Section 28 of the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that organizations which are subject to the Act, prepare a document which outlines the organization’s Occupational Health and Safety Program. This document was created in consultation with the Dalhousie University Environmental Health and Safety Committee and senior members of the Administration to respond to this requirement and to provide members of the University with a concise outline of the program. The Act requires that the program description, along with a Health and Safety policy statement, be reviewed annually by the Environmental Health and Safety Committee.
History of Dalhousie University’s Environmental Health and Safety Program
Dalhousie University has maintained a University-wide health and safety program since about 1980. Over this time period, the program has been characterized by a commitment to:
On-going program development (which often goes beyond mere compliance with regulations) in response to changes in both the internal University circumstances and external factors;
Engagement of the entire University community largely through the Dalhousie University Environmental Health and Safety Committee; and
Operation with other local and national organizations with shared interests in promoting health and safety.
Dalhousie Health and Safety Program Administration
Dalhousie Univeristy Environmental Health and Safety Policy was first adopted in the 1980s. Over time, the policy has been reviewed and updated. The current version was adopted in 2006 following extensive discussions within the Environmental Health and Safety Committee and then between the Committee and the University’s Senior Administration.
The policy, which is strongly supported by the President and Board of Governors, indicates that the University is fully committed to providing an environment which appropriately supports work, study, and campus life. The policy provides clear statements of the roles that each member of the University community is required to play in support of the Health and Safety Program.
Environmental Health and Safety Committee
Since 1980, the Dalhousie University Environmental Health and Safety Committee has provided a forum for discussion and input on the University’s program. Although established well in advance of any legislated requirement, the Committee serves the entire University and responds to the requirement set out in Sections 29 to 32 of the present Occupational Health and Safety Act. The Committee reports, through the Vice-President Finance and Administration, to the President of the University.
The Committee has played major roles in assisting the University in creating polices and programs which address smoking and the use of scented products. The Committee is also active in promoting safety. For almost a decade, the Committee has presented an annual award recognizing significant health and safety contributions by campus units.
The Committee is composed of individuals nominated by campus employee groups and the Student Union, and an equal number of University appointees. Other members of the University are welcome to attend meetings which are held monthly except during the summer months. The staff members of the Environmental Health and Safety Office provide administrative and technical support to the Committee. Minutes of the meetings are posted on the Safety web site.
Recognizing both the responsibility for safety in their units that is carried by Deans, Directors and Chairs, and the importance of participation, the University has encouraged heads of units to establish local health and safety committees. These committees provide opportunities to resolve health or safety concerns within the unit and provide opportunities for local safety innovation.
Environmental Health and Safety Office
With a staff compliment of twelve, the Environmental Health and Safety Office operates to:
- Offer advice to the University's Senior Management on ways in which the University can strengthen its efforts to provide a healthy and safe environment in support of the entire range of University activities;
- Support the activities of the Dalhousie University Environmental Health and Safety Committee;
- Support the Deans, Directors and Chairs of Departments as they discharge their responsibilities for health and safety within their units;
- Liaise with regulatory agencies and other organizations to keep the University informed of developments that could impact the Environmental Health and Safety Program;
- Ensure inspections, testing and training are carried-out as needed to ensure the University is operating in accord with legislation;
- Coordinate the disposal of hazardous waste created by teaching and research programs, and by the University's operations; and
- Provide support services for biosafety, chemical safety, environmental protection (hazardous materials), ergonomic assessments, fire and life safety, radiation protection, and occupational safety.
Communications is at the heart of the University's Health and Safety Program. Although the Office and the Committee make use of posters and newsletters and printed manuals, the web site is the principal communications tool. Using thousands of fixed and wireless connections, members of the University can access the site from anywhere on campus or from remote locations virtually anywhere on the globe.
The web site responds to many of the information posting requirements in the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Virtually all of the printed materials created by either the Safety Office or the Committee, direct readers to the site and pointers are also included in the University calendar, the telephone directory, and other University web sites. In a typical year, the site hosts over 70,000 visitors viewing over 165,000 pages.
Health and Safety Program Elements
Dalhousie operates a comprehensive emergency response program. Dalhousie Security Services provide a round the clock security service based out of a 24 hour Security Operations Centre. The Centre monitors building, fire and security alarms and the internal emergency phone network consisting of emergency telephones located in elevators, in outdoor, high traffic areas, and an internal, 24 hour emergency telephone number (4109) which is available from University offices and residence phones as well as pay phones across all three campuses. During emergencies, the Operations Centre communicates with emergency response agencies and maintains radio contact with security officers in vehicles or on foot patrol across the University’s three campuses.
When an emergency is reported by a member of the University using 4109 (or an electronic monitoring system), the Centre dispatches patrol officers and calls the 911 system to request a response by the appropriate emergency response agency. The patrol officer responds, ready to secure the site, provide emergency first aid, assist in building evacuation, or to support the municipal emergency responders as needed.
The Centre’s supervisor is also able to contact the Director of Facilities Management, the Chief of Security or the Director of Environmental Health and Safety - all of whom are on call to provide advice on emergency response. Facilities Management operates a call-out system that brings trades and custodial staff to campus after-hours to respond to emergencies. Security Services, Facilities Management and Environmental Health and Safety have each stockpiled supplies that are available in responding to emergencies.
