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New policies place health-safety burden on supervisors

STANFORD -- Adoption of Stanford University's new, comprehensive health and safety policies sends a message to supervisory personnel, both faculty and staff -- "It's your job."

According to Tom McBride, director of Environmental Health and Safety, the new policies reflect an ever stronger commitment to sound health and safety practices at Stanford.

The new policies clarify the responsibilities of supervisors, managers, employees and students for ensuring a healthy and safe work environment. They outline requirements for identifying and correcting hazards, and for training and record-keeping.

In addition, they address emergency planning and preparedness, and establish systems to encourage employees to report hazardous conditions, including clear protection against reprisal for those who make bona fide complaints of health and safety violations, McBride said.

The new policies also make provisions to reward or discipline employees for compliance or non-compliance with health and safety practices.

Faculty and staff supervisors don't necessarily need to be experts on all health and safety issues, McBride said.

"What is required is that supervisors know what hazards are in their workplace, train their employees to work with these hazards, and assure that they comply with Stanford's health and safety policies," McBride said.

Key elements of the new policies will be included in the updated Administrative Guide and the Stanford University Research Policy Handbook, due out this fall. In the interim, copies of the policies can be obtained from Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) at 725-1470.

In recent weeks, McBride has been involved with campuswide faculty training programs focusing on the new policies.

"These small group discussion sessions have been very important in gaining faculty understanding of their individual responsibility for health and safety," he said. "They've also helped faculty to understand the support they can expect from their own departments and from EH&S in meeting those responsibilities."

Patricia Devaney, associate dean of research, who has received comments from faculty regarding these policies, said she was satisfied with the way that faculty and principal investigators have adapted to the increasingly stringent health and safety climate at Stanford. Devaney also said she welcomed the training and other support provided by EH&S.

"The faculty really wants to do what is right, but they have often felt bewildered about specific actions required of them," Devaney said. "The new policies, improved training programs and the university's increased financial support for lab safety provide new ways to help faculty meet their health and safety responsibilities."

The new policies were developed in a rapidly changing regulatory climate. During 1990 and 1991, new laws and regulations went into effect that had an impact on Stanford's health and safety policies. These were:

Combined, they represent a major escalation in compliance requirements, both in laboratory and non-laboratory settings, and in sanctions, including individual supervisory exposure to civil and criminal actions.

The Stanford policies are consistent with the requirements of Senate Bill 198, many of which went into effect on July 1. It is these requirements, McBride said, that have the most immediate and direct impact on Stanford supervisors. (See EH&S section, page 12, for detailed information on SB 198.)

California Occupational Safety and Health Administration will be enforcing the provisions of SB 198; in the past four months, OSHA representatives have visited the campus seven times, McBride said. Inspectors investigated incidents that included a burn at the Beckman Center, an air contamination complaint at the Environmental Safety Facility, a chemical spill at Chemistry Stores, and a suspected asbestos exposure at the Toyon shops. In two of these instances, citations were issued, and in one, a fine was imposed.

The ceiling for federal OSHA fines has been raised sevenfold within the last year, and Cal OSHA undoubtedly will follow suit, McBride said. Compliance with the new health and safety policies could prevent costly fines at Stanford, McBride said.

The new policies also seek to reduce work-related accidents and injuries at Stanford. In the past five years, Worker's Compensation claims at Stanford and Stanford Hospital more than doubled from 1985 to 1990, to $4,926,343. Lost work days in that period multiplied from 506 to 3,419.



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