Staying Safe as a Researcher – a developmental perspective.

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So this week, I attended some more training, and this time it focused on how researchers can stay safe. When I first saw this advertised, it thought ‘Oh great, someone is going to tell me how to do things properly!!’ I clearly got the wrong idea of what the training was about. I was also the ONLY research student there, all other trainees were either lectures, senior research staff or some kind of faculty that are important. How inferior I felt… well research student’s rock anyway so that was me staying there.

Anyway, it was the turn of Edinburgh Napier’s Health and Safety team this time round as this is their speciality. They spend each day ensuring the environment is safe and equip faculties with resources and the necessary tools in order to make their surroundings safe too.

The session focused a lot more on the practical aspects of research, such as sorting chemical safely and what to do if you are working with machinery you have not used before. This was not so relevant to my research in workplace learning. However, it did give some insight into what I need to consider regarding my own safety and the safety of other in my research setting. I wonder if my supervisor would allow me to create some form of chemical compound and call that workplace learning?!?!

We firstly discussed aspects of risk assessment that are relevant for all types of research in any area. You need to assess the likelihood of a risk happening and also what can be done to prevent these risks. Then this must be assessed annually in each department to ensure that all procedures are kept updated. We also explored what risks could occur to staff, students, external bodies and the public (all of which are relevant to my research). This lead to a discussion on who is responsible for what: Basically, everyone has some kind of responsibility to keep safe.

Some important points arose from our conversations. We need to think of our own safety first, so we must make sure we have the correct desk and seating arrangement to support our needs as well as the computer we are working on being up to standard. If you are sitting at a computer all day, you need to ensure you are sitting appropriately and your posture is straight. For me, this is imperative. I tore my hip muscle a few years back which was one of the worst pains of my life. As it was the muscle that stabilised the hip with the pelvis, any form of movement for long lengths of time or even non-movement (at that time) were out of the question. The hospital also found out that I have what is known as coxa profunda (a good description here) meaning my hips are too far in the sockets and this can cause immense amounts of pain. This is not good when sitting down doing research I can tell you that!! The pain used to be excruciating and I often found I could not sit or stand comfortably… and bearing in mind that this happened during the final year of my bachelors degree and throughout the whole of my masters degree, I know how much it can hurt. It means that now, I have to ensure I take regular breaks, stand up and move, sit up straight and don’t slouch… it’s great if the environment allows for that but not so great if it doesn’t (mine does by the way). If anyone has any questions about their research environment then they could always contact the health and safety team as realistically, it is the responsibility of both employer/education provider and employee to ensure students are safe.

We also discussed the lone working policy, something that I am extremely familiar with. I used to work in a company where I would visit those with mental health problems on a regular basis (on my own) so we had to have protocols in place in case anything untoward happened – you know, like me getting killed or something like that. You don’t really think of this in my area of research but it is true (well, I hope no one will kill me). Seriously though, I will be attending meetings on my own and allowing others into my office so I will need to have some form of procedure in place so that my supervisors or colleagues know where I am and how I can be contacted in an emergency. I mean technically I could have an accident whilst being out and about and no one would know, or I could be stuck somewhere when out of the office and have no way of getting back – these things can never be planned for.

So for me, this training was partly useful and partly not so useful. I don’t think that anytime soon I will be playing with chemicals and incorporating that into my research (bang!) but I still need to be safe as a researcher. Being safe is not just about your own safety but about safety of others and ALL research needs to consider that.

We all need to:

  • Know who our Health and Safety Officers are, or know who go to seek advice.
  • We all need to ensure we have ways of being contacted by our colleagues and supervisors as well as supervisors being able to contact us.
  • We all need to know what risks our research involves and put protocols in place to deal with this (or document how we would overcome the risk). We should probably discus these at some point with our supervisors, especially when it comes to practical research and external visits.

So even though I did not think this training was relevant at first, it has been a good learning process. It has highlighted the importance of all aspects of training in the researcher development process even if you feel they are not relevant. They will be at some point. And now, as a researcher-in-training, I know how to stay safe and more importantly how to stay safe as a researcher.

So my advice to you: attend as much training as possible, even the ones that you don’t think are too relevant right now. The more you attend during your research degree, the more you will develop as a researcher and enable your processes of learning to thrive.

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