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Safety Attitudes and Culture

Using Discourse Analysis of Online Comments to Gauge Safety Attitudes and Culture

Analyzing online comments using discourse analysis tools to gauge the risk perceptions of chemical lab researchers and how they think about and discuss lab safety


Since 2008 when Sheri Sangji died in a tragic lab fire at UCLA, academia has been plagued by catastrophic lab incidents (fatal and severely injurious). The more we can understand how lab researchers perceive risk and discuss safety, the more we can hopefully find innovative ways to maximize their lab safety culture and ultimately prevent future tragedies.


We uses several of the “tools” that Professor James Paul Gee describes in his text on “How to Do Discourse Analysis – a Toolkit” to analyze the online comments following a blog about a lab incident in a research lab. The results provide unique insights into how researchers “see” and speak about risk and lab safety culture.


Our goals are to better understand the language that researchers use to describe risk and lab safety, their wants, their “don’t wants”, and how to increase and sustain their collective support for everyone’s safety. With these increased understandings come various recommendations for how exactly safety services are offered and contextualized in research and academic labs in higher ed.

It’s easy to dismiss anonymous online comments as so much “noise” or rants. But the honest and open nature of them can be helpful to get a fuller picture of the true views or reflections of people on the topic. So, instead of just tossing these comments aside (if one can do so online) we converted them to a Word file for ease of use. We then used 6 of Gee’s “cool tools” in discourse analysis to evaluate not only what the commenters were trying to say, but also what they were trying to “do” by way of their words.


Although outside funding wasn’t needed for the pilot study, we hope to perform 4 more studies to build a solid body of data. We welcome outside funding to do so. This would accomplish a fuller, richer study that could be used to impact and influence how lab safety services are delivered in academia.


The Safety Attitude and Culture project is being carried out by Jonathan Klane, with Dr. Emma Frow. Jonathan is the Assistant Director for Safety Programs in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU, and is particularly interested in innovative ways of reducing risks through a culture of safety. He is also pursuing a PhD in the Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology


Jonathan Klane, M.S.Ed., CIH, CSP, CHMM, CET
Assistant Director for Safety Programs in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, ASU

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Further Information

Jonathan successfully presented initial findings at the American Industrial Hygiene Conference and Expo (AIHce) in Baltimore, MD in May 2016. He will be presenting them again at the ASSE Safety 2016 Professional Development Conference (PDC) in Atlanta in June.

He will be writing a “commentary” for EHS professionals that will hopefully be published by one (or more) EHS organizations or publications.