It could be the weather—flood, gusty winds, or snow and ice. Or it could be a fire, a chemical spill, or other potentially hazardous situations...even an earthquake. Perhaps it's just the everyday work environment for those in certain university occupations. But no matter the scenario, when there’s an unforeseen occurrence, the Health and Safety Department is ready to handle it.
And Tracy Smith, Safety and Health Specialist in that department, will be the first to tell you that most of the safety procedures put into place begin with training—lots and lots of training. This includes sessions for both students and employees.
“Our job is to keep the campus safe,” he says. “To do that, we provide training for the many building representatives—there’s a designated person on each floor—and we cover everything from evacuation to safety procedures. We do a lot of work with resident directors and resident assistants [in the residence halls] to educate them about emergency responses, fire safety and notification procedures during emergencies, among other things.”
To keep the campus community informed, documents are placed around the Huntington campus and other locations, which give a quick reference to emergency situations, he says.
Employee training is an important part of Health and Safety's work. Physical Plant employees are annually instructed on OSHA standards, the handling of hazardous materials, personal protective equipment and even fork truck training. These are the kind of safety procedures that affect them daily, Smith says.
And many employees probably remember, some not so fondly, the online driver’s training that was required for anyone who drives or anticipates driving a state-owned vehicle. That was Smith’s voice on the test giving step-by-step instructions through the approximately 35-minute test.
And before fans flood into Huntington to cheer on their teams, the Health and Safety department is busy conducting walk-throughs of the athletic facilities on game days, making inspections to be sure that doors are unlocked, exits are open and unblocked, and safety procedures are in place. After last month’s earthquake, which caused the evacuation of several buildings on the Huntington campus, the department fanned out to make inspections of critical structures before life returned to normal for the campus community.
Smith, who has both a B.A. in management and accounting and a M.A. in safety and health from Marshall, began his MU career as extra help at the medical school and later interned there as part of his master’s degree. He stayed on in a unique dual role, working in the division of Occupational and Environmental Health in the department of Family and Community Health while he also was the corporate safety officer for University Physicians and Surgeons Inc. As part of his myriad duties, he regularly gave lectures on corporate safety and health issues and conducted seminars. If anyone was exposed to a chemical, Smith researched the chemical, then provided his findings to physicians. In addition, he says, “We did a lot of pre-employment examinations, such as hearing tests and spirometry, to make sure potential employees could wear respirators.” He moved to his present location in the Sorrell Maintenance Building in 2007, when he moved into his current job.
Smith is proud of his deep ties to Marshall—his mother, Judy Olson, is a longtime employee in the Center for Business and Economic Research and his stepfather, Dr. Lee Olson, has taught in Adult and Technical Education since 1971. Smith lives in Ona and has a daughter, Haleigh, who is a member of the band at Cabell Midland High School, and a son, Ryan, who headed off this fall to Concord University in Athens, W.Va. on a track and cross-country scholarship.
The whole family enjoys trips to the Cranberry Glades in Pocahontas County, where Smith can indulge his love of trout fishing. They are ardent Marshall fans, particularly football and basketball. An avid runner, Smith runs regularly and, although he’s not much for entering races, he does once in a while and in fact completed the Marshall half-marathon last fall.
And if everything goes as it should, the members of the Health and Safety Department are always there, but neither seen nor heard—and there are no holidays from vigilance. “We have to be vigilant and prepared all the time. Every day is different; it’s never the same day twice,” he says. And he’s quick to give credit for the support they’re given. “Our mission is to make people informed on safety issues. We have great support from the administration to do the things we do. Without that it would be difficult if not impossible.”
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