Gold University of Minnesota M. Skip to main content.University of Minnesota. Home page.
FIRST Banner
What's Inside




Instructional Materials

Useful Links 

Related Links

Office of the Vice President for Research
Search OVPR | Contact OVPR 
  Home > Ethics > Curriculum > Environmental Health and Safety
Teaching Ethics for Research, Scholarship, & Practice

Environmental Health and Safety

Prepared by Patrick M. Schlievert with contributions from Fay Thompson

Learning Objectives

University Policies and Procedures

Curriculum Overview

Information Resources



Learning Objectives

  1. Identify safety considerations associated with the experimental approaches common to your research.
  2. Describe roles of Departmental Research Safety Officer and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety.

Greater depth:

  1. Apply guidelines on use of biological or chemical hazards in research.
  2. Apply for certification for use of biological or chemical hazards in research.



University Policies and Procedures



Curriculum Overview


The conduct of research frequently involves hazardous materials or hazardous activities. The hazardous materials may have chemical, biological, radioactive or physical properties of concern and the hazardous activities may involve the way equipment or materials are used, stored, transported or disposed. Research is carried out in areas as diverse as laboratories, clinics, experimental plots and wide ranging field studies. Problems arising during research may impact research personnel, colleagues or the surrounding environment. Federal, state and local regulatory constraints on the conduct of research are extensive and are expanding. The goal of the University’s Research Safety Program is to assure that research is carried out in a way that prevents accidents and minimizes exposure to hazardous agents and conditions, prevents degradation of the environment through responsible waste management and active waste reduction, conserves resources and minimizes losses, and achieves regulatory compliance. All members of the University’s research community have responsibility for safety. Each member must strive to follow safety practices at all times, work proactively to prevent accidents and injuries, and be prepared for emergencies that may occur in the conduct of research. Environmental Health and Safety also addresses both standards concerning minors and pregnant women in laboratories and training and recertification of experimentalists.



Safety-related responsibilities for the following members of the research community are briefly detailed:

  • President, Vice Presidents, Provosts and Chancellors
  • Dean, Directors and Department Heads
  • Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS)
  • Research Safety Officers
  • Supervisors/Principal Investigators
  • Graduate Student/Post Doctoral Researcher Research Worker

Upper Level Administrators

  • Promoting the importance of safety in all activities and among all levels of employment
  • Supporting a broad-based research safety program
  • Ensuring lower level administrators provide adequate time and
  • Recognition for employees who are given research safety responsibilities
  • Provide facilities that meet requirements for working with hazardous materials

Deans, Directors and Department Heads

  • Identifying at least one technically qualified research safety officer, providing time to carry out duties, and ensuring that this person is adequately trained and carries out designated responsibilities.
  • Evaluation of the research safety officer’s performance
  • Taking appropriate measures to ensure compliance with safety issues

Department of Environmental Health and Safety

  • Training designated departmental safety officers
  • Monitoring the progress of departments toward achieving compliance and
  • Reporting to deans and central administration on compliance

Research Safety Officers

  • Arranging general departmental training sessions and carrying out routine inspections of laboratories for compliance
  • Have current working knowledge regarding safety issues and work with administrators to assure equipment and work environment are safe

Supervisors/Principal Investigators

  • Assurance that work hazards have been identified, determination of standard operating protocols, and determination of specific training requirements for each employee
  • Scheduling time for employee training, enforcing safe working policies, and reporting hazardous conditions and accidents

Graduate Student/Post Doctoral or Research Worker

  • Attending safety training sessions and following safety guidelines
  • Reporting hazardous conditions as they arise



Biosafety (including pathogenic microorganisms) (much of the research with microbes requires approval from the Biosafety Committee)

  • Biosafety levels that should be used in laboratories that use microorganisms, including appropriate postings
  • NIH recombinant DNA guidelines, including what constitutes recombinant DNA and what biosafety levels are required.
  • Shipping requirements for hazardous microorganisms and who should be allowed to receive hazardous microorganisms

Chemical Safety

  • OSHA laboratory standards (training is required)
  • Chemical hygiene plan
  • Proper use of hazardous chemicals
  • Material safety data sheet information
  • Hazardous waste requirements
  • Labeling and packaging
  • Chemical redistribution
  • Controlled substances
  • Chemical terrorism

Radiation Safety (Regulated by University Radiation Protection Advisory Committee; training is required)

  • Proper use of radioactive materials and instrumentation
  • Purchasing radioactive materials and management of radioactive waste
  • Laser training
  • Pregnancy


MERTKA (Minnesota Employee Right to Know Act)

Issues not covered by 3.1 to 3.3, for example, chemical use outside of the laboratory. This applies also to custodians, etc. Coverts issues involving Biosafety, Chemical Safety and Radiation Safety.


Topics for Discussion

  • Faculty using tools beyond their expertise:
    Examples: use of a pathogen without microbiology training; physicians being asked to participate in clinical trials primarily involving vectors with human genes, yet the clinician not having knowledge of genetics.
  • Dimethyl mercury poisoning in a researcher at Dartmouth (Science 1997. 276:1797); this accident may also be accessed by searching on the World Wide Web for Wetterhahn and dimethyl mercury poisoning.
  • Use of certain pathogens or toxins and their transfer and the requirements for increased security and monitoring of transfer. Examples: use and transfer of Bacillus anthracis, Yersinia pestis, etc. You get a request on letterhead from someone you do not know. Do you send? Who could you call for advice?
  • Recombinant techniques inserting potential oncogenes.



Information Resources

Environmental Health and Safety maintains a web site that includes required University forms and guidelines for biosafety, chemical safety, Minnesota Employee Right to Know, and radioactive material services ( Links are provided specifically to Biosafety, Chemical Safety, and Radiation Safety. In addition, monthly training sessions are available for all of the above except radiation use, which is handled through videotapes that can be viewed at the library. There is an after-hours emergency response pager system manual for chemical safety. Finally, an additional useful Web site is:


The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.