-- Note: 10/29 Q&A (PDF) posted in response to student questions about Air Quality monitoring --

The health and safety of the GSD community is of paramount importance. As designers, planners, and builders we create healthy livable spaces for others, and we seek to provide the same for ourselves in GSD facilities.

Guiding Principles

Creative work necessarily entails some amount of disorder, spontaneity, flexibility, and risk-taking (but only if informed-risks to ourselves, not others). Just as the laws of physics cannot be contravened, we expect some basic principles of environmental health and safety to prevail at all times. The now universal smoking ban in inhabited spaces includes a broader prohibition on other forms of air pollution or toxic emissions—not only to protect the lungs, but to protect the whole respiratory system, as well as visual, auditory, olfactory, endocrine, and other fragile human systems. We expect these prohibitions to be self-evident, but also provide more detailed information below.

A guiding principle: “If a material or process smells or otherwise feels bad, or is known to be undetectably toxic, we should work to eliminate it from all  public spaces, such as GSD trays, classrooms, offices, bathrooms, hallways, labs, etc — even the public outside air ! And just because it doesn't smell or feel bad to you, doesn't mean that other members of the community don't have a sensitivity to it. When in doubt, assume the worst.

Use with Proper Ventilation‘ is a warning associated with many volatile materials, solvents, paints, adhesives, resins, etc. As a rule of thumb, at the GSD that means either outside or in a properly employed functioning spray-booth. And always wear a suitable personal respirator/face mask.

All GSD students are expected to be familiar with the Fab Lab requirements, policies, and online resources regarding Material Safety, including the Hazardous Materials Policy and required Web-Based Training Course

Penalties for violations of safety or health-related protocols and regulations may be assessed by FabLab Staff and the Dean of Students' office.

Environmental Health Resources

The GSD's Environmental Safety Compliance Officer (ESCO) is Kevin Cahill, Director of Facilities Management, in the Building Services department.

Harvard’s Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) department provides support, guidance, and resources to assist the schools/department with compliance with Federal EPA, OSHA, and Massachusetts regulatory agencies. The Designated Safety Officer for the GSD is Mark Collins, the EH&S Associate Director of Facilities and Life Safety.

Rachel Vroman, Manager of the GSD Fabrication Laboratory, oversees materials and processes approved for in use in the FabLab. Please contact healthyfablab@gsd.harvard.edu with any questions or concerns.

The Safe Technologies, Environments, And Processes (STEP) Taskforce is a GSD student and staff run group dedicated to advocating for safe technologies, environments, and processes. For more information, contact steptaskforce@gsd.harvard.edu.


Where can I get more information on Environmental Health and Safety at the GSD / Harvard?

See the links to resources above.

What should I do if I have health/safety questions about a particular material or process?

Try to get a Safety Data Sheet for the material. Consult with a Fab Lab staff member.

What should I do if I detect a dangerous situation or behavior?

Alert a responsible GSD staff member, or security guard. Evacuate the area if appropriate.

What kinds of monitoring and remediation does the GSD / Harvard do?

Harvard's EH&S organization routinely monitors air quality and other conditions at the GSD, especially in the Fabrication Lab.

What  is the STEP Task Force?

In April 2018 a small group of GSD staff and students formed the “Safe Technologies and Processes” (STEP) Task Force, and set about thinking about and planning for ways to reduce risks and environmental ill-effects of design- and fabrication- related materials and processes, and to increase communications and awareness among the GSD community. For more information, or with questions, or comments please email : STEPTaskForce@gsd.harvard.edu