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30 Years in Business: Interview with the Quality, Research, & Training Team

To celebrate Safety Partners’ 30th year in business, we’ll be sharing quarterly interviews from key players in the company. This quarter’s story is an interview with the Quality, Research, & Training team at Safety Partners. This interview comes from our 2021 edition of our annual publication, Incidents, Accidents, & Near Misses.

Meet the Experts Behind our CSOs and the Authors of our Weekly Safety Tips Blog:

QRT Quality, Research and Training (QRT) is a department of Safety Partners. Its’ five members assure we can provide services with confidence by continuously monitoring and disseminating information on evolving regulations as well as current best practices for safety program delivery. Our Consulting Safety Officers (CSO) and QRT regularly engage in knowledge sharing and leverage each other’s experience to resolve client issues and provide the most accurate and current information.

Why did our founder, Denise Aronson, create QRT?

In her words: Every once in a while, you have to shake things up! Safety Partners is always looking to expand and grow as the world innovates and changes the landscape of what we once knew. Businesses that want to be the best are always on the road of continuous improvement. Every year when we are thinking about strategy and improvement, our focus goes to the biggest issues and how we can lead with the most up to date information.

Enter QRT in 2010.

At the time, we launched QRT with the help of an outsourced COO, Jeremy Bromberg. Jeremy was schooling our management team on organizational development – asking us the hard-hitting questions, like what are the operational and organizational structures that provide company resilience? And where do we need that resilience the most?

From our discussion, we decided that we wanted to provide more support to the business, so that we could serve both our clients and our team members in the best possible way. This led us to ask more questions, like what can we do to help our EHS services staff do their job to the best of their ability? How can we support them to deliver EHS program development and implementation to their clients?

Our bar is set high. We strive to deliver excellence to our clients – quality, quantity, consistency, communication, and depth and breadth of technical EHS. We needed to create our own standard of quality that we didn’t see in the market.

We started off by structuring QRT like IT service businesses, which have found success with a small department of technical experts supporting the field staff. We then went on to define the role and scope of technical support to our CSOs. The goal was to assure three things, and this is how QRT got its name.

“Q” stands for quality institutional knowledge management. Essentially this means do not reinvent the wheel: maintain a back-up of client files and a working library of EHS services.

“R” stands for research, being on top of regulations and diving deeply into client-driven technical questions.

“T” is for training, acting as a mentor, and supporting new and experienced CSOs. This is provided through training internally and to the community at large, through our online course portal and beyond.

QRT has been through several iterations over the years, it has grown and changed as Safety Partners and the ecosystem have changed. What started out as a small, part-time team, is now a larger full-time team led by Caroline Slater, who has taken it to a whole new level.

What makes QRT special and so effective, is that it is made up of people that have worked day in and day out with clients as CSOs.In the next section, you will get to know the QRT team more intimately: how they stay up to date on regulations, what their day-to-day is like, what’s the strangest incident they’ve ever come across, and more!

Quality, Research, and Training (QRT) Team Interview

  • Caroline Slater, Director, QRT
  • Sara Evarts, QRT and Industrial Hygiene Specialist
  • Beth Graham, Associate Director, QRT
  • Rae Moore, QRT Specialist
  • Dana Zafiropoulos, QRT Specialist

What is QRT? (Answered by Caroline):

The QRT group is responsible for knowledge, quality, and consistency management of Safety Partners’ services and EHS program implementation, in addition to onboarding and supporting the consulting staff.

Why is it important for clients? (Answered by Caroline):

To clients, QRT is a means to keep the services they receive from Safety Partners efficient, top notch, and consistent. Knowledge of regulatory changes, industry best practice awareness, and on-target program development and implementation are critical for a successful overall safety program.

Why is it important for the consulting staff? (Answered by Caroline):

QRT spearheads the onboarding of new CSOs and develops internal and external trainings to support the consulting staff. In addition, QRT is a resource available to provide ongoing employee support. Topics new to a CSO, review of client deliverables, and a second opinion/second set of eyes are the main reasons why CSOs turn to QRT.

How do CSOs learn from incidents they deal with – how does QRT take what we learned and educate the rest of the staff? (Answered by Dana):

