Safety Office Reflects Growth at Mason and Changing Times

Posted: April 23, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Sharon Taylor

When Keith Bushey, assistant vice president of the Safety Office, became the first chief safety officer three years ago, the key concern was fire safety in campus dormitories. Today, the office is a larger operation with a significantly wider scope of responsibility, comprising Fire Safety, Risk Management, Compliance, and Emergency Plans and Preparedness.

Bushey acknowledges that the job he is doing today is far different than the one he signed on for, but says its growth is a reflection of the university’s commitment to assuring the safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors on George Mason campuses.

Emergency preparedness has experienced the most activity in the last two years. Three years ago, “we had no reason to think about anthrax or dirty bombs,” says Bushey, but post-Sept. 11 the Emergency Plans and Preparedness division has had to include terrorism in its planning.

“Mason is an active member of the local community and the region, and we are navigating through the issue of terrorism together,” says Jay Callan, emergency plans officer. The coordination of terrorism preparedness is a collaborative effort between local jurisdictions, surrounding counties, and the Metropolitan Council of Governments. The university community is also sharing information and plans through a group that includes at least 20 universities in the region.

The Fire and Safety Program, led by Fred Wharton, director of fire safety, is responsible for safety in dormitories as well as facilities campuswide. The office works closely with the fire department and housing staff on plans for inspection and maintenance of fire systems and for evacuation in case of fire or other emergencies. It coordinates with the Physical Plant to maintain the highest level of fire safety through maintenance and repair where potential fire hazards exist.

Joyce French, manager of risk management, advises on all activities that could impact the university financially or damage its reputation. Working with the legal department, she reviews lease and service contracts, and the terms of internship agreements. She coordinates with the Center for Global Education on overseas travel, advising staff on personal safety, how to contact the U.S. Embassy, and what to do if something happens. French also investigates every type of injury that occurs on campus. In conducting an investigation, her goal is to be certain that an incident is not the result of unsafe conditions and to gather clear and accurate details to provide to the state’s Division of Risk Management if a claim results.

University Compliance, together with the Physical Plant, Police Department, and others, works to assure compliance with the university’s standards for safety. David Wynn, compliance officer, ensures compliance with the Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency regulations on environmental, ergonomic, and other safety issues in the workplace. With a large amount of construction taking place at the university, construction site safety is a key area, which includes assessing the risk of asbestos that is sometimes found in older buildings.

Currently serving as acting director of laboratory safety, Julie Zobel is responsible for assuring safe practices are implemented and followed in all university laboratories. Working at the Prince William Campus, she provides an important on-site presence for the Safety Office and addresses all safety-related issues.

Johanna Frisby-Dittmer is the office manager and webmaster whom Bushey credits with achieving masterful communication among the department’s divisions and for supporting its outreach to the university community. Frisby-Dittmer maintains the department’s web site, prepares the employee quarterly newsletter, and coordinates the meetings and activities of the Safety Committee, which includes representatives from a number of departments. Members of the Safety Committee help identify potential hazards and serve as additional eyes and ears for safety.

The Emergency Response Plan and Action Guide are available on the Safety Office’s web site. For more information about the office, contact Frisby-Dittmer at (703) 993-2479.

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