Cheap Fix

One Southern university paid out more than $3 million following an incident where a television set fell on a faculty member’s foot. Fortunately the injury was not fatal, but the financial cost so far has been significant and the case is still in litigation. While this is an extreme and unusual outcome for what would normally be a simple worker’s compensation claim, the case highlights the need to focus on basic safety issues at institutions of higher learning.

A properly internalized tactical site survey process can dramatically reduce the number of hazards on campus while instilling a more natural awareness among staff regarding safety. While a properly qualified consultant can provide great value in performing this type of inspection yearly, many safety directors lack the funding to pay for private services of this type on an annual basis. Additionally, this approach typically does not affect the type of cultural change that drives regular employees to spot and report safety hazards on a daily basis and, more importantly, to not create them in the first place.

Using available resources to properly train internal teams to conduct tactical site surveys will prove not only to be more cost-effective, it can also heighten safety awareness throughout the organization. The states of Indiana and Wisconsin have conducted state-wide“train the trainer” programs for approximately 1,000 instructors for less than what private consultants would charge a mid-sized university to coordinate just one year’s worth of tactical site surveys.

While a list provided by a qualified consultant will typically identify many hazards to be corrected, this approach rarely affects any real cultural change at the rank-and-file level. Involving line employees in the tactical site survey process, combined with an awareness campaign, creates a much greater awareness among staff of how to spot safety hazards, how to report them and, in most cases, how to take immediate corrective action themselves. This last point is of particular importance, as most safety hazards can be corrected with simple measures. For example, moving a box of office supplies that have been carelessly placed in front of a fire exit door or tightening a loose safety strap on a television set.

This type of approach can not only help to quickly identify and correct thousands of everyday hazards on campus, but it can also lead to an improvement of the climate of the institution. Students, staff and visitors can spot an environment where safety is not a priority. Though they may not specifically and consciously evaluate your grounds and facilities for safety, they will inherently notice when they regularly pass hazards like an empty fire extinguisher cabinet, exposed wiring and loose boards on a set of wooden stairs. The subtle yet powerful message that this type of situation conveys is of great importance. Unaddressed safety hazards send a message that safety and, thus, people do not matter.

This message also has implications for the quality of the institution. I attended a two-week immersion language program at one of our nation’s most respected colleges last summer and recall passing a couple of particularly blatant safety hazards each day. While I still hold the institution in high regard and had a great time in the program, I don’t respect the institution as much as would be the case if the safety of students, staff and visitors were taken more seriously. While some other students may not be as sensitive or aware of safety as I am, I am not the only one who noticed these things, as indicated by comments from other students in the program.

Using the all-hazards approach and involving local public safety practitioners, the tactical site survey process will reduce the risk of crimes ranging from theft to terrorism and risks as diverse as electrocution and slips and falls. With a concerted effort and a well-designed program, reductions in costs associated with insurance, worker’s compensation claims, civil litigation, vandalism, theft and a range of other concerns can be realized. For a free tactical site survey Web tutorial and checklist, visit www.safehavensinternational.org and click on the Resources section. Not taking this proven risk management approach is a sure way to waste valuable human and fiscal resources. Internalizing the tactical site survey process can save time, trouble, money and, in some cases, even the lives of students, employees and visitors.


Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety and can be reached through the Safe Havens Website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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