Student safety survey by CBE’s Augspurger goes far beyond the research lab

Department’s lab supervisor will present her results at national safety conference

Ashley Augspurger
CBE Laboratory Supervisor Ashley Augspurger

Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering Laboratory Supervisor Ashley Augspurger devotes a great deal of time to making sure students are working safely in the laboratories that fill Sweeney Hall and part of the Biorenewables Research Laboratory.

But when it came to studying surveys of college students regarding lab safety, she just wasn’t satisfied. So, she decided to come up with her own. And now she will be presenting the results of her survey, “Safety Attitudes of Engineering Undergraduate Students,” in July at the Campus Safety Health and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA) Annual Conference in Baltimore, MD.

A major twist in Augspurger’s survey: Instead of limiting it to just student attitudes toward safety in the research laboratory setting, she took the big additional step of expanding it to student attitudes toward safety in general – things like driving safety, drinking in public, partying practices (such as bar crawling with people you don’t know) and more, since those things are a large part of college life for many undergraduates. Throughout, she employed two main thrusts:

  • When do you think about safety?
  • Your attitude toward safety as opposed to your actions
Gloved hands working in lab
Augspurger’s survey reveals chemical engineering students are more aware of safety in the lab than outside the lab.

She anonymously surveyed 93 Iowa State University chemical and biological engineering undergraduates who have experience working in department labs (primarily juniors and seniors). The results of the survey are more reflective of male students due to the fact that there is a larger number of male students in the department. Her survey questions were reviewed by a group of five safety and health professionals for validity.

For the question of when a student thinks most about safety, the results show that students are more likely to think about safety when they are working in a lab as opposed to when driving or drinking. Augspurger has a theory about that: “I think a lab is regarded as a more dangerous environment because it is less familiar to the student. College students are very familiar with driving a car and for many, with partying and drinking in a public setting. Therefore it’s not seen as something they need to be as concerned about,” she says.

Augspurger also created a hypothetical character in her survey named “Bob.” Bob, a fellow undergraduate student, is shown in photos in many scenarios. He’s shown not following safety rules while working in a lab and not conducting himself in a responsible fashion with driving, drinking and more when in a public setting. Students were asked to respond to questions about Bob’s behavior. Augspurger found that the students were much more aware of, and concerned about, safety factors with Bob than they were in regard to their own behavior.

Hands with drinks
The survey took the added step of looking at student attitudes toward safety in many scenarios, including drinking.

Augspurger says she would like to eventually develop a related survey that would track student attitudes toward safety throughout their college career, from freshman through senior years; and would like to study a larger number of female students. She also says she may be publishing the results of her survey in a trade publication at some point in the future.

CSHEMA addresses the unique safety challenges found in a university setting. It serves as the professional organization for campus safety specialists and provides many educational and professional development opportunities for members. Its annual conference draws industry professionals from around the nation.