Your workplace and EH&S

The role of EH&S

Stanford’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) is the principal health and safety office at Stanford University. BeWell spoke with Rich Wittman, MD, MPH, the medical director of the Stanford University Occupational Health Center, and Joe Xie, EH&S Industrial Hygienist, to learn more about EH&S, what we all can do to prevent an injury while on the job, and what steps we should take if an unfortunate injury does occur.

For those unfamiliar with EH&S, what do you do?

EH&S supports and advances the teaching, learning, and research activities on campus by actively promoting a culture of safety and responsible environmental stewardship. We provide and coordinate programs and services that address the safety, environmental, and regulatory risks to the university community through programs such as research and lab safety, maintenance and construction safety, ergonomics, and emergency response.

When it comes to workplace injury or illness, who is most at risk?

The job tasks that include overly repetitive work and manual material handling are those most notably associated with higher risk of injury. Stanford’s experience is comparable with injury trends at peer institutions, with higher injury rates in the departments of dining, housing, grounds, and facilities management. That noted, there are many other subgroups and individuals with similar risks. As most employees on campus who spend more than 4 hours on a computer daily can attest, even prolonged static postures can cause discomfort and potentially injury.

From a more general standpoint, injuries are more likely in those who are fatigued, distracted, incompletely recovered from prior injuries, or deconditioned — whether from inactivity or health issues related to underlying medical conditions.

What are the most common injuries?

The most common injuries are ergonomic-related or from slips/trips/falls, both in the field and in the office setting. When an injury does occur, reporting the injury and presenting for injury care earlier — before secondary, compensatory problems occur — can speed recovery. Delaying medical care after a simple ankle sprain, for example, can lead to calf muscular tightness, knee pain, and even hip and opposite leg pain from limping.

What can people do to prevent these types of injuries?

You can mitigate risk by planning your work with potential risks in mind, maintaining attention to the tasks at hand, taking care to manage fatigue and your general medical health, and reporting a potential hazard and keeping good workplace ergonomics in mind.

Good communication among team members and between workers and their supervisors can help prevent injury. Remember that your coworkers typically have a wealth of experience in their job tasks and are dedicated to the success of the university; creating a stressful or hostile work environment and rushing or “cutting corners” can contribute to injury.

There are a number of resources available at EH&S for reference or contact to minimize injury occurrence:

  1. To prevent ergonomic injuries while working with computers, ensure that computer workstations are set up properly: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/general/ergo/compwork.html.
  2. For lab ergonomics, see: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/general/ergo/labergo.html.
  3. For proper lifting and back care, see: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/general/ergo/ergo_lift.html.
  4. To prevent slips/trips/falls, full attention when conducting work tasks is very important. For those areas that are consistently wet (e.g., kitchens), slip-resistant matting can be used. For those workers that consistently work in wet areas, slip-resistant footwear are available:  http://web.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/mainrencon/occhealth/13-206.pdf.
  5. For any ergonomic, slip/trip/fall-related questions, please contact EH&S at 650-723-0448.


Do women face different workplace challenges than men?

In terms of ergonomics (e.g., differences in average height, average reach distance), women are more at risk of injury and have a higher chance of being affected by musculoskeletal disorders than men (http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/women/ergonomics.html). Pregnant and breastfeeding women need to be more aware that exposure to some chemicals may affect the developing fetus/infant.
EH&S has a reproductive and developmental hazard assessment program to assist employees (both males & females). More information is available here: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/EHS/prod/mainrencon/occhealth/Reproductive/.

What is the most common misconception about EH&S?

One common misconception is that EH&S hinders research. On the contrary, our department is working to ensure that known safety measures are being implemented, such as wearing protective eyewear when conducting experiments.

How would someone report a work-related injury at Stanford?

To report a work-related injury, complete an SU-17 form: http://web.stanford.edu/dept/Risk-Management/docs/forms/su-17.html and submit it by fax to 723-9456 to Risk Management. An injury that results in a hospital stay of more than 24 hours, disfigurement, or death, must be reported to EH&S as soon as possible via calling 725-9999 (24/7). 

Those university employees seeking work-related injury or illness care can contact the Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC) at 650-725-5308 and visit us on campus at 480 Oak Road, Room B15.