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Success is silence

The great irony of working in safety is that if you do your job well, nobody will ever know you exist.

People generally only notice safety when it’s failing. Director of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Pietro Gasparrini and his team spent the 2015-16 year working hard on projects that guaranteed the vast majority of staff and students at Concordia would have no idea EHS was working hard behind the scenes.


One of his team’s greatest achievements was even designed to make the least impact possible—the review and update of Concordia’s Biosafety Program to bring the university into compliance with new federal standards.

“Universities often have a hard time reviewing all their procedures in order to comply,” Gasparrini says. “It’s a big undertaking and a big program. What we’ve done has allowed for a very smooth transition to the new regulation that likely won’t be perceived by users and researchers because of the way we slowly implemented changes. It wasn’t a huge change for the Concordia community: we purposely phased changes in to make compliance as painless as possible.”

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t enormously important. Until recently, there was no federal regulatory system to keep track of universities working with biological materials. However, the federal government now wants to license and authorize institutions working with those materials the same way they do with radioactive substances—and failure to comply would mean that students and faculty working with biological materials would face enormous challenges.

“We were very conscientious to manage change well,” he says. “Compliance is already a challenge: we didn’t want to make it more work than it has to be.”

In concert with the University Biosafety Committee, composed of faculty and staff, Gasparrini’s team hired a part-time biosafety officer for an almost two-year mandate to review all internal processes, procedures, and policies to ensure compliance with the new regulations. Then as changes were made, Gasparrini and his team phased them in gradually to avoid internal shock.

“I know from my colleagues at other universities that everyone was scrambling. Some of the larger institutions found it a challenge to get it all done,” Gasparrini says. “We don’t have as many people working with biological materials or the same complexity of material compared to a university with a medical school. But regardless, the rules apply. You still need to have your controls in place.”

Sustainability and Safety Champions

In a more celebratory—and public—mode, Gasparrini and his team mounted the second biennial Safety Awards, this time paired with the university’s Sustainability Champions awards.

“The idea this year was to elevate the importance and profile of safety,” he says. “It’s part of the university having a really strong safety culture: the more public we make the recognition, the more people will see that, as an institution, we value safety. And hopefully more people will take the time to improve the safety of their immediate workplace or beyond.

This is Gasparrini’s great challenge. It’s impossible for any health and safety department to wrap its arms around an entire university and keep it safe: real safety grows from a community committed to fostering an environment of safety on both the greater scale and the smaller scale.

This year they gave an award to the safety committee from the Faculty of Fine Arts to acknowledge the time and hard work that staff and faculty have put in. This involves sitting on the committee, discussing and suggesting changes, and creating a collective environment of health and safety.

“Nurturing that safety culture is something these kinds of activities try to do, rather than as a safety department that spends all our time catching people doing bad things,” Gasparrini laughs. “The most satisfaction I get is when I hear senior administration or supervisors talking about safety because they believe it, they know it, and they’re relaying that message.

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