Dalhousie meets its obligations under Nova Scotia First Aid Regulations by operating fully equipped and staffed medical facilities on both the Studley and Sexton campuses. After hours, Dalhousie meets the need for first aid by providing radio-dispatched Security Officers. These first aid trained officers respond in a Security vehicle which carries a fully stocked first aid kit and an automatic external defibrillator (AED).
Dalhousie goes beyond mere compliance with the First Aid Regulation by providing and re-stocking convenience first aid kits to requesting campus units. This service is provided co-operatively by the Safety Office and Facilities Management.
To improve our capacity to respond to on-campus cardiac emergencies, in 2001, Dalhousie placed automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in the Dalplex and in each Security Services vehicle. In 2005, the University decided to progressively place an AED in each Dalhousie building. By the end of 2007-2008, 15 units will be in place. In support of the program, the Safety Office offers training in first aid, CPR and operation of AEDs.
For many years, Dalhousie has required members of the community to report accidents or incidents which have the potential to cause injury or damage. (Accident/Incident Form) Despite the size and complexity of the institution, given the various routes by which information on accidents and incidents is channeled to the Safety Office, it is unlikely that significant events go unreported. In addition to collecting information on work accidents, the reporting program also gathers information on sporting injuries (which might involve either members of the University community or members of the public using University sporting facilities), accidents which injure students engaged in study or other aspects of University life. The program also tracks the University response to on-campus medical emergencies involving members of the University as well as visitors to the campus and, in some cases, the response to accidents or medical emergencies which occur on public property surrounding Dalhousie.
The program also gathers information on incidents including events such as fires, chemical spills, floods and water leaks, and events which adversely impact indoor air quality.
Copies of the accident/incident form are forwarded to the Dalhousie Safety Office, the individual involved in the accident, and the head of the local unit, again often through the local safety committee.
At each meeting of the Dalhousie Environmental Health and Safety Committee, the Safety Office provides a summary of the previous month’s accident experience. Each year the Committee participates in drafting the Environmental Health and Safety Office’s annual report to the Dalhousie Board of Governor’s. A significant portion of that report is devoted to an analysis to the year’s accident experience in an on-going effort to identify and respond to situations which cause serious or recurring accidents.
The Environmental Health and Safety Committee has established a procedure for investigating accidents. The purpose of which is to identify means by which similar accidents could be prevented in the future. The Safety Office or the Environmental Health or the Safety Committee can initiate the procedure. The procedure is normally only used in the case of serious accidents (or ones which, under other circumstances, could have been serious). Supported by the staff of the Safety Office, members of the Committee normally take the lead in conducting such investigations although the Committee usually invites others to participate including those with first hand information about the accident or its circumstances.
The Committee forwards recommendations which arise from these investigation to the supervisor responsible for the area or the University’s Senior Administration.
The University has established a comprehensive fire safety program. Fire safety matters are among the critical elements considered in the design and maintenance of University buildings. Design elements, as set out in the National Fire and Building Codes, are incorporated in the design of new buildings. So, for example, new buildings are constructed with modern fire separations, alarms, refuges, and fire detection and suppression systems. These pieces of equipment and systems are tested regularly and serviced by Facilities Management or by external firms which provide specialized services in these areas.
However, since Code requirements change on a frequent basis, Dalhousie is involved in ongoing upgrading of safety features, equipment and systems in older buildings.
Dalhousie has adopted a fire safety policy and fire safety rules. In addition, through the Deans, Directors and Chairs, the University operates a fire warden system in each of the University’s major buildings. Fire warden teams, supported by the Health and Safety Office, develop emergency evacuation plans, and supervise evacuations during drills or real emergencies.
Again, supported by the Safety Office, training of fire wardens is conducted by chief building wardens using, among other resources, the Dalhousie Fire Warden Handbook.
Fire warden teams are also playing increasingly important roles in building fire inspections and first aid.
Trades and Custodial Safety
By the nature of their work, trades and custodial staff of Facilities Management face potential health and safety risks which are quite different from those faced by other members of the University. To address these unique work situations, Facilities Management has adopted its own safety management system. In creating this program, the Director of Facilities Management worked closely with the Facilities Management Operations Safety Committee, - one of the many local committees referred to previously. To ensure good communications, a number of Facilities Management staff, - including some who are also members of the Operations Safety Committee, - sit on the Dalhousie Environmental Health and Safety Committee.
Training and Supervision
Dalhousie requires those entrusted with supervisory responsibilities to discharge their supervision and training responsibilities appropriately. Training and supervision on safety are then but two aspects of the work expected of every supervisor. Given the varied nature of University work, the appropriate level and type of supervision and training varies dramatically from unit to unit and from one work situation to another.
Within Facilities Management, training requirements have been identified taking into account the fact that, in many occupations, employees are recruited only after having completed technical training. Such technical training programs are designed to ensure that graduates are fully versed in how to perform their tasks safely. Facilities Management has developed a training program which builds upon this foundation to ensure that:
- Employees are familiar with policies and procedures that are specific to Dalhousie;
- Employees acquainted with safety requirements that arise from unique situations the employee might face at Dalhousie; and
- Facilities Management meets legislated requirements.
