College Wins Safety Star Award

June 29, 2007 -- The College of Arts & Sciences has won the Office of Workers Compensation 2007 Safety Star Award, given by the state’s Department of Human Resource Management. It received the award during the annual Safety Day event in Richmond, Va., on May 15.

Ralph Allen, U.Va.’s director of the Office of Environmental Health & Safety, nominated the College for this award and has nominated two other U.Va. units for it since it was first presented in 2004.

“We’ve nominated three different groups that have made considerable progress, and all of them have won the award,” Allen said. “This year there was some comment made about the University of Virginia monopolizing this award,” he quipped.

Facilities Management was the first department to win the award in 2005, and Housing won in 2006. Allen noted that the Safety Star Award can be given to more than one organization, as it was this year, but its standards are high.

“They’re looking for people who have taken an interest in making their employees safer and have done something significant to really bring about change within the organization, which has been true of the three groups we nominated,” Allen said.

This year, the College was nominated for its efforts after the provost proposed a policy that holds faculty responsible for their students’ safety. Two departments in particular — art and drama — went an extra mile beyond the requirements.

The art department appointed Eric Schmidt as gallery and studio technician in 2001, a position that was created and specifically aimed toward the safety and technical aspects of working in the studio. Since then, improvements have been made in terms of the equipment used, such as dust particle collection systems being installed in some machinery, and ventilation being implemented over some of the work tables. In addition to training students as to proper usage of the equipment, Schmidt has written a safety policy and created an extensive Web site explaining all the necessary safety procedures in the studio art department.

As for the drama department, it took similar steps in upgrading equipment and ensuring safety, as well as hiring Steven Warner in 2006 as the new technical director, a position described as the role model for safety. A complete inspection of the Culbreth Theater rigging system was done by a hired company, determining it to be in moderate condition; with all the recommended improvements, however, the theater is going to undergo a renovation replacing the old system, costing nearly $1 million. Other changes include painting the scene shop floor a lighter color to increase visibility, servicing the Genie personnel lifts to make sure they are working properly, and purchasing a new fall arrest system to be used when working at heights. The number of workers compensation accidents has also decreased dramatically since 2004, when a total of 11 accidents were reported, nine occurring during the busy summer season of Heritage Repertory Theatre. In 2006, the number went down to six, with only three occurring during the summer. As of the drama department’s nomination for this award, there have been no accidents reported for 2007.

Most departments in the College do not deal with such potentially hazardous materials as these two, but Allen said the progress made specifically in art and drama is a great demonstration of the University addressing the safety of its students.

“The three [Facilities Management, Housing and the College] we’ve nominated so far have been exceptional,” Allen said. “They’ve really taken it to heart to make sure people are safer.”