Safety & Risk Management News

Elise Nicewick nominated for Staff Senate Benchmark for New Employee Award

March 20, 2024

Elise Nicewick holding a certificate at an eventCongratulations to Elise Nicewick, Occupational Health Nurse, for being nominated for the 2024 Staff Senate Benchmark for New Employee Award!

Elise was nominated for management and execution of the respirator program for the health system that she initiated just six months after starting her position, which consisted of establishing an online medical evaluation service and data repository for respirator fit test records for health system personnel. As a result of this effort, Elise received the College Safety Health and Emergency Management's Award for Innovation and spoke about the project at their annual conference.

Other nomination highlights include creating and overseeing complex, new projects in RedCap; managing, training and mentoring student interns; pursuing Certified Occupational Health Nurse Specialist certification; creating training modules and educating her colleagues; and more. Her commitment, resourcefulness and problem solving abilities earned her the nomination. 

Please join us in congratulating Elise for her nomination. 

Tom Briggs, Associate Vice President for SRM, on military leave

Headshot of Adminstration Assistant Vice PresidentJanuary 15, 2024

Tom Briggs has received mobilization orders from the U.S. Navy. He will be on military leave beginning in February 2024 and will return to VCU in spring 2025. 

Effective January 15, 2024, Michael Cimis will serve as the Assistant Vice President for SRM and report to Dr. Meredith Weiss, Vice President for Administration. Danny Muñoz will take over as Director, Environmental Health and Safety.

SRM staff recognized and presented at conferences

July 23, 2023

This summer, VCU Safety and Risk Management (SRM) staff attended two conferences where staff received awards for accomplishments and presented, sharing their expertise with conference attendees.

SRM staff holding awards in front of banner with CSHEMA logoSRM staff received awards at annual CSHEMA conference 

VCU Safety and Risk Management (SRM) received three awards at the annual Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA) conference on July 23 in Boston. At the conference, SRM staff was recognized and celebrated by fellow environmental health and safety professionals from higher education institutions across the country. 

SRM staff received awards in the following categories: 

  • 2023 Innovation Award for Resource Enhancement for a Large School for SRM’s collaboration with VCU Health on the pharmaceutical hazardous waste program. The program began by reviewing and analyzing disposal practices and regulatory compliance at the health system. It then made recommendations, implemented changes and educated staff, resulting in waste reduction and significant cost savings (approximately $143,000 since 2018). The effort was led by Larry Mendoza, laboratory safety officer, VCU Office of Chemical Safety, and Mark Emory, sustainability, HazMat and waste program director, VCU Health Safety Department.
  • 2023 Innovation Award for Safety Culture for a Large School for SRM’s laboratory safety video series. The project — a collaboration between VCU Center on Health Disparities and VCU Environmental Health and Safety, with Larry Mendoza leading the project for SRM — produced a series of lab safety training videos for students with an emphasis on diversity in the sciences. The project was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant that focuses on training students from underrepresented backgrounds in biomedical sciences. Read the VCU News story here to learn more. 
  • 2023 Innovation Award for Process Improvement for a Large School for SRM’s role in developing the RedCap respiratory medical evaluation program used by the university and the health system. The program ensures that faculty, staff and students have access to respiratory protection while exposed to an environment that is contaminated with harmful dust, fibers, fumes, mists, gasses, vapors, smoke or biological agents in which engineering controls are not feasible or adequate to control exposure. The program made its debut during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed VCU Health employees to safely and effectively care for patients and continue other mission-essential work. The initiative was led by Theresa Conti, occupational health nurse, and Elise Nicewick, occupational health nurse, VCU Office of Occupational Safety and Health. Learn more about the program here.

Sue Kurgatt presents at 68th annual meeting of the Health Physics Society

In late July, Sue Kurgatt, radiation safety officer for SRM Environmental Health and Safety, attended the 68th annual meeting of the Health Physics Society in Baltimore, Maryland. At the conference, she chaired the “Academic Health Physics” session and presented “Experience of a Cesium Irradiator Replacement in the midst of a pandemic.” During the session, 11 academic papers were presented and each presenter had 15 minutes to speak. Sue's presentation, which was well-received by attendees, discussed the cesium irradiator replacement project at Massey Cancer Center, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy/National Nuclear Security Administration, Office of Radiological Security. The information she presented will help other universities still using cesium irradiators understand the process and challenges associated with decommissioning a high-activity radioactive material and incentives. 

Please join us in congratulating these employees for their outstanding contributions to the health and safety of the VCU community. 

New safety videos focus on representing everyone who enters the lab

May 18, 2023

With a spotlight on diversity, the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Health Disparities and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety have collaborated to produce a series of videos on lab safety. The project was funded from a larger National Institutes of Health grant aimed at training students from underrepresented backgrounds in biomedical sciences. 

Read the VCU News story here.

