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Zay Watkins with measurement tool in a creek.What is your position at UNC-Chapel Hill, and how long have you been associated with the University? 

I am the associate chemical hygiene officer, and I have been working in Environment, Health and Science (EHS) for about one and half years.

How did you initiate your career in the chemical safety field or how did you get into chemical safety?

I was always the “Safety Officer” on my research laboratory. In undergrad, I would work with our operations manager and learn about chemical storage, waste and clean up. I applied those skills to my job in industry before joining EHS at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Which sectors of the University does your role impact, and in what ways does it contribute to fostering a safer work environment? 

We work in a wide variety of laboratories, shops and clinical spaces. This allows us to educate campus wide about safety. We can research and continually learn and develop strategies to help the campus.

Describe what you love most about your job in chemical safety and what has been most interesting to you in the job?

I love the education aspect of the job. I was a tutor in undergrad, and it was one of my favorite jobs because I was able to help students appreciate mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Now, at UNC-Chapel Hill, I can help students appreciate safety.

What advice do you have for those in laboratories that are interested in creating a safer culture and environment?

Please reach out for guidance, you are not alone in this journey. Stay consistent and encouraging when involving your lab mates. Have open conversations about incidents and how laboratories can remain stay proactive. Check in with one another, some days are difficult, and research made need to be paused for a mental health day. Safety is a team effort.