Today at Berkeley Lab

Profiles in Safety: Materials Scientist Ron Zuckerman

Maintaining a culture of safety can be a challenge in a large multidisciplinary laboratory. Not only does it perform its own research but also as a busy User Facility, where each week brings a new crop of scientists from around the world. Ron Zuckermann, Director of the Biological Nanostructures Facility at the Molecular Foundry, meets face-to-face with every new staff member and visiting User—to welcome them when they arrive, discuss the work they plan to do, and emphasize safety practices specifically related to their work.

It is a session distinct from the job hazards analysis and on-the-job training that each person receives. “The goal of this 10- to 15-minute meeting is to make a personal connection, open a channel for communication, and get their buy-in to the safety culture,” Zuckerman explains. He makes it clear that anyone can come to him if they do not feel safe, and he welcomes discussion, even to hear complaints that a safety procedure seems too time-consuming or even unnecessary. So his door remains open to everyone in the Facility.

During the short orientation meeting, Zuckerman also takes a photograph of each person and has it added to the display board in the hallway within hours. “That way, each person knows who everyone else is and feels part of the group,” he says. “Whether first-year students or renowned professors, they see that they have a responsibility to participate equally with regard to safety.”

Zuckerman vastly prefers this participatory approach to delivering threats and warnings against breaking rules. “We welcome people and show that, with simple precautions, we can keep this great thing going: conducting world-class research and meeting the Users’ needs in a safe and beautiful facility.”