|Descriptive Title of Proposal:||Improving Organizational Safety through a Health and Safety Management System|
|Person(s) Responsible for the Idea||
|Name of Institution||University of Alberta|
|Office Address||1204 College Plaza
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2C8
|Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution)||Gitta Kulczycki|
|Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution)||Vice-President, Finance and Administration|
|Office Address||2-04B South Academic Building
11328 - 89 Ave NW
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2J7
From Wake-up Call to Transformation
In the autumn of 2013 the University of Alberta experienced explosions in two labs, each resulting in significant injuries to a graduate student. The explosions represented a wake-up call, confirming that the university was not doing enough to improve its safety culture. After a review of best practices within both academic and nonacademic settings, the university chose to develop a structured and comprehensive approach to all environment, health and safety activities by implementing its own environment, health and safety management system (EHSMS).
Through the review process leading to implementation, significant deficiencies were identified with the university’s existing health and safety practices. Compliance with standard health and safety practices was inconsistent; there was inadequate coordination within the Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) division; EHS clients voiced frustration with the level of service they received. Further, inspections addressed specific hazards but ignored others; over many years and haphazard evolution of practices, EHS weren’t consistent with the type of forms, definitions and processes used during inspections, creating the potential to easily overlook significant hazards.
Through a comprehensive change process over a three-year period, the university developed and implemented a custom health and safety management system that included:
With the introduction of the EHSMS, and without increasing the EHS budget, e-learning participation has increased by 30 percent to over 10,000 courses completed per year, personal protective equipment (PPE) compliance has increased from about 45 percent to nearly 90; lab inspections have increased from a few hundred to 1600 annually; safety committees are in place across the organization, all developing annual health and safety plans; a standard on-line hazard assessment application has been launched; and the university’s board of governors receives regular health and safety briefings and education.
|Criteria||Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.|
Because it was developed for a university, the U of A’s health and safety management system is fully transferable to any university. Elements that can be transferred to another institution include:
The University of Alberta, like other U15 institutions, strongly believes in the sharing of best practices and is able to share all elements of its EHSMS. Sharing can be achieved in many ways: the university’s policies are available online and public, as is the president’s safety message; through special arrangement directly with the department, EHS can provide access to other institutions to view and explore its e-learning modules and hazard assessment tool (the university’s “active shooter” video has been licensed to universities across Canada and the US, with licensing revenue providing funds for further, similar projects; a similar model could be used to share already-developed e-learning modules); finally, EHS staff are eager to discuss and describe the framework and the efforts required to put it in place.
The goal of the university in developing its health and safety management system was to improve the organization’s environment, health and safety culture, which includes the actions, attitudes and behaviours of members of the community. Such a culture includes ethical, moral and practical considerations; it includes ensuring all members have the appropriate skills and knowledge; it includes recognizing lines of authority and responsibility; it involves continuous learning; it includes systems for reporting and investigating incidents; and it includes constant, positive communication.
The expected qualitative outcomes were the enhanced understanding of the board members, senior executive and deans of their leadership responsibilities in health and safety.
Safety programs, like most risk management programs, do not provide easy measures for cost savings for the simple reason that one cannot measure the cost of the incidents that didn’t occur. Still, what is known is that the costs associated with individual incidents grow rapidly and can be high. Costs rapidly accumulate due to lost time, diverted resources (for investigation), legal expenses, fines, hospital stays, insurance, including WCB, and reputational harm. None of these considerable costs compare to the cost of human suffering that affects injured or killed individuals and their families, colleagues and friends.
Further, and also difficult to measure, is the fact that organizations with strong safety cultures typically outperform those without such a culture in most key measures.
What is known, however, is that the University’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety is doing much more without an increase in resources. To repeat:
The innovative component of this initiative is that it leverages a finite group of 26 individuals to bring comprehensiveness and consistency in environment, health and safety practices to a large, decentralized, highly complex organization.
The university’s health and safety management system was developed following extensive research of best practices in all major industries, then customized to work within a university. The approach includes an innovative organizational structure within EHS that is a departure from a traditional hazard type structure to an activity-based structure.
To our knowledge, there is no similar initiative focused on a university’s health and safety system.
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