Mainstreaming Occupational Safety and Health in Higher Education Institutions

September 3, 2021

Safety and health are inherent parts of lifelong learning from preschool education until post-retirement. Mainstreaming or integrating safety and health into education and training covers various aspects; developing safety and health knowledge, attitudes and behavior in children and younger people besides improving the safety and health culture in schools or other educational establishments for staff and students.

Associate Professor Dr Geetha Subramaniam acknowledges that INTI International University, Nilai, will continuously uphold distinct occupational and safety health practices.

Associate Professor Dr Geetha Subramaniam and senior lecturer Lalita Ambigai, both from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at INTI International University, Nilai, are currently studying the importance of incorporating occupational safety and health (OSH) in the academic curriculum.

According to their observation, it is found that the university sector comprises of employers and staff with different organizational cultures and expectations. This ultimately involves an exposure to a wide range of occupational risks and hazards. But in contrary, generally, working in a higher education setting is often carried out with little or no training in occupational safety and health practices worldwide.

Dr Geetha shared, “Previous surveys carried out in Europe have shown that while many laboratories do comply with certain regulations, there was a distinct lack of safety requirements that could jeopardize the wellbeing of the staff and students. For example, we observed that there were no specific chemical lists, internal safety policies and guidance available as reference for those utilizing the space.

Lalita Ambigai, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences promotes the importance of acquiring occupational and safety health knowledge besides practicing it.

“Whereas in Malaysia, the Department of Occupational Safety and Health (DOSH) has long recognized the importance of safe chemical handling and is taking steps to ensure that proper safe practices, policies and procedures are implemented in industries and institutions that are handling chemicals,” Dr Geetha elaborated further.

As enforced by DOSH’s Guidelines on the Control of Chemicals Hazardous to Health,  safe practices include the elimination or substitution of risks and hazards, safe work systems & practices, and provision of protective personal equipment (PPE) to employees handling chemicals, among many others[1].

At INTI, the management strives to incorporate OSH practices with the guidance of a Standard and Industrial Research Institute of Malaysia (SIRIM) consultant on a regular basis.

“Hard work and consistency always pays. Our OSH Task Force team, together with all the staff at INTI International University, have successfully obtained the ISO 45001:2018 certification in March 2020. The process towards obtaining the certification was an eye-opener as we learnt that although we were adhering to guidelines and safe practices, there was so much more that could be done to improve our OSH management system,” said Dr Geetha.

She revealed that the certification does not only cover the laboratories but the entire university. It further reiterates that INTI International University, Nilai, provides a safe working environment for its stakeholders.

In view of the need to continuously improve the staff and students’ knowledge on OSH, INTI organized its first OSH symposium and training on the 10th of July 2021. With an interesting line-up of distinguished speakers and trainers including Tuan Mohd Anuar bin Embi, the Deputy Director General of Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) Malaysia, Ms. Mimala Arasaratnam, the Environment, Safety and Health Manager, ASEAN Region of Avery Dennison, Associate Professor Dr. Geetha Subramaniam, the Lead Auditor of Lead Auditor ISO 45001:2018 and others, the events were a success.

INTI International University organized its first Occupational and Safety Health symposium and training on the 10th of July 2021 with an interesting line-up of distinguished speakers and trainers including Mr. Mohd Anuar bin Embi, the Deputy Director General of Department of Safety and Health (DOSH) Malaysia, and Ms. Mimala Arasaratnam, the Environment, Safety and Health Manager, ASEAN Region of Avery Dennison.

As part of INTI’s continual effort to improve on OSH, the OSH symposium and training will become an annual event which will not only benefit the its’ population but also the university students in other institutions in their efforts to inculcate the OSH culture among students.

“I admit that it is difficult to think of another employment sector with such a wide range of hazards. It could be argued that exposure to hazardous processes or materials in universities are much smaller in scale than in, say, the manufacturing industry. Although this is generally true, universities have an extraordinarily varied and large number of hazards, and some are very specialized. It is likely that this variety of hazardous exposures require a higher level of occupational safety and health response than that needed in mono‐hazard industries,” stated Lalita about the hazards present in higher education institutions.

Lalita also further emphasized on the importance of implementing OSH knowledge in higher education besides practicing it.

“All parts and all levels of industry and business need to understand how risk assessment and risk management are essential to good business management. Future designers, architects, engineers, finance officers, doctors and other health professionals, and managers and supervisors at all levels, are among those who need relevant education about their future OSH roles and responsibilities. Future teachers and trainers also need OSH education in order to deliver OSH education themselves effectively,” explained Lalita.

The importance of OHS in higher education will be a continuous study as it will be enhanced frequently due to rapid development of students enrolling into universities, new technologies, demographic changes and societal demands.