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Training, promoting compliance, are tasks of chemical safety unit

by Sherry Fisher - February 23, 2009


Today Stefan Wawzyniecki’s task is to read a two-inch thick booklet of new rules and regulations about laboratory safety at universities. Tomorrow, he’ll be in Hartford for a DEP meeting. Another day, he’ll be training faculty and staff about laboratory safety and chemical waste management.

Wawzyniecki has been UConn’s chemical health and safety manager since 1990. His unit is part of the University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS), which includes radiation safety, biological health and safety, and occupational health and safety. The department deals with regulatory matters, and ensures that faculty, staff, and students work in healthy and safe environments.

Wawzyniecki, a board-certified industrial hygienist, hazardous materials manager, and chemical hygiene officer, was recently honored with the 2008 Tillmanns-Skolnick Award from the American Chemical Society (ACS).

The award recognizes outstanding, long-term service to the ACS’s Division of Chemical Health and Safety. In addition, UConn’s chemistry department, headed by Steven Suib, received the ACS’s College and University Health and Safety award. That award recognizes the most comprehensive laboratory safety program in higher education (undergraduate study only).

Promoting compliance
The chemical health and safety unit develops policies and procedures, conducts training, responds to chemical-related problems, and performs lab inspections, hazardous waste audits, and investigations of accidents and spills.

“We’re tasked with promoting University compliance with OSHA, EPA, the state DEP, and other safety regulations,” Wawzyniecki says.

“Employees at the University work in a variety of settings, including facilities, research labs, art studios, and food, farm, and custodial services. For example, if a chemical, such as paint or degreasing solvent, is used in a facilities shop, it has to be managed properly while it’s being used, and handled safely when the person is done with it. My job is to oversee both ends of the spectrum.”

Training faculty, students, and staff is an important component of the program, Wawzyniecki says, noting that when DEP inspections are conducted, nothing is overlooked. “Even rags or wipes that may have been used for chemical cleanups are checked to ensure that they’re disposed of properly,” he says.

Wawzyniecki offers year-round training in hazardous waste management and laboratory safety.

“There will always be more regulations on the way, not fewer,” he says.

He says people don’t always know that they’re working with materials that are potentially hazardous.

Stefan Wawzyniecki (left), manager of environmental health and safety, and Steven Suib, department head and distinguished professor of chemistry, examine safety protocol in a teaching lab in the Chemistry building.

Stefan Wawzyniecki (left), manager of environmental health and safety, and Steven Suib, department head and distinguished professor of chemistry, examine safety protocol in a teaching lab in the Chemistry building. Photo by Frank Dahlmeyer

“An artist working in a studio may not even realize that he or she is working with something that is hazardous, like paint solvents and photo processing chemicals. In addition to protecting themselves from the chemicals, proper management of the waste paints, solvents, and chemicals is an inherent part of the overall environmental health and safety program at UConn.”

Computers are another issue, Wawzyniecki says: “They can’t just be thrown in the trash. Even a circuit board is considered potentially hazardous. That’s why training is so important. It’s one of the biggest services we offer to the University.”

Wawzyniecki says training is mandatory, and the goal is to get full compliance.

“I’ve tried to get a feeling for all the employees who work in labs or might have a safety or environmental issue,” he says, “but the University’s population is somewhat transitory. Also, we’re home to many international faculty and students who come from places with different laws and regulations. It’s challenging.”

If there is a demolition on campus, EHS is involved. “We’ll work with Facilities Operations, Architectural and Engineering Services, and the Office of Environmental Policy, who may be working with a contractor, to make sure the demolition debris is managed properly,” he says.

Popular course
Wawzyniecki also teaches a course on hazardous waste operations in the allied health department. The popular course includes a trip to a mock hazardous waste site, where students dress in protective suits with self-contained breathing apparatus. They perform various remediation tasks, such as cleaning out an underground storage tank.

“They say the best part of the course is putting what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice,” says Wawzyniecki.

The three-credit course is also attractive to students because they receive a certificate that shows they’ve completed an OSHA-recognized 40-hour class in hazardous waste operations.

“It’s great for the job market.” Wawzyniecki says, noting that the certificate helps graduates seeking jobs with engineering firms and in industry, where evaluating industrial processes or contaminated properties for chemical pollutants is important in complying with environmental regulations.

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