Research Supervisors/Principal Investigators

The primary responsibility of the supervisor/principal investigator is to implement the safety plan.

Student Research Projects

Where student projects are concerned, effective or adequate supervision does not necessarily (or even usually) mean constant attendance. Also, where attendance is necessary, this can be carried out by the Supervisor or his/her nominee, providing that nominee is competent to carry out such supervision and agrees to do so. The day to day supervision appropriate to any particular set of circumstances is difficult to quantify but there are fundamental elements about which the Supervisor must satisfy themselves. It is the responsibility of the Supervisor to ensure that: the project is properly assessed for:

  • compliance with existing Departmental procedures;
  • general risks to health and safety. A written Risk Assessment is required unless the risks are not significant;
  • compliance with any University local rules

in all but the most elementary circumstances, the results of such an Assessment are committed to writing and made clear to the student, any precautions which are necessary are agreed between the Supervisor and student and again committed to writing and that, at the same time, students are made aware of their legal duty not to behave in a way that is likely to cause harm to themselves or to others; regular checks are carried out by the Supervisor to see that the student is actually following the agreed procedures; it has been made clear to the student that alterations in method must be documented and discussed rather than introduced without the Supervisor's approval.

Supervisors should identify areas of work and classify them in the following risk categories:

Those in which work may not be undertaken without close senior supervision i.e. the presence of the Supervisor or of a Senior Post-Doctoral nominated by the Supervisor
Those in which work may not be started without Supervisor's advice. (Graduate)
Those in which work may not be started without Supervisor's advice. (Graduate)
Those with some risks (other than A and B) where care must be observed but it is considered that workers are adequately trained and competent in the procedures involved.
General laboratory practice.
Those which, even without training, have very low levels of risk.

  • Tasks in category A should never be assigned to Undergraduates. Post-doctoral Fellows and Academic Visitors may be considered to be senior if they themselves are carrying out the work.
  • Those in category B are subdivided depending on the experience of the researcher.
  • Tasks C require a small amount of training but form a large part of the "background" of daily business and fall outside of Category D. Note that the use of Visual Display Equipment falls within Category C.
  • Tasks D, i.e. General Laboratory Practice, includes the procedures covered in Undergraduate Teaching Laboratories and in which all persons due to carry out research work are reasonably expected to be competent.
  • Tasks E are associated with projects that are purely theoretical or computational and which require no written risk assessment except if the use of VDU equipment plays a large part in that project in which case Category C applies.

For all but the lowest categories of work (D and E), Supervisors are required to complete a Risk Assessment, or validate one prepared by the research worker, before work begins. The Assessment needs to consider and identify:

  • the hazards associated with the activity, the likelihood that these hazards will be realised, the severity of any consequences, the frequency of exposure and the identity of those at risk.
  • the control measure to be employed, the precautions to be taken by the researcher to reduce the level of risk as far as reasonably possible including any training to be undertaken, protective clothing to be worn and the actions to be taken in the event of an emergency (what, for example, should be done if the alarm bells ring part way through a procedure?), loss of services etc. Note that it may not be sufficient, for example, to say simply "wear gloves"; the glove material, thickness etc. may need to be specified.
  • the residual risks associated with the activity when all reasonable control measures are in place and hence its risk category as defined above.

For any one student project, a number of activity Risk Assessments will have to be prepared or referenced and these, together with any COSHH Assessments (see below) should be combined into a Risk Assessment for the individual student.


Supervisor Absences

In the Department of Chemistry, arrangements must be made for a temporary, alternative Supervisor during absences of the regular Supervisor for any significant period. The written form, signed by both parties, must be given to the Departmental Secretary. What constitutes a "significant period" will depend upon the nature of the project, e.g. computational versus experimental, and the experience of the students; however, Supervisors are recommended to be conservative in their estimate and, for laboratory based projects, two to three days absence should be considered as significant. It is the responsibility of the regular Supervisor to ensure that the deputy is capable of acting as an alternate Supervisor, that the deputy has been informed of the absence and that the students involved know the identity of the deputy.


Safe Working Environment

The responsibility of a research Supervisor to maintain a safe working environment for research students extends to the physical fabric of the laboratory, i.e., to the state of housekeeping in the laboratory, the safety and testing of electrical equipment, the operation of safety equipment such as fume-hoods, glove-boxes etc., the level of lighting, the state of floors and so on. Although other people within the Department and University have the brief to maintain and repair much of this fabric, it remains the ultimate responsibility of the Supervisor to see that that students are not working in unsafe conditions or with unsafe equipment and that the appropriate people are informed when repairs are needed.


Emergency Equipment

Academics in charge of laboratories should ensure that all emergency equipment i.e. fire extinguishers, fire blankets, eye wash stations etc. are maintained in good working order and that new workers are informed of the location and means of operation of this equipment.



Academics in charge of laboratories should carry out regular inspections of these laboratories to ensure that they are in a safe and acceptable state and that procedures recommended as a result of Risk Assessments are being followed.



Where those being supervised show a persistent disregard for matters of safety, the Supervisor is advised to use University disciplinary procedures to ensure that the safety of the person concerned, and anyone else who might be adversely affected, is maintained.


Academic Visitors, Post-doctoral Fellows, Research Workers

Whilst these people may be expected to show a higher degree of skill and ability than an Undergraduate or Graduate student, it should be noted that they assume the status of employees and as such have the responsibility to obey all appropriate Regulations and to adhere to Departmental Safety Policies. Irrespective of competence or status, the appropriate activity Risk Assessments and COSHH Assessments must be made and, for example, even very experienced laser users must be registered as users within the Department.

It is the responsibility of the Academic member of staff who invites an Academic Visitor or who engages a Post-doctoral Fellow to ensure that they are informed of their duties in these respects.

It is also the responsibility of the Academic member of staff who invites an Academic Visitor or who engages a Post-doctoral Assistant to ensure that the Head and the Departmental Safety Committee is informed of their presence in the Department especially if they arrive at times other than the normal start of Session.


Accidents and Incidents

It is the responsibility of the Academic Staff member in charge of a laboratory to report in writing any accidents or dangerous incidents, of which they are aware, occurring within that laboratory or involving any student for whom they are the Supervisor. In the first instance any such accidents or dangerous incidents should be reported to the Departmental Safety Committee.


Safety Inspections/Audits

From time to time, areas within the Department of Chemistry are subject to inspections in respect of health and safety carried out by the Departmental Safety Committee or the Faculty Safety Officer. The aim of these inspections is to check the completeness of any Risk Assessments, including COSHH Assessments, for that area, to check that work procedures recommended as a result of such Assessments and Department safety policies are being adhered to and that the area is free of obvious avoidable hazards and constitutes a safe working environment. Written reports outlining the findings of such inspections and recommendations for improvement are sent to Supervisors responsible for those areas, who are then required to implement those recommendations.