Playing it safe

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“Safety is a responsibility shared by everyone,” emphasizes a University safety awareness manual. In an environment where dangerous chemicals are handled on a daily basis, who cautions researchers and cleans up hazardous spills? Who gauges radiation safety and conducts on-campus food inspections? Who makes sure employees don’t get carpal tunnel syndrome?

Meet the University’s Office of Safety and Environmental Affairs. Headed by director Steven Beaudoin, the office coordinates all campus emergency plans, supervises inspections, monitors industrial hygiene, and, through its workspace-assessment program, keeps individuals’ desks ergonomically sound. New nonacademic University staff members attend the office’s mandatory training class—a 40-minute session—where they learn about critical safety tips: for instance, the difference between a Class A fire that involves “ordinary combustibles,” such as paper or cloth, and a Class K fire—an emergency with kitchen cooking oils. (The former is fought with a pressurized-water or dry-chemical extinguisher, while the latter responds only to a wet-chemical device). The course also covers emergency events, which range from Category 1 (“affects only one department or division”) to Category 3 catastrophes like tornadoes and acts of war. Fortunately, noted Beaudoin at a training session earlier this year, those are rare. To date, the University has had only one forced shutdown of its operations—during the massive Chicago blizzard of 1979


Photos: University safety training manual (top). The safety office encourages employees to protect against computer eyestrain (bottom).

December 2, 2005