Penn State EHS Office maintains safe on-campus work environment

At an institution like Penn State, where major groundbreaking research is conducted and 80,000 students live, work and play on campus every day, there is a lot to look out for and the Environmental Health and Safety Office (EHS) has its eyes wide open.

EHS is the University’s resource for handling all aspects of safety — excluding law enforcement activities and parking — at all Penn State locations. They are responsible to both proactively address potential hazards and to respond to emergencies.

EHS is involved in the development and implementation of many programs and policies that improve safety and reduce environmental risks. Whether it is removing leaking underground storage tanks or ensuring byproducts of research are properly disposed of, EHS’s goal is to reduce risk by identifying areas of concern in the environment and creating procedures to properly handle every situation.

“The topics of risk and safety compliment each other very well,” Lysa Holland, environmental compliance engineer, said. “Everyone has some hazardous chemicals in the workplace, from gasoline to copier toner. These materials must be properly handled, stored and disposed of.”

EHS oversees on-site inspections and cleanups of all types of chemicals, investigates suspicious odors and gas leaks and also builds awareness among the Penn State community through training programs.

Thousands of Penn State employees take part in EHS programs — many are state and federally mandated; others are based on best practices. The programs fall into three areas: environmental protection, occupational health and safety and radiation protection. By spreading awareness and increasing general knowledge of these areas, Penn State is able to reduce risk and provide a safer, more knowledgeable workforce.

EHS offers classes on approximately 40 topics that thousands of employees take every year. These classes range from very specific topics such as lasers or confined space entry to the more general type of class such as ergonomics or fire safety.

“A trained employee is less likely to put themselves in danger,” said Curt Speaker, program manager and biosafety officer. “By promoting an atmosphere of safety, it helps us do our jobs and also helps people understand what they need to do to protect themselves.”

Speaker said the office walks the University Park campus twice a year to evaluate outdoor lighting and is constantly on the lookout for safety issues — such as safe exits, operating sprinklers and laboratory safety. “If it’s a part of safety,” he said, “We’re a part of it.”

Most people do not realize how much EHS interacts with students. Students need approval to take part in certain events and begin new clubs. While there are more than 600 clubs and organizations, some activities will simply not be condoned by the University.

“Let’s face it. There will never be a sky diving or rodeo club here,” Speaker said. “The risks are just too high.”

Penn State’s hazardous materials response team, which is staffed by Penn State employees, including many from EHS, provides services to the University and communities in Centre County. The team collaborates with local fire and police departments during HAZMAT emergencies.

From programs and policies to training and services, EHS covers many areas for the Penn State community and beyond. For information on EHS, visit

For information on risk awareness and risk assessment at the University, visit Risk-related articles will be compiled on this site for further reading on the topic.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009