When you step on campus do you think about who
your campus community is protected from the myriad environmental hazards potentially lurking in building, labs, and water fountains?
Colleges and universities have various environmental risks and events (e.g., water and air pollution, biohazardous materials and fire hazards) that must be managed daily. An institution’s Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) function serves an essential role in supporting the mission of the institution with teaching, research, and service by providing safety evaluation and monitoring services to the campus community as a whole. EH&S works to ensure internal controls are formalized, comprehensive, and working effectively by performing a variety of activities including, but not limited to, laboratory inspections, monitoring existing hazards, identifying potential hazards, and reducing safety hazards.
In addition to the increasing safety concerns resulting from the 2020 global pandemic, there is an opportunity for Internal Audit to provide operational reviews of the current environment’s risk mitigating controls.
What is EH&S?
Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) is the science and practice of preventing human injury and promoting well-being
. EH&S is a term used by laws, rules, regulations, professions, programs, and workplace efforts to protect the health and safety of the campus community. Other common ways to abbreviate EH&S are HSE or EHS&Q where the “Q” stands for Quality.
EH&S Responsibilities and Reporting Structure
EH&S functions are often the contact points for regulatory agencies and emergency response actions. EH&S is often responsible for educating the campus community on standards applicable to the institution.
EH&S is commonly tasked with:
- Serving as the oversight and authority for EH&S compliance.
- Implementing health and safety policies and procedures.
- Conducting inspections and monitoring procedures to identify existing potential hazards.
- Performing routine audits to measure compliance with regulations.
- Measuring and improving environmental health and safety performance across campus.
- Providing and supporting incident responses.
EH&S reporting structures look different at each institution. Some common reporting lines include:
- Campus Safety
- Campus Operations
- Risk Management
Just as institutions differ in reporting structure, an institution’s EH&S risk universe will differ as well. The most important thing to remember before you audit your institution’s EH&S function is to consider the environment and what risks may be more important than others. For example, a large research institution with a medical school may present risks such as biohazardous chemicals or radioactive materials, while an institution located in the southeast may be at a high risk for a potential weather-related hazard. Below are a few types of risks to consider based on your intuition’s academic, risk and geographic environment.
Rules, Regulations, Polices and Procedures
EH&S is a highly regulated area with a number of laws and standards falling under:
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
- International Fire Code (IFC)
Specific topical areas may include, but are not limited to:
- Biohazardous materials in research and instruction
- Confined space entry
- Contractor safety
- Eye protection
- Fall protection
- Occupational exposure to hazardous chemicals
- Personal protective equipment, including COVID-19 exposure
- Radioactive materials
- Waste disposal
Since there are so many regulations to consider we recommend that you begin by reviewing your institution’s policies and procedures, as your EH&S function has likely already created internal controls for most key regulatory requirements.
Adrienne Larmett, MBA, CRA, is a senior manager within Baker Tilly’s Risk, Internal Audit, and Cybersecurity practice in Philadelphia, PA. She has over 15 years of higher education industry and professional services experience. She has performed engagements at 29 higher education institutions in internal audit, research compliance, business process improvement, and enterprise risk management (ERM). She currently provides outsourced and co-sourced internal audit support, and risk advisory services to seven institutions in the Philadelphia tri-state region. She may be reached at email@example.com
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