Pandemic Safety Officers Step Up to Help Out

New volunteers are playing a vital role in the return to campus.  

As units are tapped by university leadership to begin drafting their plans to return to campus, they must identify their new Pandemic Safety Officer (PSO), a volunteer on staff who will help create that plan, and work with colleagues upon their return to ensure the minimum requirements to return to campus are being met.

PSOs will connect with their colleagues, at a distance, of course, helping their co-workers follow physical distancing and hand-washing guidelines, making sure facial coverings are worn correctly, and meetings are held virtually. In-person gatherings or meetings of up to 10 persons are permitted, provided they are in spaces that allow for proper physical distancing.

“This is a voluntary role we created similar to a floor marshal — someone who has a strong investment in safety,” said Melanie Lucht, associate vice president for Enterprise Risk Management and chief risk officer. “The PSOs will work with their supervisors and colleagues to make sure they have the information, supplies and resources they need to comply with the minimum return to campus requirements.”

The Environmental Health & Safety (EHS) Department is conducting PSO training sessions on Zoom. More than 115 volunteers have completed the one-hour course, led by EHS Director Shailendra Singh, EHS senior manager Rebecca Cicco, and EHS training and communications specialist Mary Sickles.

The session includes a brief review of COVID-19 symptoms, PSO roles and responsibilities, CMU’s minimum requirements to return to campus, CDC and OSHA workplace recommendations, and everyday best practices.

Matthew Moneck, executive director of the Claire and John Bertucci Nanotechnology Laboratory (a.k.a the Nanofab) in Scott Hall, has begun his duties as a PSO and has been back on campus for about two weeks. He helped to write the return-to-campus plans for the Nanofab and other units in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

“Thanks to our staff, the implementation of the plan in the Nanofab has gone smoothly, and researchers have been able to resume their work with minimal issues,” he said. “There have been some minor adjustments to the ‘new normal,’ and restarting a facility that has been idle for more than two months certainly comes with some bumps in the road, but our researchers appear to be adjusting well.” 

Moneck is a strong advocate for safety. As a member of CMU’s Lab Safety Committee during the last five years, he’s helped to shape campus safety policy. 

“When I was presented with the opportunity to volunteer as a Pandemic Safety Officer, I was happy to help in any way I can, whether it be providing feedback toward reopening plans or helping people implement policies and procedures,” he said.

portrait of Julie TiltonLike Moneck, the PSO role was a natural fit for Julie Tilton, buyer and facilities coordinator for the Chemical Engineering Department in Doherty Hall.

“Many PSO duties overlap with my regular job responsibilities,” she said, “so I felt I was the person that could be most helpful to our principal investigators and department in this role. I wanted to contribute to a successful reopening and provide any help that I could to this effort.”

One of four PSOs for Chemical Engineering, Tilton has helped to develop building protocols for individual plans, liaised with Environmental Health & Safety on procuring safety supplies and developed cleaning disinfection plans with Custodial Services. Three units have resumed research operations.  

“The process was well-planned, as the PSOs were heavily involved in the planning, preparation and departmental training that occurred prior to anyone returning to campus,” Tilton said. “The process is going well and, from feedback we receive, we are making adjustments to improve logistics. The researchers have all been extremely conscientious about adhering to their plans and have been great partners in finding ways to improve and implement them.” 

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