Department Safety Officer (DSO)

DSO Roles and Responsibilities

This page summarizes the roles and responsibilities of a University of Minnesota departmental safety officer (DSO); and provides suggestions and resources to help you, as a DSO, succeed.

There are five core roles for the DSO:

  1. Serve as a Liaison
  2. Know the Rules
  3. Coordinate Training
  4. Facilitate Audits
  5. Participate on Safety Committees

1. Serve as a Liaison

A DSO functions as a liaison between UHS and his/her department and /or unit.

Main responsibilities:

  • Ensure their department is identifying and implementing safe work practices in their daily work
  • Assess new safety and health hazards
  • Address safety concerns (including escalation to department leadership or shutdown imminent health hazards)
  • Communicate with principal investigators (PIs) and other departmental staff to make sure they are aware of environmental health and safety issues

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Build relationships - Get to know the researchers in the department, have conversations to understand their safety concerns and hazardous activities
  • Communicate those concerns and engage the Research Safety Professional assigned to your college to help problem solve and answer questions
  • Attend DSO Training - UHS provides annual trainings and other updates for DSOs
  • Connect with the UHS Research Safety Professionals - UHS staff members are available to answer questions, and help problem solve

2. Know the Rules: Become a Departmental Expert

A DSO must be knowledgeable in environmental health and safety rules and administrative procedures and best practices applicable to their department. The "rules" depend on the areas of research and activities being performed. Governmental regulations (e.g., OSHA, NRC, EPA, and MERTKA), University policies (e.g., Chemical Hygiene Plan, and Hazardous Waste Guidebook) are the primary guidance sources. Most importantly the DSO must know where to go for further information or expert guidance.

Main responsibilities:

Be aware of relevant best practices, regulations, and policies.

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Attend DSO training - UHS provides new and update training for DSOs. See our DSO Training section for more information
  • Participate on College or Departmental safety committees
  • Review Health and Safety Resources - UHS has created the Health and Safety Resources page: an index that lists a number UHS and outside resources available on a variety of health and safety issues
  • Review the University's Chemical Hygiene Plan - This document contains a great deal of information about many health and safety best practices
  • Connect with the UHS Research Safety Professionals - UHS staff members are available to answer questions, help find additional resources, and help problem solve

3. Coordinate Training

A DSO ensures that all PIs and research personnel receive basic safety training. A DSO also helps make sure PIs provide their personnel with safety training about specific protocols and procedures specific to their lab.

Main responsibilities:

  • Make sure PIs are aware of all required safety training for themselves and their research employees
  • Arrange general departmental training sessions for research employees
  • Educate PIs and other researchers about the Chemical Hygiene Plan
  • Make sure PIs regularly train their research personnel about their SOPs

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Consult PIs about the potential hazards that can/have occurred within their areas of research, and suggest safety measures that mitigate these hazards, to help them write their SOPs
  • Review Employee Information and Training webpage to learn about various training topics that must be covered and recorded
  • Send PIs and other research personnel to UHS for available training
  • Include information about your CHP in your annual training for PIs and research personnel
  • Include information about the PIs responsibility to write and implement SOPs, in your annual training/communications with PIs and research personnel
  • Collect minutes of mandatory training meetings you provide to department employees

4. Facilitate Audits: Participate in the Audit Program

A DSO is responsible for checking to ensure research areas are safe, equipment is working as it should, and safety rules are followed.

Main responsibilities:

  • Schedule and coordinate inspections w/ UHS for all laboratories and work areas in your assigned department
  • Check the physical set up for health and safety issues, such as safe functioning of laboratory and safety equipment, and proper chemical storage and handling
  • Check and ensure researchers are aware of and can access pertinent safety documents (e.g., lab-specific SOPs, SDSs) and that all required training records are current
  • Monitor researchers as they perform lab procedures to ensure they follow SOPs accurately, use chemicals safely, keep safety equipment working and accessible, and manage wastes properly
  • Ensure audit findings are being reviewed by PI/Lab Supervisors, and inform them of their responsibility to take action on noted deficiencies
  • Ensure follow-up actions are taken on audit deficiencies

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Use the Lab Safety - Audit Items checklist. UHS has developed a checklist to help labs prepare for audits.Check to ensure PIs have written copies of safety procedures and protocols for their research
  • Review the UHS Information and Training webpage to refresh yourself with the safety training and documentation requirements for research laboratories
  • Follow up on audits. There are many actions you can take to follow-up on audits, such as: connecting with PIs to ask about progress and offering assistance to resolve deficiencies; schedule follow-up audits or consultations to review significant safety problems, and/or contact UHS for assistance
  • Review the Chemical Hygiene Plan. This document provides information about laboratory safety requirements
  • Review publications from related professional organizations (e.g., American Chemical Society, National AG Safety Database) for detailed information in a particular area of research

5. Participate on Department or College Safety Committees

DSOs may lead, but must participate on departmental or college level safety committees. These committees serve as forums to share best practices and make decisions on recommendations to department and college leadership for safety improvements.

Main responsibilities:

  • Attend Committee meetings
  • Actively participate by researching and sharing suggestions for best practices
  • Be open to new ideas

Suggested ways to achieve this:

  • Talk to your Research Safety Professional to identify opportunities to participate on committees
  • Volunteer to participate or lead a safety committee