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Articles on Safety management

On-line Safety System

Biohazard icon.

Developed with the School of Medicine at the University of Sheffield; the Online-Safety System provides a gateway to safety management for members of the School. It includes CoSHH, which has been adapted to make it more relevant for biological agents. There is also an on-line substance safety data catalogue, and the Standard Operating Procedures library. The Risk Assessments system (STAR), developed for the University, is linked from within OSS.

Recent itterations of the CoSHH system, upon which OSS is based, have included a great deal more focus on the evaluation of exposure to substances during a procedure, though each lcient is viewing this requirement in different ways, and have evolved different procedures for capturing this information as part of their assessment process.

Existing CoSHH assessments can be electronically signed by other users.
Existing CoSHH assessments can be electronically signed by other users.

The update also introduced provision for the establishment of standardised processes. In this users could opt to electronically sign an existing CoSHH assessment, rather than publishing a new assessment for each process they wished to undertake. This change ties in well with the operation of the School of Medicine, where most users only encounter potentially hazardous substances as part of a well documented procedure, such as fixing histology slides.

The ability to sign existing, approved, COSHH assessments greatly simplifies the management of CoSHH. The administrator has fewer procedures to evaluate, but can be more thorough in ensuring that a full and accurate process is described in them. The balance of the work of managing safety within the laboratory environment is that of checking that the user wanting to undertake the procedure is sufficiently trained and competent to do this. This task can generally best undertaken by the academic supervisor in the first instance, as she will have direct experience of working with the student involved.

The OSS system can only be accessed by members of the University of Sheffield:

On-line Safety System

Online Safety Audit

Developed with Health and Safety at the University of Sheffield, the online safety audit system provides a uniform evaluation procedure for safety across the University. The system is based on a large set of standard questionnaires targeted at different aspects of the management of health and safety issues within each constituent school and department within the University.

Editing a question in the audit questionnaire.

The online software allows auditors to create standard questionnaires concerning aspects of safety management, along with scores and guidance notes. The software is mobile compatible, permitting the auditor to report findings directly into the database. As the auditor works their scores are translated in real time into an overview of policy within the client department, that reports both good practice, and any failings, immediately to the lead auditor.

Problems encountered during the audit are highlighted.
Problems are highlighted in each question set.

Failings are automatically ranked by criticality, and indicate a timescale required for compliance. This ranges from ‘stop all activity immediately’, to resolve over the next 6 months. The lead auditor can, therefore, show the client exactly where any problems lie extremely quickly. In this way many issues can be resolved quickly and amicably.

The scores from all of the questionnaires are broght together in a live score-card.
A live score result; ‘incomplete’ indicates that the auditor has not finalised their work, committing it to the report.

The software goes further, providing a standard scoring and reporting system for the questionnaires plus templating for the balance of the report. This allows the audit team to set up an audit quickly, but also produce a final, published report with a minimum of fuss and inconvenience.

Access to the safety audit software is restricted to auditors within the University of Sheffield.

Risk Assessment

Developed with Health and Safety at the University of Sheffield, the STAR (Stop, Think, Act, Review) risk assessment (RA) system attempts to harmonise risk management across the University. It has four access levels providing fine-grain control over user capabilities within the system, from student users working under the supervision of an academic member of staff (or junior colleague working under their line-manager) in a single department through to super administrators with an overview of the activity at a University wide level.

Risk ratings - colour coded risk evaluation.
Evaluating the likelihood and severity of a hazard allows the software to associate a single value risk rating to any procedure.

The system allows for the creation of a new assessment by any user, who selects their perception of the risk involved. This perception is divided into to components likelyhood and severity. A low likelyhood, low severity incident being one of least concern. If the users perception is that the hazard is significant (high likelyhood and severity), then the user is prompted to add further control measures that would mitigate this. The hazards are then colour coded in the final assessment, which can be produced as a PDF document for printing and signing by co-workers.

Fictitious example of risk evaluation for sailing the Titanic.
The reference number indicates that this is the 4th revision of this fictitious risk assessment – being for the Titanic sailing, it should perhaps go through a few more iterations…

The assessment can be readily updated, a process which automatically archives the earlier version. The administrator (departmental safety officer OR super administrator at University level) can stop an assessment if they feel that it is incomplete, or inaccurately evaluated.

STAR is available to University of Sheffield employees here.

Stores Purchase Management (SPM)

The Stores Purchase Management (SPM) system allows the in-house management of inventory while helping ensure that users have the required safety and operational training. The system has been used for managing central (Grubbs) dry solvent supplies, gas cylinders, liquified gasses, and general stores items.

Screenshot showing solvent management system.
A screen shot showing solvent management system, allowing the administrator to update quantities of solvent available.

Users can see current stocks on any computer in the department, and make reservations (to the end of the day) to save wasted journeys to pickup points. Purchases are linked to user’s accounts, and permit users to specify grant codes against which purchased should be charged. Gas cylinder rental periods are recorded within the database, facilitating accounts management.

Collection of materials can only be recorded at the stores locations.

Screen shot of cylinder collection options.

The system manages gas cylinder inventories and locations while in use, through to returns. Users can update locations as neccessary, whilst the administrator can view inventories by location, and so assist portering or emergency services, if required.

The system was developed in collaboration with the University of Sheffield’s Department of Chemistry in2015. An updated version just manageing gas cylinders was developed for the Faculty of Science for introduction 2019.

COSHH – Managing Safety

COSHH 2014 screenshot

Management of safety protocols in a modern chemistry lab is fraught with problems. The safety officers have to ensure that work flows are kept as simple as possible, whilst ensuring that workers have:

  • Completed any requisite training before undertaking a procedure – and that this training is up-to-date
  • Evaluated any problems that might be attendant on a procedure they are about to undertake
  • Set in place robust measures for when something does go wrong

This is complicated in the Universtiy environment due to the wide range of skill levels that must all be safely managed, from undergraduate student to Post Doctoral level researcher.

Some years ago we developed our first COSHH (‘Control of Substances Hazardous to Health’ – a process for the safe management of chemicals within the workplace) management system in conjunction with the Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield. This has subsequently been adopted by two other departments within the university.

More recently we have extended the original system to manage ‘Special Permissions’ within the same COSHH framework. These include application to work out of hours, or with certain categories of chemicals, and types of apparatus. This extension simplifies the safety interface for workers, so it is always clear how they need to manage their activities to help ensure safe working practices are maintained within the department.

A further extension opens a common space for the management of ‘Standard Operating Practices’ within the department. These demonstrate ‘best practice for a range of processes where hazard has been identified, from lifting heavy objects, transport and storage of chemicals, through to the safe use and maintenance of vacuum pumps. The common editorial framework allows all members of the department to contribute to the development of these best practices.

The original COSHH system was built in 2009, and has survived 5 years in the wild, building up a database of safety data for over 12,000 chemicals. It was updated in 2012 to accommodate changes in chemical hazard classifications adopted under European law.

Previously – original post on the COSHH system – note the screenshot at the top of this post shows an updated site design to more-closely match the latest University styling, and also incorporates elements of flexible design to cope with smaller mobile device screen sizes.