Department Safety Officer (DSO)

College or Departmental Safety Officers are responsible to:

  1. Serve as a liaison and facilitate communication between the faculty and staff in their department and HSRM.
  2. Be a Safety Leader by maintaining a working knowledge of their research areas and safety requirements, actively engage in safety improvements, and visibly advocating for safety.
  3. Consult on safety training by making sure PIs and staff are aware of all required safety training and resources or by connecting them with their HSRM Safety Partners.
  4. Schedule and participate in inspections of laboratories in conjunction with HSRM personnel and assist in facilitating follow-ups on improvement recommendations from inspections.
  5. Participate on or facilitate departmental safety committees.

Below are the main responsibilities for each core role and suggested ways to achieve success.

1. Serve as a Liaison

A DSO functions as a liaison between HSRM and their department and/or unit.

Main responsibilities:

  • Notify HSRM of new and changing faculty space assignments, including faculty leaving the University and keep a current roster of PIs and Lab Safety Officers in your Department
  • Notify HSRM of new or existing operations that may warrant further consultation and/or monitoring
  • Ensure their department is identifying and implementing safe work practices in their daily work
  • Aid in assessing new safety and health hazards
  • Aid in addressing safety concerns (including escalation to department leadership or shutdown imminent health hazards)
  • Communicate with principal investigators (PIs) and other departmental staff to make sure they understand their responsibilities and the health and safety policies applicable to their research

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Build relationships - Get to know the researchers in the department, have conversations to understand their safety concerns and hazardous activities
  • Communicate those concerns and engage the Research Safety Professional assigned to your college to help problem solve and answer questions
  • Read DSO communications from HSRM and forward them to the faculty in your department
  • Help facilitate department safety training with your Research Safety Professional as requested 
  • Connect with the HSRM Research Safety Professionals - HSRM staff members are available to answer questions, and help problem solve

2. Be a Safety Leader: Become a Departmental Expert

A DSO must be knowledgeable in environmental health and safety rules and administrative procedures and best practices applicable to their department. Most importantly the DSO must know where to go for further information or expert guidance. This may include referencing the UMN Chemical Hygiene Plan, fact sheets and guidance documents, or contacting your Research Safety Professional.

Main responsibilities:

Be aware of relevant best practices, regulations, and policies.

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Attend DSO training when available
  • Participate on College or Departmental safety committees
  • Review the University's Chemical Hygiene Plan - This document contains UMN-specific information about health and safety requirements and best practices
  • Connect with the HSRM Research Safety Professionals - HSRM staff members are available to answer questions, help find additional resources, and help problem solve

3. Consult on Safety Training

A DSO ensures that all PIs and research personnel are aware of their basic safety training requirements. A DSO also helps make sure PIs are aware of the annual requirement to provide their personnel with safety training regarding protocols and procedures specific to their lab (i.e., Lab-Specific Training).

Main responsibilities:

  • Make sure PIs are aware of all required safety training for themselves and their research employees
  • Arrange general departmental training sessions with your HSRM Safety Partners for research employees as requested
  • Educate PIs and other researchers about the Chemical Hygiene Plan
  • Help answer questions about general training requirements in your department

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Consult PIs about the potential hazards that can/have occurred within their areas of research, and suggest safety measures that mitigate these hazards or resources to help them write their SOPs
  • Review training web page to learn about various training topics that must be covered and recorded
  • Refer PIs and other research personnel to HSRM for available training

4. Participate in the Lab Inspection Program

A DSO is responsible for partnering with their Research and Biosafety Professionals to schedule and perform inspections on the labs in their department.

Main responsibilities:

  • Schedule and coordinate inspections w/ HSRM for all laboratories and work areas in your assigned department
  • Participate in inspections with your Research and Biosafety Professional to check the physical set up for health and safety issues, such as safe functioning of laboratory and safety equipment, and proper chemical storage and handling
  • Check and ensure researchers are aware of and can access pertinent safety documents (e.g., lab-specific SOPs, SDSs) and that all required training records are current
  • Report any unsafe observations of laboratory conditions or practices
  • Ensure audit findings are being reviewed by PI/Lab Supervisors, and inform them of their responsibility to act on noted deficiencies
  • Ensure follow-up actions are taken on audit deficiencies

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Use the Lab Safety - Audit Items checklist. HSRM has developed a checklist to help labs prepare for audits. Check to ensure PIs have written copies of safety procedures and protocols for their research
  • Review the HSRM training to refresh yourself with the safety training and documentation requirements for research laboratories
  • Follow up on audits. There are many actions you can take to follow-up on audits, such as: connecting with PIs to ask about progress and offering assistance to resolve deficiencies; schedule follow-up audits or consultations to review significant safety problems, and/or contact HSRM for assistance
  • Review the Chemical Hygiene Plan. This document provides information about laboratory safety requirements

5. Participate on Department or College Safety Committees

DSOs must participate on departmental or college level safety committees and may serve as committee chairs. These committees serve as forums to share best practices and make decisions on recommendations to department and college leadership for safety improvements.

Main responsibilities:

  • Attend Committee meetings
  • Actively participate by researching and sharing suggestions for best practices
  • Be open to new ideas

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Talk to your Research Safety Professional to identify opportunities to participate on committees
  • Volunteer to participate or lead a safety committee