April 26, 2004
Keeping campus on a safe path
While others may
enjoy the tall trees and manicured greenery as they stroll across campus, Mike
Christensen is ever on the lookout for potential dangers of any kind.
That may sound obsessive but it’s Christensen’s job to be obsessive. As the director of environmental health and safety at CSUS, Christensen and his staff regularly tour campus in search of anything that could be a potential safety threat to students, staff or visitors.
The department has two main areas of responsibility, preventing accidents and ensuring compliance with local, state and federal law. Among these duties, employee safety training is the one Christensen believes in most strongly.
“I believe having good information about safety is incredibly valuable,” he said. “Not just for yourself at work but also for your family and in your home.”
The key to avoiding accidents and injuries is avoiding hazards, according to Christensen. For that reason, the department asks that all potential hazards, such as those identified through “near-miss” accidents, be reported.
Near misses, such as a stumble over an exposed sprinkler head that does not result in injury, are part of the intricate science of risk reduction. Risk-reduction analysis is one of the health and safety office’s major responsibilities.
The effectiveness of the department is evident in the relatively few serious accidents and injuries on campus. The small number of injuries is especially remarkable considering that the campus community consists of more than 30,000 students and employees.
Overall, the total number of accidents was down from 183 in 2001 to 174 in 2003. The amount of worker compensation costs was also down last year from about $671,000 in 2002 to about $636,000 in 2003.
Of the 115 employee injuries reported between fall semester 2002 and March 2004, more than 60 were listed as sprains, strains or cuts. Other injuries included bruises, blisters, bites, burns, dislocations and abrasions. The most commonly injured body part reported by campus employees was the back, at 25.
Of the 109 injuries involving students during this period, the finger was the most commonly injured body part at about 20. Only four visitors to campus reported injuries over this period.
Most of the staff injuries, 56 percent, occurred to employees working in the facilities management department. Only two of the 174 accidents or injuries reported in 2003 involved faculty.
These numbers take into account all injuries reported on campus, with the exception of athletic injuries sustained during sporting events. Injuries involving employees of private vendors or contractors working on campus are also not tracked by CSUS.
Christensen, who has also worked as a safety director for other state and private agencies, can tell grisly stories of accidents at other sites. What bothers him most is that the majority of these incidents could have been avoided if proper safety training and procedures had been followed.
Christensen reminds those who consider mandatory safety training an unnecessary inconvenience to think of their friends and family in the workplace.
“Do you want your child or someone you love in a work environment where they might be unknowingly exposed to hazards that could forever change or end their lives?” he asks. “That is what safety training is designed to prevent. Know your rights and your responsibilities. Nobody should care more about your personal safety than you.”
In accordance with state and federal law, all CSUS employees are required to complete emergency action training and injury-and-illness prevention training. Both programs, along with a range of other information, are available online at the department’s website at www.ehs.csus.edu.
Employees may be required to complete additional training, depending on their job duties. The failure to ensure employees complete required training programs can result in government fines. All fines are paid by the specific campus department responsible for the violation.
The laws pertaining to health and safety on campus are extensive, especially when it comes to issues involving hazardous materials. “The campus is essentially treated like a small municipality located along a river,” Christensen said.
While these laws make Christensen’s job more challenging, he believes in the need for strict environmental law.
“History shows we need tough laws to ensure people’s health and safety is protected,” he said.
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