constantly reviewed and revised, and safety policies are generally documented. For this paper, a survey related to lab safety procedures was conducted of civil and environmental engineering department heads, with a 25% response rate for 56 institutions. The questions asked were related to the process for approving new experiments, whether students were allowed in labs alone, when inspections occurred and how they were performed, and reporting of safety problems. The results demonstrate wide variation in the procedures followed to keep labs safe. At about half the institutions, the faculty member in charge of a lab is solely responsible for determining whether new experiments will be safe, while other institutions follow alternative procedures in which authorities inside and outside the department are consulted. A significant number of department heads surveyed felt that publicity and university or personal priorities could impact approval of new experiments. At 14% of the institutions, the health and safety officer was involved in approval of new experiments. Graduate students were much more likely to be allowed in labs unsupervised (80%) than undergraduate students (40%). Students were granted access to wet/environmental labs with the same frequency as civil labs. Permission to be in the lab was most commonly granted by the faculty member or other departmental authorities. Labs were inspected on average once per year, most commonly by a health and safety officer. Wet/environmental labs were more likely to be inspected by health and safety officers (91%) than other labs (82% and 34%). Reports of unsafe situations were most commonly handled through protocol inside each university’s department. Considering the low incident rate reported at academic institutions, the current practices all seem well-warranted, despite the wide variation in the safety protocols followed.

Hoback, A. S., & Rihana Abdallah, A. (2019, June), Safety Protocols in Civil and Environmental Engineering Laboratories Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33251

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