Meet Environmental Health and Safety: Campus guardians
Monday, December 6, 2021
Media Contact: Shannon Rigsby | Public Information Officer | 405-744-9081 | firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether you know it or not, the folks at Environmental Health and Safety are always thinking of ways to make your experience on campus safer.
The department has four largely distinct divisions and works behind the scenes across Oklahoma State University to maintain a safe environment and prevent injuries.
Led by Kim Southworth, who served as an industrial hygienist in the Air Force for more than 20 years, EHS is focused on finding the best solution to protect people, property and the environment.
“Our role for the university really is to ensure that classes continue, research is happening, and the faculty, staff, students and visitors are safe while they’re here,” she said. “It’s a big obligation to the university.”
On a campus that spans 800 acres with more than 380 buildings and thousands of people, the job is monumental.
EHS’s Fire and Life Safety division maintains the portable fire extinguishers on campus — all 3,380 of them — and checks them monthly. It also evaluates all the buildings on campus to ensure they meet appropriate fire codes.
The Environmental Compliance division disposes of all chemical waste on campus, including cleaning up small spills. They work with principal investigators — faculty members doing research in university laboratories —on where to keep chemicals and materials for disposal. They know how to package, safely transport and meet regulated disposal requirements.
The laboratory safety division surveys more than 1,100 labs on campus to ensure the right personal protective equipment is available, safety equipment is working and appropriate labeling is on the doors. By the numbers, they annually check 461 fume hoods, 264 safety showers, 427 drench hoses and 318 eyewash stations.
They also make sure chemicals are stored correctly. While it may seem logical to store chemicals alphabetically, EHS makes sure they’re stored by class. They also work with each lab’s principal investigator to maintain chemical inventories online.
EHS’s Occupational Safety division works to ensure the university is implementing all of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration programs like trench safety, confined space safety and lock-out/tag-out, procedures used to ensure equipment is inoperable until maintenance or repair work is completed. They investigate every injury reported on campus, including near misses.
“We check those because if we can find the root cause, we can get rid of it,” Southworth said. “For example, if someone tripped over a part of the sidewalk, but didn’t get hurt, it’s still considered an incident. We would work with Facilities Management to get the issue corrected.”
Occupational Safety is also getting more involved with construction safety involving contractors to evaluate their safety protocols.
“We’re protecting everyone from potential issues on campus,” Southworth said. “Education is our main mission for the university. The entire mission is to keep people safe. There are always regulatory components but that’s secondary to keeping everyone safe. If everyone leaves the same way they arrive, we have performed our mission.”
Southworth has introduced a new level of precision since she took over in 2018. The department runs on what she calls “continuity documents.” Every process and procedure is documented and reviewed at regular intervals. They identify the mission, define the parameters and execute. For example, some labs might be considered untidy, but what is the definition of “untidy” and when does it become a problem? EHS defines the variables and works to apply them equally.
Southworth is quick to praise the EHS team members.
“What they do is meaningful,” she said. “For the amount of laboratories, safety equipment and buildings, they do just an amazing job. We have our goals and our mission we have developed for EHS and they’re all very dedicated to that, to ensuring the university is the best it can be.”
Michael Robinson, director of Public Safety at OSU, said he is proud of the work EHS does to support the stakeholders across the campus.
“Although it was never by design, there was a time when EHS was viewed by some as an obstacle to their operations,” he said. “Under Kim Southworth’s leadership, EHS is now seen as a true ‘partner’ and a resource in helping others accomplish their goals. Kim, and the hard work of her employees, has developed a great culture and created a department that promotes a ‘let’s see how we can get this done’ attitude, while continuing to ensure that we do things in a safe and efficient way across our campus.