Today, more and more organizations care about the health and safety of their employees. Achieving and maintaining good performance in workplace health and safety means not only providing conditions for successful and safe work, but also working within organizations to encourage employees to take care of their health. A healthy and safe workplace allows organizations to increase their efficiency, productivity, and the job satisfaction of employees.
Nazarbayev University also pays great attention to this issue. Marat Tavasov, Director of the Health and Safety Department, will talk about what is being done to ensure health and safety measures on campus.
Could you please tell us about the role of the unit you lead in health and safety at the University?
Organizations are a lot like living organisms. While organizations are not alive, they do act and follow their own laws of functioning and development, with each element being important and valuable, much in the same ways living beings are complex systems. Therefore, it is very important to create all the necessary conditions for the normal operation of each of the university’s components. Protecting employees’ health and safety in the course of their work should be systematic, comprehensive, and holistic. Our department not only seeks to create a safe learning and working environment, but is also responsible for the implementation of a number of legal, socio-economic and managerial tasks.
Our department was established in 2015. In addition to our daily work to review and address emerging issues and questions in the field of health and safety, we are also responsible for developing and implementing a health and safety management system, and coordinating activities to ensure health and safety at the University.
Specifically, we regularly conduct special training sessions for the campus community to improve knowledge in health and safety, as well as participate in the planning and response to emergency situations at the University.
We provide ongoing training on safety and health measures to newly arrived students and staff to ensure safe living and learning on campus. For employees whose work involves increased health risks (e.g. labs, boiler rooms, workshops), we provide mandatory training about the worksite’s safety measures, organization, and maintenance, as well as on the minimum fire safety requirements.
For major events at the university, we organize announcements and information about campus safety measures via mailing lists. We also ensure compliance with fire safety measures, and, if necessary, ensure the presence of medical staff or an ambulance team at these large events.
Every year, we conduct evacuation drills in case of fire or other emergencies so that people know how to deal with such situations in order to avoid risks to their health and lives. Unfortunately, not everyone is always willing to participate in such exercises, treating them too lightly. I would like to emphasize the importance of such knowledge in cases of real danger to people’s health and lives and encourage staff and students to take part in all of the trainings we offer.
In recent years, we have also provided first aid training for all university staff. I am a certified instructor in first aid having completed the BLS First Aid Instructor’s and American Heart Association certification according to UK standards. I believe that everyone needs to know the basics of first aid, because hypothetically any one of us can face a situation where the life of another person can depend our knowledge of and training in first aid. I glad that awareness of first aid’s importance is increasing and that we have a lot of people who want to learn.
What medical services are available to students and staff on campus?
The university cares a lot about the health of our students and staff. For example, employees and students are encouraged to participate in voluntary health insurance programs. We also make sure that members of the campus community follow mandatory medical checkups and even provide access to these services when possible. This allows for timely identification of health problems, and for planning and implementation of preventive measures. Every year, seasonal influenza vaccination is conducted on campus for anyone who is interested.
In order to improve access to qualified medical care, in January 2018, together with UMC, the University Health Center was opened on campus, which provides outpatient and polyclinic services. At the University Health Center, within the framework of voluntary health insurance, students, employees and their families living on campus can seek treatment for issues covered under the plan. The campus is also home to general practitioners and specialists, as well as diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, preventive medical examinations and screening.
Today the issues of mental and emotional health, emotional burnout are growing increasingly important. How are these issues addressed at the University?
Certainly, maintaining mental health is one of the most serious issues of modern society, not only for us, but for the whole world. I think that in this or that period of life, mental health problems arise in many people, given the current rhythm of life, socio-economic problems and the saturation of modern life with numerous stresses.
Today Nazarbayev University has a special psychological counseling service. However, so far this service works only with students, but, as far as I know, a number of activities are also planned for the staff.
Undoubtedly, we have a need for joint activities with psychologists. We plan to hold special sessions and meetings for employees and teachers, which will involve the University Health Center, Psychological Counseling Center, and other units.
