One of the most common phrases Renee Michel hears as the safety officer for Florida Polytechnic University is, “I didn’t think about that.”
But looking at safety from every angle is what Renee does.
That’s why there’s a special refrigerator in the lab that doesn’t create potentially explosive static discharge. It’s why the labs in the Innovation, Technology and Science (IST) building use a separate ventilation system and the reason behind a meticulously detailed tracking system for all the chemicals that come in and out of the IST.
Most of these safety measures are designed to satisfy the state and federal regulations that govern a complicated building like the IST; but that’s not what motivates Michel.
“It’s more than meeting the rules,” Renee says. “I genuinely care about the safety of everyone who works and visits campus.”
Renee has the credentials to back up that dedication. Before joining Florida Poly as director of environmental health and safety, Michel was the biosafety officer at the University of Central Florida. Her background in chemistry includes a Chemical Engineering degree and a soon-to-be completed master’s degree from Webster University, so she knows her way around a lab.
Just as important to the position as scientific knowledge is impeccable organization. The IST is home to dozens of machines and chemicals, each of which are carefully monitored by government agencies. Keeping up with this alphabet soup of acronyms — OSHA, EPA, DEP, NFPA, RCRA, DOT, EPCRA to name a few — and their respective forms and deadlines is a large chunk of Renee’s job.
The other part involves little paperwork: creating a culture of safety. This is more than making sure students, faculty, staff and visitors to Florida Poly don’t get hurt. It’s daily outreach, correction and instruction to make sure safety is top of mind.
“I can’t be everywhere at once, so I need students to act as a force multiplier for me,” Renee says.
Her diligence is paying off. Walk into a lab with active equipment and students will stop you at the door with a reminder to put on safety goggles. Renee regularly receives texts, emails and tips from students who notice safety infractions like backpacks blocking fire shutters. While rewarding for Renee there’s a bigger benefit from this. Students who graduate from Florida Poly with are heading into a workplace that’s just as regulated as their alma mater. After school, though, mistakes are no longer teachable moments but offenses that can cost you a job.
“I tell students they are the first line of safety. They have to make good decisions. And if they can develop and embrace that attitude it will serve them well in the future,” Renee says.