Quality and Productivity Database

Descriptive Title of Proposal: Ryerson University Departmental Safety Officer Program
Year Submitted 2019
Awarded National prize - Risk Management
Person(s) Responsible for the Idea
Name / Nom Title / Titre
Geeta Sharma Director, Environment, Health, Safety (EHS) & Risk Management
Name of Institution Ryerson University
Office Address 415 Yonge Street, 1802D
Toronto, Ontario M5B 2E7
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Telephone: 416-979-5000 ext. 553079
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Name (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) Deborah Brown
Title (Senior Administrative Office of the Institution) VP, Administration and Operations
Office Address 380 Victoria Street, Jorgenson Hall, 1312
Toronto, Ontario M5B 1W7
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Telephone: 416-979-5000 ext. 5006
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In its continuing effort to embed safety into the culture and operation of every academic and non-academic unit on campus, Ryerson University’s Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) department implemented a university-wide system of Departmental Safety Officers (DSOs) and Departmental Safety Committees (DSCs).

This innovative program is distinctive in three primary ways: 1) while a handful of universities may have DSOs, the establishment of DSCs that include DSOs, a faculty lead, and a dedicated EHS manager is novel among Canadian universities; 2) collaboration between academic and non-academic (i.e. EHS, staff) partners toward the common goal of injury prevention has fueled deep engagement and customized safety programs across the university; and 3) safety practices grow out of the particular needs of each unit, which makes the DSO program inherently scalable and applicable to any university context in the country.

Structurally, each faculty, department, school, centre or zone at Ryerson designates a DSO who is knowledgeable about the ongoing operations of the unit, including potential hazards and required controls (refer to Attachment 1).

All 137 DSOs participate in the following training:

  1. An orientation session

  2. Mandatory Tier I training (Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workplace Inspection processes, and Near Miss, Incident and Injury Investigation procedures)

  3. As applicable, Tier II training, which includes e-learning modules and YouTube videos (refer to Attachments 2) related to hazard-specific topics (e.g. Office Ergonomics, Manual Material Handling, Lock out/Tag Out, and Machine Guarding).

The DSO is the point of contact with the EHS team. The shared responsibility model of the program addresses each unit’s specific operating needs, managing risk in a collaborative manner among students, faculty, and staff. The model also creates a chain of accountability from the grassroots level up to the Dean (refer to Attachment 3). EHS Managers regularly update the Deans and Directors on safety issues and provide consultations and ongoing program reports quarterly.  The Director, EHS and Risk Management delivers an annual progress report and safety action plans at Dean’s council meetings.  

Criteria Please submit one paragraph describing how the proposal fulfills each of the evaluation criteria.

The DSO program is scalable and applicable to any university, regardless of size or resources, because it adapts to the particular needs of each unit. There is also complete flexibility regarding implementation, as the model can be applied simultaneously across the university or be phased in starting with areas of highest risk. The DSO program’s shared responsibility model ensures collaboration between faculties, departments, senior management, the EHS team and faculty, staff and students consistent with the norms of university administrative cultures. In addition, this program will easily integrate into any existing EHS management system and is a complementary foundation for every institution’s Occupational Health and Safety Policy, which it must establish by law. The DSO program also supports compliance with legislative requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act by establishing an internal responsibility system for addressing health and safety matters. In particular, benefits of this program compatible with any university context include:

  • customized safety initiatives and programs for each operating unit

  • internal ownership of responsibility and action within units

  • easily transferable body of knowledge on safety practices

  • clear and broad system of communication at all levels

  • presence of a trained health and safety resource on site in every unit

  • internal health and safety resource for each unit to swiftly manage and resolve health and safety concerns

  • reduction in liability for each unit

  • support for EHS governance all the way up to senior level management through increased visibility of safety issues and action plans

  • enhancement of due diligence related to injury prevention

Quality Impact

By building capacity for customized safety solutions, improving communication and enhancing the visibility of EHS issues, the DSO program has created a shared sense of responsibility for preventative health and safety measures. The program facilitates compliance and injury prevention because it is based on an internal system for managing health and safety. The model engages senior management and department chairs in addressing hazards via regular workplace inspection reports, and this visible engagement enhances workplace wellness, morale and productivity by making employee wellbeing an evident priority. Particular evidence of the program’s impact includes:

  • The DSO program and the roles of the DSOs have been integrated into Ryerson’s community via DSO bulletin boards postings, regular safety tip sheets and an article in the community newsletter including interviews with DSOs (refer to Attachments 4 and 5).

  • Following the launch of the DSO program, Ryerson won two prestigious national awards: a Canada’s Safest Employer Silver Award  from Canadian Occupational Safety magazine and recognition as a 2017 runner up for CAUBO’s Quality and Productivity Award for our Office Ergonomics Program (Aches, Pains, and Office Strains).

  • A 2017 survey of DSOs was uniformly positive, including comments such as “joint effort,” “more visibility,” “sharing of knowledge,” “exchanging ideas,” “creating open dialogue,” and “safety is everybody’s responsibility.”

Productivity Impact

The quantitative impact of the initiative is evident through data illustrating the extent of training that has taken place and tangible changes in workplace operation and productivity. Most prominent among these metrics are the following:

  • The number of Lost Time Injuries in 2018 was 15% lower than in 2017, even though the number of employees has increased.

  • In the last two years, 110 DSOs have received Tier I training (Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workplace Inspection processes, and Near Miss, Incident and Injury Investigation procedures), and 60 DSOs have completed Tier II training related to hazard-specific topics (e.g. Office Ergonomics, Manual Material Handling, Lock out/Tag Out, and Machine Guarding).

  • In 2018, incident reporting increased by 51% compared to 2017.

  • 528 employees received safety training in 2018 compared to 430 in 2017.

  • In 2018, there were over 60 workplace inspections reports covering workspaces in all 48 buildings compared to just 31 inspection reports in 2017.


Though some universities in Canada may have DSOs, next to none of them have DSCs. Additionally, the nature of interactions between the DSO, DSC and dedicated EHS manager within each unit is a unique feature. Compared to standard operating procedure in Canadian universities, this program’s embedded collaboration between academics and non-academics working towards the common goal of injury prevention is innovative. The program is also distinctive for its ability to address specific department needs, facilitate ownership, and support communication by creating a collaborative framework that is institution-wide but internally led. Compared to previous solutions, the partnership between a DSO, dedicated EHS Manager and Chair or Director of a particular unit, which is fostered by regular meetings, is a key innovation. Ultimately, the DSO program has led to shared accountability across the university. Each unit is now able to identify new and emerging safety risks and draw upon the engagement of senior leadership to create a customized, sustainable and robust system of integrated safety.

Supporting Documents