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The Student’s Column

TEK management exposes students to hazardous environment in favour of prestigious research

For three years, the environment and 500 students in the association Development Lab at TEK in Odense have been exposed to hazardous health conditions resulting from health and safety violations in Create Lab. The students themselves have taken up the fight, while the management’s promises to find a solution are broken time and time again.

By Frederik Ditlevsen, 1/31/2024


I am chair of the association Development Lab at TEK in Odense, which is a study environment where students can meet, create exciting projects and learn from each other. The association is located on an open platform across the newer Create Lab, whose research involves casting with cement and the milling of large slabs of wood and polystyrene. For the past three years, these processes have turned the association into an environment thick with dust from wood and cement as well as noise levels that are damaging to the hearing, which has made it impossible to stay in the Development Lab for long periods, as well as causing headaches and affecting the airways. 

Prestige and finances take priority over safety and well-being 

As chair of the association, I have had to stand by and watch as my dialogues – and those of numerous others – with health and safety officers and section and department heads have led absolutely nowhere. A noteworthy factor is that the person responsible for the laboratory in Create Lab is a talented researcher who attracts both funding and prestige to SDU – something that SDU’s new strategy wants to see more of. But my experience from dialogues and agreements made with management is that they have been paralysed by a researcher who does not want to follow the existing laws, rules or agreements that have been made. 

One example is that the management has acknowledged the lack of necessary ventilation as well as other insufficient provisions in Create Lab. Despite this, the activities go on and are creating harmful conditions for the members of Development Lab. The fact that the management has allowed this to continue, even though they have been made aware of the problem, makes it clear that prestigious research is more important than the safety and well-being of both the students and the employees involved. 

Visits and breaches of agreements 

Nor did a visit from the Danish Working Environment Authority on 11 September have any effect, and the rules have still not been complied with following the visit. Since then, we have repeatedly measured noise levels of between 70 and 86 decibels and been exposed to wood and concrete dust on many occasions. However, the problems with wood dust could be solved immediately if an agreement that allowed Create Lab to complete a research project had been entered into – an agreement that we accepted with the condition that the situation would be solved in the future. However, like countless times before, this turned out not to be the case, and the very next week activities were again underway that generated dust and noise in the Development Lab. 

The Department’s disclaimer 

In more than ten meetings and dialogues with the Head of Department in the autumn, I was often informed that the person responsible for Create Lab has been told that this must not continue. However, the Head of Department could not promise that it would not happen again. This is in spite of the fact that the environment is hazardous to the health of more than 500 members – and has been for more than three years, and is a violation of the Working Environment Act. What the management at TEK has shown time and time again in this case is an unwillingness to take responsibility and the lack of competence to deal with its managers and researchers when rules, safety and instructions are being flouted from above. This is regardless of whether it comes from the Dean, the Head of Department, those responsible for health and safety or the Danish Working Environment Authority. 

Frederik Ditlevsen

Product Development and Innovation 2018–2024, Chair of Development Lab since 2020, Member of the Academic Council at TEK

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Editing was completed: 31.01.2024