Such training is provided through a range of programs including some provided internally, often delivered by the staff of the Safety Office (or Facilities Management staff who have participated in Safety Office train-the-trainer courses), or by external consulting and training organizations.
The majority of the safety training on the academic side of the institution is provided within the unit when teachers and researchers integrate safety into the curriculum. In some areas - such as ergonomics, chemical, radio chemical and biosafety, WHMIS and first aid -training is organized centrally -gain, often by the Safety Office.
Laboratories and the associated use of chemicals and specialized equipment create potential health and safety risks at Dalhousie that are not common in other Nova Scotia organizations. In response to these potential risks, Dalhousie has developed an extensive program which focuses on reducing these risks. The University’s Radiation Safety Program is well established having been in operation since the mid 1970’s. Although of more recent vintage, the University also operates safety programs which address the risks presented by the operation of x-ray generators, powerful lasers and work with biohazardous or infectious materials.
The University has adopted a set of research laboratory safety policies which clarify the University’s expectations of laboratory supervisors and heads of units which operate laboratories. The policies address such matters as laboratory security, chemical inventories, storage and movement of chemicals, waste handling, and emergency response. To communicate the presence of laboratory hazards, Dalhousie, with input from Halifax Regional Municipality’s Fire and Emergency Services, has instituted a laboratory door poster displaying pictograms which illustrate the hazards present in the laboratory. The poster also indicates that higher hazard “red coded” laboratories which service providers may only enter when a representative of the laboratory is present to provide safety instruction.
To reduce the likelihood of harm to people or the environment, Dalhousie has created a series of waste disposal procedures which guide staff and students in dealing with ‘special’ wastes created by laboratories or clinics. In connection with these procedures, Dalhousie operates an integrated special waste disposal program which ensures that waste chemicals, radio chemicals, potentially infectious wastes and hazardous or highly regulated operations materials are disposed of safely and in accord with the applicable regulations.
Dalhousie has recently expanded its inspection program to create a three level system.
Facilities Management Inspections
Across the University, staff of Facilities Management conduct regularly scheduled inspections. In carrying out these rounds, staff inspect mechanical spaces and the specialized equipment present in these spaces. Inspection reports and the resulting follow up are fully integrated into the University’s facility management software.
Fire Safety Inspections
Routine fire and general safety inspections are carried out monthly by members of the fire warden teams. Deficiencies are forwards to the head of the unit, Facilities Management or the Safety Office depending upon the nature of the deficiency.
The Office of Environmental Health and Safety is among the units involved in training fire wardens to conduct the inspections.
Inspections of Higher Hazard or Highly Specialized Areas
At least annually, supervisors responsible for the operation of areas where higher than normal or highly specialized hazards are present, are required to carry out a self-inspection. Among the areas included in this program are laboratories, where dangerous chemicals or equipment are used, workshops where potentially dangerous machinery is used and clinics providing patient care. Deficiencies outside of the areas that can be addressed by the supervisor are forwarded to the head of the unit, Facilities Management or the Safety Office as appropriate.
The results of these self-inspections are reported to the unit head - often through a local committee. The unit head is required to ensure that external audits are carried out (often by members of the local safety committee) on a representative number of areas so the unit head can be assured that the inspection program is functioning effectively. Again the Safety Office is among the units involved in developing inspection instruments and in training inspectors and auditors.
Dalhousie undertakes monitoring of conditions in buildings or on University property in response to concerns that hazards might be present. Depending upon the context, testing might be conducted by Facilities Management, the local unit or the Safety Office. Such testing includes assessment of indoor air quality, water quality, contamination levels in soil, waste or waste water. Testing for physical agents such a noise, illumination, non-ionizing radiation agents are also occasionally conducted. The results of such monitoring are reported to those who might be impacted by the matter being assessed and, through the Safety Office, to the Environmental Health and Safety Committee.
Since its inception, Dalhousie’s Environmental Health and Safety Program has been rooted in the need to continuously evolve and improve. Suggestions for improvements come from a myriad of sources. Dealings with officials from municipal, provincial, and federal or regulatory agencies provide vital perspectives on the effectiveness of the program and the need for improvements. On-going contact that Environmental Health and Safety Office staff have with safety professionals at other universities and colleges in Atlantic Canada and across the country, identify ways to strengthen the Dalhousie program. Also important are suggestions from Dalhousie staff, faculty, and students who bring different perspectives and often experience gained in other institutions. Members of the Environmental Health and Safety Committee are often a conduit for these suggestions. Particularly important internal sources of comment on program effectiveness are staff of Facilities Management, the Offices of Risk Management, Employment Equity, Personnel Services, Security Services, and the University’s Legal Counsel.
In addition to the review of effectiveness that takes place at each meeting of the Dalhousie Environmental Health and Safety Committee, the preparation of the annual report and the subsequent discussions with the Board of Governor’s Audit Committee, provides annual opportunities for a comprehensive review of the programs’ effectiveness.