June 22, 2008
June 22, 2008
June 25, 2008
13.1055.1 - 13.1055.8
Risk Assessment of a Mechanical Engineering Department
In the spirit of continuous improvement, the Mechanical Engineering Department at Ohio University initiated a "risk assessment" process in the Fall of 2006 to take an open and honest look at all aspects of our department. Risks are potentially undesirable events, and examples of risks that are possible in a mechanical engineering department include extended sick leave for technical staff or faculty, a hiring freeze due to budget cuts, purchasing card restrictions due to misuse by University personnel, a faculty member leaving for industry mid-year, and the adverse reputational effects of misleading reporting of events in a student newspaper.
Although you may think that a risk assessment can only be done by a large department with lots of resources, that is not the case. Our department has about 250 undergraduates, 30 graduate students, 12 full time faculty, and three staff members. There are two research centers under the department, and overall the department and centers are involved in several million dollars worth of funded research. Our campus is primarily residential and is located in a small town.
Ohio University is similar to most universities in that we have a division of Safety and Risk Management that addresses risks on the university level, but this division does not deal with department-level risks. When we initiated our risk assessment, we were not able to find published examples of engineering department risk assessments for guidance. Department-level risk assessments were addressed in a talk by Ann Franke of Wise Results LLC, in which she identifies the main campus risk categories as: Financial, Operational, Life Safety, Compliance, and Reputational. Importantly, she identifies several risks to consider at the departmental level, including1: • Teaching risks (poor teacher/student boundaries, bias or fraud in grading, harassment, injury in classroom or laboratory, targeted violence against a professor • Research risks (loss of research data or specimens, misuse of grant money, data fabrication, plagiarism, failed collaborations) • Other risks: email privacy risks (non-university accounts), unfair student discipline, discrimination, plagiarism, embezzlement, tenure denial complications and lawsuits, loss of computer data, field trip accidents, suicide, etc. Operationally, Ann Franke advises to take a broad view of what could go wrong, focus on small steps for improvement, get help, follow up, adjust and stick with it for the long term.
Though not focused on college teaching, Dunklee et al in "A Primer for School Risk Management" identify the following relevant cases where school employees were found in the courts to be negligent2: • For inadequately warning students about experiments, machinery or equipment. • For assigning tasks that exceed the skill level of employees or students • For not following the syllabus • For insufficient safety training and inadequate enforcement of safety rules and regulations • For insufficient supervision
Kremer, G. (2008, June), Risk Assessment Of A Mechanical Engineering Department Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. https://peer.asee.org/3639
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