Individual getting her blood pressure checked with two other womenVCU opens Employee Health location on Monroe Park Campus

March 7, 2023

The new location provides flu and COVID-19 shots, wellness screenings, workplace injury assessments and more.

Read the VCU News story here.

Bill Willis Retirement

Bill Willis officially retired from VCU Safety and Risk Management on December 31, 2022 after 25 years. He is credited with building a nationally recognized fire safety team at VCU and rose to the position of assistant director.

Bill began his fire and life safety career following his enlistment in the U.S. Air Force at the age of 18. His military service spanned 22 years and he advanced to the rank of senior master sergeant, serving as fire chief both during and following the gulf war Operation Desert Storm.

On the day of his retirement, Bill was recognized for his military service as the Iron and Metal Hero of the game during a men’s basketball game at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Below is a video link of the announcement that details Bill’s distinguished service to both his country and VCU.

Irradiator replacement at Massey Cancer Center

July 7, 2022

In May 2022, SRM with support from 22 VCU offices, 7 federal agencies, 6 outside parties and the Virginia Department of Radiological Health successfully replaced the old research irradiator at Massey Cancer Center, which was aging, inefficient and costly to maintain. The new equipment offers the same capability without using radioactive materials. This effort enabled Massey to transition from a National Cancer Institute-Designated Cancer Center to a NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center.

In 2017, SRM began work to secure federal funding for decommissioning of the irradiator and to support the purchase of an inherently safer replacement device. Over the past five years, significant renovations had to be made to the space that housed the irradiator to meet technical specifications and installation requirements. Additionally, SRM had to comply with regulatory requirements and coordinate with numerous federal agencies and VCU departments to remove the irradiator. The COVID-19 pandemic also delayed the project as international contractors were unable to travel until recently.

The new irradiator offers a variety of benefits. Estimated monetary savings include: more than $1 million in removal and disposal costs; $135,000 federal reimbursement towards the cost of replacement equipment; and an additional $5,000 for completing semi-annual reports on the operation of the new equipment. Researchers benefit from using more efficient, less time-intensive equipment. The new equipment will also be more accessible and safer for study and research. Additionally, VCU has reduced its risk profile and can shift the efforts formerly spent on the enhanced radiological security program to emerging risks, such as lasers and radio frequency safety.

Congratulations to our recent SRM graduates

July 6, 2022

Sara Adams, radiation safety specialist who supports radiation safety at the university and health system, began working at VCU in 2017. Previously, she served in the U.S. Navy for eight years and worked in an industrial setting for 10 years performing radiation monitoring and safety tasks. While working for VCU, Sara earned her associates in applied science in technical management from VCU in summer 2022. Sara plans to further her education at VCU and is interested in potentially pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree.

Kabrina Tippett holding a graduation capKabrina Tippett, occupational safety compliance specialist, started her career at VCU as a student earning her Bachelor of Science in chemistry with a minor in mathematics in Spring 2017. During this time, she also earned a professional chemist certification from the American Chemical Society. Prior to graduating, Kabrina contacted Larry Mendoza, laboratory safety officer, chemical safety, about summer internship opportunities, and has been with SRM ever since. While working full time for SRM, Kabrina earned both a post-baccalaureate certificate and a Master of Arts in homeland security and emergency preparedness from the L.Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs in Spring 2022. 

Prior to joining the SRM team, Carl-Heinz Wyzisk served in the U.S. Army for five years and then the U.S. Air Force for six years. During his military career, he was stationed in Greece, Germany and Saudi Arabia, participating in the Persian Gulf War. He then moved to Richmond and worked at Red Wing Shoes for 17 years as a salesperson, route driver, store manager and cobbler. In 2020, Carl began pursuing his Bachelor of Arts in homeland security and emergency management at VCU and graduated in spring 2022, with honors and made the Dean’s list, at the age of 58. In January 2022, Carl joined the SRM team and will soon be hired as a fire safety technician. Carl says, “I have learned a tremendous amount in different fields and made a few friends, but the thing I have found is one of the best places I have ever worked.” 

Join us in congratulating Kabrina and Carl on their recent graduation.

Snake on a parking deck

July 6, 2022

Who you gonna call when there’s a snake in a VCU parking deck? Larry Mendoza, laboratory safety officer, chemical safety, who is a member of the Virginia Herpetological Society and is certified to handle venomous snakes.

When Larry received the call from Paul Thrift, superintendent for grounds, about a snake in the first floor of the Bowe Street Parking Deck, he immediately identified it as a copperhead snake. He then instructed the grounds team to contain it under a bucket until he could arrive to safely remove it. 

With support from Travis Anthony, lab safety technician, chemical safety, they coaxed the snake into the bucket and transferred it to a tote with a lid. Larry then relocated the snake to an area nearby where it can live out its days in its natural habitat.