An all unit heads, all DSOs meeting was held in June to review progress and to share information on new development of our safety management program. Many heads of department/center/office and their safety officers attended; our Provost and VPAB also came to express their visions and expectations and reminded us to fulfill our roles and responsibilities to help ensure safety on our campus.
Safety performance in 2011 and the trend in the past few years were reviewed. Last year, there were 19 cases of staff accidents, 6 cases of student accidents (non-sport related) and 4 cases of contractor accidents. They led to 144 lost workdays. Handling sharp objects, manual handling and slips and falls were the more frequent causes of injuries. For further details, please see summary.
A presentation summarizing a variety of fatal and serious accidents in US universities in the past few years highlighted the importance of maintaining a sound and effective safety management program. These included a fatal UCLA fire incident involving a research assistant, a fatal lathe accident involving a graduate student at Yale, a fatal infection involving a professor at the University of Chicago, an explosion which inflicted serious injuries to a graduate student at Texas Tech University, a fatal toxic exposure of a Dartmouth College professor to organo-mercury compound as a result of wearing the wrong protective glove, etc. These examples helped to illustrate the importance of maintaining an effective health and safety management across the board.
To further enhance and ensure the quality of HKUST's safety management program, the university's Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Committee, under the leadership of our VPAB, had decided to make it a mandatory requirement for new colleagues involving in laboratory operations to attend a safety orientation. This is in addition to mandatory safety training required for use of specific hazardous agents, such as chemicals, radioisotopes, infectious materials, lasers, etc. This matter was addressed and discussed at the meeting. In the past, the task of safety orientation for laboratory personnel had been assigned to the departmental management. However, the implementation has been variable, and many faculty members were essentially exempted from it. The new requirement calls for a centralized effort and will include all faculty members. It is envisaged that this new arrangement will help communicate safety roles and responsibilities and other requirements more uniformly to all concerned employees. The orientation will also cover HKUST policies and procedures and available resources to help colleagues comply with legal and institutional requirements.
Another issue covered at the meeting was the requirement to conduct risk assessment for all hazardous operations. While some departments have already established such a program, others have yet to formalize their effort. The EHS committee also felt that this is one of the critical elements for ensuring research safety and it should also be standardized. Unit heads and DSOs were informed of this new development and various ways of compliance were introduced. HSEO had pledged to work with each concerned unit to review existing effort and to formulate unit-specific processes to meet this requirement.
The VPAB shared with the audience that we must all work together to help maintain a healthy and safe work and study environment. We all must put in the effort to learn about hazards in our assignment and be familiar with ways to control these hazards to prevent accidents and injuries.
Let's continue to work in unison and fulfill our safety roles and responsibilities to help maintain a safe and healthy HKUST!