The University of New Mexico Board of Regents' Audit Committee has approved and released the findings of an 18-month review, done by UNM Internal Audit, of the operations of UNM Safety and Risk Services Department (SRS). The audit identified weaknesses in the program that have been and are being addressed. It also underlined the importance of the audit process in helping the University focus on mission-critical issues even in the face of severe budgetary constraints.
Safety and Risk Services is tasked with environmental health and safety, radiation safety, chemical and industrial hygiene, worker's comp and insurance issues.
The SRS audit has led to operational changes, tighter policy and report compliance, and greater management oversight.
"We welcome the audit and believe its findings to be very instructional," said UNM President David J. Schmidly. "There is no operation at the university that would not benefit from a thorough review and recommendations for better service."
Regents' Audit Committee Chair Gene Gallegos believes the policies in place helped uncover operational problems.
"The Internal Audit Department is an independent arm of the Regents that vigorously examines the finances of university units and brings to light any discrepancies," said Gallegos. "This report is an excellent example of the importance of internal audit, and that it does what it is supposed to do."
Though acknowledging ongoing efforts by UNM to address fire safety issues, the audit states that more must be done, especially with regard to student housing, where 41 percent of residential buildings are covered by sprinklers or other automatic fire suppression systems. The peer average is around 74 percent.
Fire safety is a university priority. UNM is rapidly upgrading old housing and replacing or adding new housing that meets or even exceeds current code requirements. In addition, SRS has submitted a request for BR&R; funds which can be made available for testing, upgrading and installing fire suppression systems. It is important to note that every UNM building meets the building and fire codes in place when it was built. Once the student housing plan is implemented in the fall of 2012, an estimated 66 percent of residential buildings will have sprinkler systems.
The audit found inadequate tracking of laboratory chemicals and suggested a comprehensive plan for inventory tracking and accountability that would involve UNM's 400 laboratories. SRS has developed an in house software system with the input of principal investigators that was being beta-tested during the time of the audit. In addition, the ERM Council (see below) will review the membership of the existing chemical safety committees to determine the level of support needed to further assure research safety.
"I think it is important to remember that no university student or employee has been significantly injured because of a fire or lab accident," said Schmidly, "but we are determined to maximize our safety programs in order to minimize any chance for injury in the future."
The audit strongly recommended implementation of an enterprise risk management model that is the preferred approach at leading research universities around the country. UNM has already taken steps in that direction with the formation last summer of the ERM Council that is tasked with assessing overall risk, determining opportunities to make improvements and suggesting the best allocation of resources. The ERM Council will soon expand its scope of operation in order to provide oversight to a number of task forces identified in the audit, including Fire Safety, Research Safety, and Loss Control and Prevention. The Council will seek to invigorate standing committees not currently operating to peak performance as well as uncover the best practices that will improve the overall operation.
During the course of the audit, it was discovered that checks were not deposited in a timely fashion per policy and that several checks had not been deposited for weeks and even months after receipt. The university took swift action, transferring the accounting and business functions of SRS to the Vice President of Finance who has designed appropriate accounting and monitoring processes, including timely insurance claim procedures.
The University central administration appreciated the constructive feedback contained in the report and welcomes future operational critiques.
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