Imagine a workplace where safety is not a priority, and employees do what they want when they want without regard to how their actions affect others. There are no protocols in place to address risk factors. Fire measures and lab safety are elusive ideals.
For some workplaces, these examples may be stark realities, but at UNLV, these situations are few and far between thanks to the diligent work of Risk Management & Safety (RMS), the cohort of teams leading the charge to cultivate a culture of safety.
RMS is a critical part of the university’s daily operations. From protecting the campus community from injury to shielding the institution from financial loss, RMS offers comprehensive training programs that promote the safety and well-being of all UNLV employees, students, and visitors. Highly skilled experts make up the RMS units that keep safety protocols at the forefront of their minds daily. The department’s Interim Executive Director Paul Garcia and his team understand the breadth of their charge and use their cumulative years of experience to stay abreast of industry trends and standards.
“RMS recognizes hazards and then takes the appropriate steps to protect the university,” said Garcia. “Having hard conversations with departments and getting accountability from leadership are also a part of creating a culture of safety because, at the end of the day, the biggest box to check is that everyone goes home safely,” he asserted.
Cultivating a culture of safety requires employees to follow state and federal regulatory requirements, regulations, and rules, learn and apply industry best practices to daily tasks to help mitigate risks, and use data analysis to maintain adequate equipment and properly coded buildings. It is something that everyone has to take ownership of daily.
“Workplace safety is everyone’s right, as well as everyone’s responsibility,” says Brent Webber, assistant director of laboratory safety.
RMS is composed of six units that serve different functions. From the environmental management and laboratory safety team collaborating with faculty, staff, and students to identify and reduce environmental and laboratory hazards to occupational safety engaging in collaborative discussions with safety committee members concerning initiatives to promote a safe campus, RMS has its hands in every aspect of UNLV’s well-being.
“Our teams work extremely hard, are very passionate about what they do to identify safety hazards, and take their responsibilities to safety and this university very seriously,” says Garcia.
And it’s that energy — total commitment and dedication to their job — that birthed countless RMS-led initiatives that are making a difference.
RMS Campus Initiatives
RMS partners with departments across all UNLV campuses as well as at Nevada State College (NSC), to foster an environment where people feel secure and where dangerous risks are eliminated; a display of purposeful directives that manifest as powerful, efficient initiatives. For instance, the department recently participated in an Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) initiative. The project led to a greater collaboration with the vice president for research’s office and enhancements to RMS’ lab safety oversight, which resulted in adding a new assistant director of lab safety to help increase capacity. They are also collaborating with NSHE to implement an enterprise risk management (ERM) system institution-wide.
The department partners with local community groups as well. Currently, it is working with an FBI special agent who oversees the local Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) unit and emergency response agencies to improve university safety and response capabilities for the current radiation programs. RMS also works with all fire response districts (Henderson, Las Vegas, and Clark County) to improve emergency responses by holding training sessions regarding chemical storage and quantities for UNLV’s Maryland and Shadow Lane campuses and Nevada State College.
Along with its collaborative efforts, RMS’ units create standard operating procedures (SOP) outlining safety protocols, which is what Fire & Life Safety did when it developed an SOP for using private fire hydrants and conducting evacuation drills. Environmental management and laboratory safety created standard operating procedures for identifying, handling, transporting, and disposing of biohazardous waste.
Risk Management & Safety also encourages individuals to involve the department in the beginning stages of the event planning process. Last year alone, RMS reviewed more than 250 campus events, large and small, to ensure proper safety setup and execution. These efforts involved walking each event several times to make sure any concerns were addressed in a timely manner.
These are just a few of RMS’ action items that demonstrate how the department is improving safety on our campuses. The team's hard work is gaining visibility, with President Whitfield recently visiting RMS in a demonstration of his commitment to safety; a moment that gave the department the opportunity to shine in a major way.
Departmental Safety Tips
Every department across UNLV campuses can do its part to create and cultivate a culture that prioritizes safety. Here are some tips from RMS team members:
- “Don't overlook something that you think may be a minor infraction,” says Robert Deaver, software engineer in the Environmental and Health Safety unit.
- “Exercise your right to 'stop work' if you do not have adequate training or equipment to safely perform the task,” says Brent Webber.
- “It takes a concerted effort on all parties to create a safe environment, so call RMS any time,” says Ricky Rideout, Environmental and Laboratory Safety manager.
- “Ask yourself simple questions before proceeding, like is this practice safe or what are the consequences if I do this,” says Michael Tabije, risk management & insurance administrator in Environmental Health and Safety.
- “Conduct self-inspections to identify hazards that could cause a fire or cause an injury,” says Lew Austin, Fire and Life Safety manager.
- “Ensure all radiation workers are completing their required "after use" radiological surveys, using the proper PPE for their specific RAM work,” says Brian Rowsell, radiation officer.
- “Make sure you have a clear understanding of your job and the proper tools and processes in place to do the job properly the first time,” says John Tomola, Occupational Safety program manager.
Another way departments can promote and cultivate a safe work environment is to consider the physical health of their employees. Managers can do this by encouraging their employees to complete Wellnomics, a self-assessment software that applies the science of ergonomics to help employees evaluate their workspaces and make adjustments to reduce discomfort, fatigue, and injury while maximizing their productivity.
More information about Wellnomics and its two self-assessments that determine individuals’ overall risk scores can be found on the Risk Management & Safety website. Additionally, departments can post visible safety measure reminders and use the near miss report system to identify hazards or risks.
To learn more about Risk Management & Safety and its initiatives or if you have questions, email Paul Garcia.