Environmental Health and Safety: Year In Review

The Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHSO) has the mission of providing comprehensive environmental and occupational health and safety support services to our research community and other Emory stakeholders with an aim of protecting people, environment and reputation by ensuring compliance with applicable regulations.  This past year’s activities contributed to the mission of ORA and the overall mission of the University through planned process improvements and by EHSO’s contributions to safe work and studies during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our collaborations included CEPAR, Procurement, Campus Services, Emory College of Arts and Sciences, Laney Graduate School, School of Medicine, and EHSO continues to serve on several COVID-19 related committees that provide guidance to the community.

This past year’s focus was on process improvement and managing the pandemic. A notable process improvement activity was the implementation of a web-based radioactive materials (RAM) management software, EHSAssist, which supports both University and Healthcare operations. ORAIT collaborated with EHSO to provide a complete transition to this software in a 6-week timeline.  It is proposed that additional research-based activities, such as hazardous waste management, be transitioned to this software during this fiscal year.  This will bring EHSO closer to a single interface which will benefit our research community as they interact with EHSO. More to come on this effort in 2021.

Members of EHSO worked very diligently to provide safe high containment laboratories for work with COVID-19.  The team worked with Pediatrics to conduct testing and provide operating protocols for the biosafety level 3 (BSL3) labs at the Health Sciences Research Building.  EHSO personnel at the Yerkes National Primate Center prepared animal biosafety level 3 (ABSL-3) labs, conducted training and confirmed work operations to work with non-human primates within two months.  The ABSL-3 labs at the Whitehead Biomedical Research Building underwent extensive upgrades and passed testing in a remarkable 6-week schedule.  This is the result of a very close collaboration with EHSO, Division of Animal Resources and Campus Services.

COVID-19 related activities required an extraordinary amount of EHSO effort.  Using knowledge of infectious agents, biosafety, facilities operations and CDC guidance, EHSO developed guidance and task-specific PPE matrices to provide a safe environment for study, research and other campus activities.    EHSO developed a disinfection program that is currently in daily use by Campus Services Building and Residential Services.  EHSO has been involved with the fast track of several COVID-19 research protocols. It should be noted that EHSO has continued ‘normal’ safety operations in addition to COVID related duties.

Five Primary Goals for the 2021 Academic Year

COVID-19 Support – EHSO will continue to be vigilant in providing guidance to protect our community from COVID-19.

Engagement – Develop an EHSO stakeholder engagement committee that includes key faculty and administrators involved in the oversight of safety activities with the purpose of providing voice and guidance from our campus community.

Communication – Develop a comprehensive communication strategy to enhance EHSO visibility and communications across the institution as a method to promote safety and compliance as well as environmental stewardship.  This would be accomplished by stakeholder engagement and is envisioned to include revamping the current newsletter and updating the EHSO website.

Chemical Safety Committee – Broaden the scope of this committee to evaluate high hazard chemical use in more detail.  Currently the primary focus of this committee is on the use of hazardous chemicals in animal research.

Inspection program revision – Revise the Inspection Programs by re-evaluating the self-inspection process, refining the risk-based protocol based on the activities that occur within the space and removing redundancies in the program.

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