In general, I believe that in order to maintain a positive psychological atmosphere in the team, each member of the team must be constructive and tolerant of criticism, not translating possible disagreements into personal relationships.
Life stresses are often caused by excessive stress at work. Therefore, it is important to try and reduce stress at work and build a competent time management. In my opinion, managers should plan everyone’s work more efficiently, not to make employees stay after work on a regular basis, but to use their working time to solve current tasks to the maximum extent possible.
It is also important to engage in sports, which allows you to deal with psychological stress and stress. To help do this we have recently opened a new Athletic Center at our campus, where both students and faculty members, as well as all university employees and their families will have access to classes. We hope that we have set the prices for the swimming pool, main gym, and smaller residential gyms low enough that most people can enjoy them. Our community has the ability to take part in healthy living on campus by participating in sports and fitness at the sports center, open courts, in the campus green areas and parks, and even in some areas of the student dorms. Our sports center holds an annual sports contest among employees of the university and its subsidiaries, where they not only compete with each other in different sports disciplines, but also involve their relatives and family members in sports.
In general, it is important to lead a healthy lifestyle. For example, you can’t drink alcohol on our campus. Smoking is only allowed in specially designated places.
We also believe that for better understanding, respect, support and a sense of community, it is necessary to introduce informal meetings and team-building, where people will communicate more and thus understand and respect each other better.
Here we have a multinational and multicultural environment, but we are a community with common values and goals, so our common goal is to form our own, university subculture based on the principles of trust, mutual understanding and respect.
Are there any interesting ideas or innovations that are planned to be implemented in the NPI?
Of course, we have a lot of plans. Some of them are already being implemented, and some of them are still in their infancy.
For example, over the past six months we have been working on establishing a health and safety management system that will reflect the activities of schools, departments and organizations in the field of health and safety. This is an ambitious document, which will reflect the main measures to improve safety control.
Also, together with the Provost’s Office, we would like to create an integrated base for laboratory equipment, premises and materials, including information on technical inspections, trained employees, etc. This will enable us to respond to deficiencies in a timely manner and to take appropriate measures to prevent dangerous situations and provide the necessary training. I would like to note that the main problem here is that many people do not understand the need for training, because they do not see possible risks in the work. But we believe that it is necessary to carry out preventive work and not only to be responsive after emergencies have occurred.
One of the biggest issues we now face is how to improve communication between departments, schools, organizations and employees of the university, as well as how to more effectively coordinate their activities. This requires additional attention and streamlining.
In order to solve this problem, two coordination committees were established at the university, which control and regulate the issues related to living on the campus and increase its safety and attractiveness, consider the problems and wishes of students and employees living in dormitories.
The activities of the second committee are related to occupational safety and health, in which all interested departments of the university take part. It is a working body that deals with all emerging issues and questions related to campus safety and tries to find a collective solution to them.
Recently, we have started to look at how to improve conditions related to environmental issues. This includes the provision of requirements for environmental protection, collection, removal and disposal of waste from the laboratories. We want to create a waste management plan that will stipulate maximum allowable emissions in accordance with the requirements of the Environmental Code.
Since this year, we have been taking part in the review and acceptance of documents for students, particularly those related to their health status. For Kazakhstani students, this is an approved form, and for international students, a specially designed form that they must complete before arriving in Kazakhstan. This document is included in the list of mandatory documents to be submitted by students when entering the university. Meanwhile, foreign students come to us often without medical examination and insurance, or there are cases when the documents do not meet the requirements, so we study and carefully check all the documents and certificates provided. This year, we have introduced a special unit in our department for this purpose – a health manager who will work directly with students, provide them with all the necessary information and advice on the provision of medical care. This is especially true for our international students and professors, because here they find themselves in a completely different environment from their usual social environment. Therefore, the issues of their adaptation, access to necessary information, safe living are very important for us.