Professor and student wearing protective eye wear in lab

Safety Training and Learning Tips

Training and Tips

Risk vs. Safety

Safety is often thought of as binary – I’m safe or I’m not safe.  But real life isn’t this way – it’s much more nuanced.  So, instead of safety, let’s talk about risk.

Risk is the probability (odds or likelihood) or a negative outcome (impact, consequence, damage, or harm).  This is often visually displayed as a risk table or matrix (see example). 

An example is crossing a street.  The negative outcome is being hit by a vehicle and getting hurt or dying.  If I’m in a crosswalk with lights and I obey the “Don’t walk” signal, my risk is low.  If I cross without looking or obeying the signal with traffic coming, my risk is high.   

Although it requires a bit more thinking, risk is a much more useful, accurate, and helpful way to discuss safety.

Better and worse practices


  • Team approaches that encourage support and concern for others and group goals
  • Demonstrating care for the wellbeing of others
  • Embed risk into our processes (discussing, assessing, communicating)
  • Leading indicators / proactive (e.g., anything before an incident, checklists, discussions, risk assessing)
  • Strong psychological safety (i.e., trust, all can speak up without fearing being shot down)


  • Blaming others, finger pointing, lack of personal accountability
  • Rigid compliance approaches (only focusing on complying with rules to the deficit of culture focus drivers)
  • Lagging indicators / reactive only (e.g., anything after an incident, injury reports, claims, OSHA recordables, lost time, etc.)
  • Lack of accountability, not problem-solving, not looking for root causes
  • Lack of engaging about safety culture and risk (not digging into risk odds and impacts, root causes, etc.)

Training Tips

  • Assess the need(s) – some needs aren’t solvable with training (e.g., behaviors, supplies, morale, etc.)
  • Develop strong learning objectives (“At the end of the session, learners will be able to …” – use Bloom’s taxonomy)
  • Use an effective instructional design model of process (e.g., Malcolm Knowles adult learning principles, ADDIE)
  • Create and facilitate active learning approaches and methods (and not  passive ones)
  • Assess the specified learning competencies (and tests aren’t usually the best way to do so)
  • Evaluate the learning activity (use Kirkpatrick’s 4 levels)
  • Make changes for better effectiveness (because there is always a next time!)
Dr. Fernandez-Bayo in lab performing research

2022 College of Engineering Lab Safety Award Winner

Congratulations to Dioniso Fernandez-Bayo, PI in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, for winning the 2022 College of Engineering Lab Safety Award. Dr. Fernandez-Bayo's lab is studying how organic waste can be used as a biopesticide and provide an alternative for farmers who are forced to use harsh chemicals, many of which are banned for the risks they pose to health and safety.

This award recognizes the research lab that demonstrates the strongest commitment to laboratory safety, based on a combination of inspection findings and questionnaires from safety professionals. These awards are endorsed by the faculty-led Chemical and Lab Safety Committee.

The College of Engineering has a dynamic program to facilitate a culture of safety.  Some of these initiatives include:

  • A Director of Safety to help drive our efforts
  • A safety culture and risk team of career staff throughout the college
  • A Faculty Safety Culture Advisory Committee
  • A Graduate Student Safety Culture Advisory Committee
  • Our safety culture and risk survey of all graduate students, faculty, and staff in the college
  • A series of monthly safety/health learning events
  • A holistic view and frame for our approaches to safety culture and risk