The Health & Safety role of Principal Investigators particularly in lab/fieldwork or other high risk research.

UPDATE: Please see link to UK prosecution in 2017 showing the critical importance of adequate safety management in research.

What are the safety management responsibilities of Principal Investigators (PIs)?

For research activities, Principal Investigators (PIs) need to be aware that they are responsible for the safety of those post-doctoral research staff, technical staff, postgraduate and undergraduate students working under their direction. The PI is the person with operational responsibility for health and safety policies and procedures relating to the safety of the research including the maintenance, management and use of chemicals (& their risk assessment), biological agents, particular equipment, out of hours work and other risk activities.  In particular PIs are responsible to ensure the following:-

1.  That the hazards of the research project have been identified and assessed in writing and that adequate controls (including emergency procedures) are in place to eliminate or minimise the risks.  These risk assessments are to be available to all in the research group or others who may be affected by the work of the group e.g. Shared Workspaces or employees who become pregnant.

2.  That members of the research group have received appropriate information and training to carry out tasks safely and competently.

3.  That potentially hazardous equipment associated with the project is inspected and tested as necessary and records of inspection and testing are maintained.

4.  That all accidents and near misses are reported and investigated and corrective action is taken to prevent their recurrence.

5.  That equipment maintenance costs and safe disposal of hazardous waste costs are budgeted for.

What training do I as a PI need to attend?

Safety training as a key part of the University’s safety management system is important and includes not just the local training from the Unit staff or process owner but also:

  1. Required training for Principal Investigators on their Safety Responsibilities (Health & Safety Responsibilities for Principal Investigators) (to be repeated as necessary).
  2. Required training for work with certain hazards e.g. biological materials, and undertaking risk assessments - see Safety Training website link
  3. Within Research Institutes/Schools - safety training (including induction training) for those who will be working in University laboratories
  4. Hazard-specific centrally-delivered safety courses see Safety Training website link and check out about Unit specific training.

What authorative guidance sets out the health and safety responsibilities of a PI?

In addition to the Irish legislation and material covered in the Principal Investigators Safety Responsbilities training there are the following UK publications:

Leadership and Management of Health and Safety in Higher Education Institutions – University Safety and Health Association (2015)

Responsible Research – Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (2012)

As a PI how do I confirm that I have complied with the Safety Requirements of my research?

Each PIs is to confirm to their Head of Unit that their safety management is in order by completing the Annual Safety Compliance Checklist

Please contact your Head of Unit or Unit Safety Co-ordinator for further Unit advice or specific information.  Research team members must contact their PI in the case of their specific projects.

Advice from PIs

Dr. Eoghan Clifford: How having risk assessments and safety training completed ensures you are prepared for when a Health and Safety Authority does inspect your lab. 

Prof. Thomas Ritter: Lab Safety

Dr. Louise Allcock: Cracking on with Safety – Gets easier once you start

Dr. Patrick O’Leary: Good Safety Practices in Unit Research