There is always a review process done if an incident occurs. The review process always maintains confidentiality. The CSO reviews the incident with their supervisor and with the client’s safety officers and safety committee. Supervisors anonymously share the incidents at our internal meetings, and we take the lessons learned and incorporate them into our trainings and other guidance documents to help educate the rest of the staff which helps them apply that knowledge to their client’s safety programs. We also share these lessons in the Incidents, Accidents, and Near Misses in Laboratory Research publications that both our staff and clients receive. 
What is the most common incident you see, what are some rules to live by? (Answered by Beth):
Probably the most common incident we see are sharps incidents from needles or other sharps. Often, they occur in animal care facilities where needles are commonly used, but they can occur in the lab as well. We see a significant number of sharps injuries that are associated with microtome use. Although less common, sharps injuries can result from serological pipettes when biohazardous waste bags are being tied up.
Often the root cause of sharps incidents is not following proper procedures and/or staff rushing to complete a procedure. In some cases, it’s due to improper management of sharps, in particular not disposing of them in a proper sharps container and/or overfilling the container. It’s important that employees know what steps to take following a sharps incident particularly if it involves potential exposure to bloodborne pathogens. Things can really go wrong when companies are not prepared for this type of incident.
When a new technology hits the market, how does QRT account for that? (Answered by Dana):
As new technologies or safety issues evolve, we research the subject, review any applicable regulations, contact applicable vendors or regulatory agencies to learn more and attend any available trainings that are offered. QRT monitors different trainings that are available for new technologies/safety issues and informs CSOs and other staff.
We attend as much as we can. We then share the information we learn internally and bring that information to our clients and apply it to their safety programs.In many cases, the CSOs are the first ones to be aware of any new technologies or safety issues and are already asking questions and doing the research. In those cases, the CSOs share what they have learned with the rest of the company.
Did COVID policies/return to work policies affect the types of incidents seen at clients? (Answered by Caroline):
With more remote work, there have been fewer incidents, but their nature and the circumstances around them have changed. The need for social distancing when onsite has modified the way people work, with staggered schedules, working in the evening and on weekends, and trying to accomplish tasks within a certain time frame. It was also an adjustment at first to be wearing face coverings, which can sometimes limit peripheral vision and cause safety glasses to fog. For employees working from home, ergonomic complaints have been on the rise.
Why is reporting near misses important? (Answered by Rae):
A near miss is an event that does not cause harm. Even though no one was hurt or there was no damage to property, there were circumstances that occurred that had the potential to cause an incident. Reporting and documenting near misses is important because it allows for the opportunity to examine the circumstances. Safety Committees can review the near misses during meetings, determine probable causes, identify patterns, and mitigate hazards before an incident occurs.
What can you tell us about QRT mentorship, and why is it important/sets us apart? (Answered by Beth):
When I first started at Safety Partners, support for employees was provided exclusively by the Team Leaders. I feel that having this extra level of support benefits both consultants (and their Team Leaders!). It also benefits our clients as there is an additional level of review on deliverables submitted to ensure consistency and high quality.
Clients also benefit from the behind the scenes support QRT provides to their assigned consultant(s). We have received positive feedback on the benefits of having QRT from both our own employees, prospective employees, and clients since the group was formed. I believe that having a group such as QRT is somewhat unique in the industry and is part of what sets Safety Partners apart from its competitors.
What is the value of template-based manuals and training? (Answered by Rae):
Safety Partners’ goal is to deliver high quality, consistent safety programs to our clients, and templates for our manuals and training are a key tool that ensures that the information we provide to all our clients aligns with pertinent regulations and guidelines. It also facilities revisions to our manuals and trainings since regulations tend to change over time. Templates are also useful because CSOs do not have to focus on writing the manual or the training slides; instead, they can focus on the details that are unique to their client’s safety program.
What does a typical day in QRT look like? (Answered by Beth):
I’m not sure there is a typical day! That said, most days are a combination of supporting newer consultants with their work through in person and remote meetings and trainings and reviewing their client deliverables. Most days also include supporting more senior consultants often by email, phone calls, and QRT “Office Hours.” Sometimes the support for consultants includes onsite mentoring visits at clients.
A portion of our time also involves targeting and coordinating professional development for consultants. Many days also include updating and maintaining Safety Partners EHS program resources. Some days also involve working with the Sales and Marketing group to provide technical support for sales initiatives which is always fun, and of course there’s the weekly Safety Tips Blog!
What’s the strangest incident you’ve ever come across in your career? (Answered by Caroline):
A scientist was carrying a 1-gallon amber glass bottle filled with solvent waste. He was carrying it by the finger loop which broke. The contents spilled on the lab floor and thankfully, no one was injured. The person threw spill pads on the floor on the way out of the lab and he then called the spill response team.
In the meantime, the solvent melted the wax on the floor. As the solvent slowly evaporated, the wax eventually resolidified, locking into place shards of glass from the broken bottle and the spill pads. Those were now stuck to the floor and impossible to remove. Facilities ended up having to put down flattened carboard boxes on the floor to cover the shards of glass until the next day when a vendor was called to cut off, remove and replace a large piece of the lab flooring.
What have you seen in the industry that’s evolved in terms of incidents/accidents? (Answered by Caroline):
One thing that comes to mind is the knowledge of the hazards. In biology labs, many experiments are now performed using kits, which is very convenient. With ready-to-use kits, there is less of a need to prepare reagents from scratch. However, this makes it easy to overlook the hazards posed by the components of a kit, especially if they have generic names such as “Reagent 1.”
This has led to incidents and exposures, in particular when it comes to waste disposal. Not being knowledgeable about the exact components in a kit has caused issues such as bulging waste containers and exposure to fumes due to the mixing of incompatible chemicals. So, it is very important to understand the hazards of the materials one is working with and to read Safety Data Sheets.
What about QRT do you consider to be the most fun? (Answered by Dana):
In QRT you get to really help the CSOs, research and problem solve. It is nice to have the chance to research many different subjects – such as regulations, new technologies, or a new piece of equipment and then share that knowledge with the CSOs to help them succeed in their work and in turn help our clients succeed. It is great being able to introduce and teach new employees and see them transition and grow into their EHS role.
What’s your advice for scientists who are considering a career in EHS? (Answered by Beth):
As someone who started out my career as a bench scientist doing immunology-related research, I think EHS is a great career move for someone who still wants to stay involved with science but would like a change from hands-on bench work. If you’re considering EHS, I would recommend getting involved with the safety program at your laboratory facility (if you’re not already) such as by joining the safety committee, becoming a safety officer, and/or assisting with safety-related tasks such as SDS management to get a better feel for whether EHS interests you.
There are also a lot of great inexpensive, often free, online safety-related webinars you can explore to see if EHS truly interests you. If it does, working for Safety Partners is a great option because our QRT group can help provide the support you need to make the jump from the lab to EHS!
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