From Round-Up to Stand Down: Lessons Learned

This year, Health, Safety and Environment launched two major initiatives to boost health and safety across our campuses.

26 July 2022

Over the last few months, Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) has been working hard to improve safety on our campuses. University faculty and staff were invited to take an active role by participating in two major initiatives.

Launched in January thanks to special funding from the Vice President (University Services & Finance), The Chemical Round-Up was an opportunity for anyone working in labs and workshops to take a look at their chemicals and get help disposing of the ones that were high-hazard and unstable or expired. Later in the year, the Safety Stand Down was in response to a surge in serious workplace incidents at the university and prompted teams to take a look at their safety practices and identify gaps. 

Both projects are winding down —but how did they go and what did we learn?

The Chemical Round-Up (January to May 2022)

The decision to conduct an institution-wide “round-up” followed an upswing in the number of unstable, high-hazard chemicals found in research labs across the U of A over the last few years. These chemicals, typically discovered during lab inspections, often require the complicated and costly disposal efforts of external agencies including the City of Edmonton Hazmat Team.

The round-up also arose from an urgent need to collect and dispose of certain hazardous chemicals—chemical waste is no longer accepted at the Swan Hills Waste Treatment Facility and it is increasingly challenging to find waste solutions within the province.

Over the course of the Chemical Round-Up, hundreds of research groups on North Campus and at Augustana reported containers of high-hazard chemicals that were in poor condition or had expired. Using this information, HSE prepared a plan to gather and safely dispose of chemicals.

From May 9 to 11, 2022, HSE worked with a specialized waste disposal company to neutralize 550 bottles of shock-sensitive, peroxide-forming, and explosive chemicals. Contractors worked overnight to collect and transport bottles to a secure location before opening and disposing of contents through rehydration, neutralization, and other methods. 

The Safety Stand-Down (March to June 2022)

A common industry practice, safety stand-downs are an opportunity for teams to stop work and identify safety gaps, confirm responsibilities, and implement corrective measures. The U of A Safety Stand-Down required high-risk units to meet within a short timeframe to review safety practices related to supervision, hazard assessment, training and competency, and emergency preparedness.

Between March 17 and April 18, 2022, 856 units participated in stand down meetings across the U of A, and it was an eye-opening experience for many. Hundreds of units discovered safety gaps, identified opportunities for improvement, and collaborated with others to find solutions. 

What’s next?

Both the Chemical Round-Up and Safety Stand Down aimed to improve safety practices across the university and reduce the likelihood of workplace incidents.

Thanks to the wide participation of units across all of our campuses, we were able to find many opportunities to narrow safety gaps and improve processes. Health, Safety and Environment will be working closely with these units and their safety committees to ensure these solutions are acted on and implemented.

HSE will continue to work with the university community to enhance our safety culture so that everyone goes home safely at the end of every day. Watch for future health and safety initiatives happening on our campuses!