"I walk the tightrope between safety and sustainability”

Have you ever wondered what happens to the dangerous or toxic chemicals and substances used in research around Health? The answer can be found with safety consultant Trine Guldager Sørensen.

Trine Guldager Sørensen is responsible, among other things, for teaching laboratory technicians, technicians, researchers, students, and drivers in risk assessment, disposal of chemical waste, and transportation of hazardous goods.
Trine Guldager Sørensen is responsible, among other things, for teaching laboratory technicians, technicians, researchers, students, and drivers in risk assessment, disposal of chemical waste, and transportation of hazardous goods. Photo: Generated with Adobe Firefly.

"My most important role is to create a safe and environmentally friendly work environment in the laboratories."

It can be put simply when Trine Guldager Sørensen describes her work at Health. With a background as a laboratory technician and a long career in the laboratory that took shape back in the 90s, she has developed a deep understanding of safety procedures and sustainability in the research world over several decades.

"I have always had an interest in safety and worked with dangerous substances. As a young laboratory assistant, I made guidelines for working with dangerous chemicals. As the years went by, safety work took up more and more of my time, and I later made guides for working with nanoparticles, radioactive material, pesticides, and much more. Today, I have a special focus on how we can create a greener future in the laboratories without compromising safety," says Trine Guldager Sørensen.

Teaches everyone from researchers to drivers

She went full-time as a safety advisor in 2012 and is today an important resource at Health. Trine Guldager Sørensen is now also responsible for teaching both laboratory technicians, technicians, researchers, students, and drivers in risk assessment, disposal of chemical waste, and transport of dangerous goods.

"My goal with the teaching is to transform complex instructions into tangible everyday situations that PhD students as well as drivers can benefit from. It may seem like a big mouthful when you hear the word 'chemical risk assessment', so my foremost task is to ensure that employees, most importantly, understand what they need the information for in their daily lives," she says.

According to Trine Guldager Sørensen, everyday life in the laboratory looks very different today than when she started back in the 90s.

"We have gained a much better overview of how dangerous it actually is to work with different chemicals and substances. In the old days, a description could sound: 'May be carcinogenic. It's up to you if you want to work with the substance'. That sounds completely insane today, because now we have very clear rule sets," she says and continues:

"When I started in the university world, we often produced loads of pallets with 25-liter drums of chemical waste, which were sent off with a truck. Now the waste ends up in small five-liter drums, which we send out now and then, because we can do the same work with much less waste".

Good advice for green handling of chemicals from AU's Green Lab Guide:

1. Get an overview of the work process (plan and organize).

2. Obtain information about dangerous properties, including environmentally hazardous properties, read the safety data sheet.

3. Investigate whether a less dangerous, including environmentally hazardous chemical can be used (substitution).

4. Purchase the right amounts.

5. Search for registered chemicals at AU, borrow from each other at the institute via a database.

6. Clean up in the chemical cabinets. Storage of chemicals takes place under ventilation, which is energy-consuming. Therefore, it is recommended to introduce an annual cleanup in the chemical cabinets, so unnecessary chemicals do not stand and take up space.

7. Sort waste correctly. You can read more about the work to lift the physical and psychological work environment at Health on the FAMU page here.

"I have always had a green heart"

Trine Guldager Sørensen's work does not stop at safety. As part of the working group behind "AU's Green Guide", Trine has also helped to put sustainability on the agenda in the laboratories at the university.

"I have always had a green heart, so it was a task that was right up my alley to contribute to finding sustainable solutions and ensuring that they do not compromise safety in the laboratory," she says.

"We have been able to save a lot on CO2 emissions in the laboratories by cutting down on the number of fume hoods and changing the behavior in using them. In addition, we have introduced thumb rules such as not having chemicals standing for too long and only buying the amount we need. It is beneficial from both a climatic and safety point of view," says Trine Guldager Sørensen.

"I hardly know what we would do without her"

David Kraft is the coordinating occupational health and safety manager at Health and chairman of AU Chemical Network, a network that works to ensure a rational and uniform implementation of chemical handling at the university. He has only praise for Trine Guldager Sørensen's work.

"Chemical risk assessment and sustainability in the laboratories are areas that we prioritize and spend a lot of effort on. Therefore, Trine is extremely valuable to us. Not only because of her great knowledge, but also because she takes responsibility far beyond her actual work area," he says and continues:

"I hardly know what we would do without her. The few times we have had situations with emergency responses and acute safety crises in the laboratories, it's Trine I call. She is with us all the way, takes responsibility, and is fantastic at communicating clearly and at eye level with everyone she meets".

Although Trine Guldager Sørensen's career in the laboratory has lasted several decades, she is by no means finished thinking in new ways when it comes to increasing safety and sustainability.

"At the University of Copenhagen, they have created a certification scheme, where the individual laboratory can be awarded a gold, silver, or bronze medal depending on how good they are at lifting the climate effort. I could easily see that working here at AU. I generally believe that sustainability and a green profile in the future will be some of the most important things if we want to attract skilled students and guest researchers," says Trine Guldager Sørensen.

AU's Green Guide

In AU's Green Guide, you can find inspiration for how you can contribute to a greener university. The guide covers not just everyday life in the laboratory, but also good advice for transport, food and drink, everyday office life, and meetings and conferences.

AU's Green Guide is based on AU's climate strategy.


Safety Advisor Trine Guldager Sørensen
Aarhus University, Administration Center Health
Phone: 20 73 04 77
Email: tgs@au.dk

Associate Professor, Section Leader and Coordinating Occupational Health and Safety Manager David Christian Evar Kraft
Aarhus University, Department of Dentistry and Oral Health
Phone: 40 63 10 30
Email: dck@dent.au.dk