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Safety in the spotlight

In March 2020, Concordians from across the university turned to Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for help in addressing the unprecedented situations brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. EHS members swung into gear to provide guidance on safe practices for working and learning from home, while still overseeing all their regular safety programs.

“When the crisis hit, we had to continue most of our regular work and establish new protocols for every surface and space on both campuses,” says Frederic Guilhem, then acting director of EHS.

“For example, the team working on the Applied Sciences Hub continued to work on the safety of new research equipment, mechanical and ventilation systems and all the other safety considerations of setting up new laboratory spaces. At the same time, we developed rules to ensure that all those accessing campus could do so while minimizing risks of spreading the virus,” says Guilhem.

“When I returned as director in summer 2020, after months of collaborating on Project UNITY, team members were just catching their breath from the work involved in getting researchers back into their labs and allowing construction sites on campus to start back up safely,” says Pietro Gasparrini, EHS director.

“Immediately thereafter, we needed to establish additional protocols for in-person teaching activities for the fall semester. That meant developing internal rules while trying to keep up with the evolving public health directives,” says Gasparrini.

Collaborations across sectors

Prior to the pandemic, EHS was having a busy 2019-20. It began with a collaboration between Facilities Management and the Faculty of Fine Arts on updated procedures for dangerous materials on campus. EHS and Facilities also collaborated on construction and renovation projects in the Hall Building.

In September 2019, EHS joined forces with Campus Security for Safety Week. It was a first for EHS, which was looking to raise awareness with the community beyond labs, studios and construction sites.

“People seemed genuinely impressed by our demonstrations of the impact of chemistry in their daily lives, and overall enjoyed learning more about safety in a fun way,” Guilhem reports.

In November, after Concordia journalism students reported on problems with the way municipal and provincial authorities measure lead in water supplies, EHS was front and centre, checking all locations on campus where data was lacking or in need for review.

“The work of Concordians pushed government officials to review their position on lead in Montreal water and adjust their testing standards — good news for us because we were already adopting the more stringent ones of other jurisdictions,” says Guilhem.

Where safety and innovation meet

After Concordia researchers with Centre for Zero Energy Building Studies were awarded a special grant to build a new field research facility, EHS was called in again.

“The new facility is an amazing project in its ability to evolve with the needs of research,”  Guilhem notes. “However, when you’re talking about changing the solar panels on the roof and the exterior cladding of a building, you encounter risks. We helped evolve the building’s design in a way that will make the future work of researchers safer and easier.”

Still, of all the opportunities for collaboration, the COVID-19 crisis was the most emblematic case of the past year.

“We were in daily coordination meetings with the Office of the Provost, Human Resources, Facilities, Security, Communications, IITS and countless others seeking to maintain services to students, faculty members, researchers, and staff in a time of global confusion,” Guilhem reports.

“The EHS team always worked hard and across units, but never before did we need to do so with so many different internal and external members, and on so many different tasks,” adds Gasparrini. “It requires a lot of work, but we are proud of our efforts and the new collaborative relationships that we established.”

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