> >How do schools with decentralized administrations (meaning, where much of the power is delegated to the lower levels such as schools and departments, or even PIs) manage safety differently from those with centralized administrations where that power is held more tightly by the upper administration? Are there strategic or tactical differences in the way safety expectations are communicated, reported, and enforced?
My experience in working at three different academic institutions (all of which have been described as decentralized) is that the safety program makes the most progress when it is seen to directly contribute to the mission of the institution that it serves. To me, this means getting away from a focus on regulatory compliance as a driver of the EHS program to identifying safety as an organizational value. Dr. Mark McLellan from Utah State, and co-chair of the APLU report on implementing a safety culture, spoke about the importance of this shift at the Univ of Californa Center for Lab Safety's conference last week, and the ACS took this step recently as well.
The challenge you point to, however, is that defining "the mission" on a large campus needs to be more specific than the traditional academic approach of "teaching, research and service". The reason campuses are so decentralized is that this mission is quite diffuse and as a result, people working in academia have a lot of freedom to decide how their work connects to the mission. Their answers are amazingly diverse and their funding streams reflect this. Which is where the strategy for decentralized administrations arise.
In such settings, clear organizational values are hard to come by, although Utah State's experience indicates they can be achieved with ongoing upper management commitment and dialogue with the stakeholders involved. I believe that Dr. McLellan indicated it took several meetings a week over the course of the year on this topic to convince his campus' academic administration that he was serious about making this culture change and he has seen significant progress as a result. I suspect that the APLU report includes important tools in driving those conversations.
Thanks for asking an a very important question.
Ralph Stuart, CIH, CCHO
Environmental Safety Manager
Keene State College
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