Agile, present and collaborative
For all the negatives brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is at least one positive for members of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS):
“We have made a lot of new connections across the university. Before the crisis, we often worked with lab-based researchers and Facilities Management teams, but now we’re collaborating regularly with all sectors, especially as more and more of them return to campus,” says Pietro Gasparrini, EHS director .
Collaborations ramped up as soon as research units and construction teams returned to campus in May and June 2020. Initially, that involved the implementation of COVID-19 safety rules set by Quebec’s Commission des normes de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CNESST). However, as some academic activities resumed later in summer 2020, the work also involved understanding and implementing Ministry of Higher Education directives.
“That was a significant challenge, one made even more complex by the changing public health situation in Quebec. Furthermore, as COVID-19 rates were going up, we had to find ways to safely allow students and researchers to resume their on-campus work.”
Rooms and rules
Procedures needed to be worked out for everything from the use of photocopiers and microscopes to the capacity of elevators.
“As more and more people returned, we even needed to establish special break areas. Under COVID, simple activities took on new complexities,” Gasparrini says.
Evaluation and adaption of campus spaces also required a lot of time and effort.
“We worked very closely with Facilities Management and University Communication Services on the physical set-up of spaces, signage and cleaning protocols. We also worked with research, academic and other services units — notably with IITS and Security — on ways to provide access and facilitate contact tracing when required.”
Adapting to the new normal
“People worked very differently from mid-2020 to 2021. For example, Distribution Services made house calls to deliver certain types of office equipment," reports Gasparrini. "And even some of those doing nothing more strenuous than typing on keyboards started feeling the effects of kitchen table ergonomics.”
Risks that were dealt with before in stride became more complicated, including ergonomics. To help, EHS recorded help videos and undertook remote evaluations of working conditions.
Invited to all the meetings
The lead-up to the return to campus involved a lot of pragmatic coordination, guidelines for accommodations and discussions with individuals and units feeling weary about the return. EHS members were called upon to answer concerns and questions in seemingly every type of meeting imaginable.
“The team really went beyond. They worked harder than ever and on more diverse projects than we possibly could have imagined. It felt like we needed to be part of every conversation about life on campus,” Gasparrini says.
Efforts appear to have paid off: summer 2021 saw an increasing number of activities resume without any COVID outbreaks on campus.