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Risk Management Alert

Laboratory Safety - Chemical Risks

The laboratory safety video "Experimenting with Danger" describes three serious accidents at major U.S. universities from safety hazards associated with conducting research involving chemical risks found in University laboratories. The video was released by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB), an independent federal agency charged with investigating industrial chemical accidents. The 24-minute video focuses on three serious laboratory accidents:
  • the death of a lab research assistant in 2008 in a flash fire at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • a death by accidental poisoning of a highly regarded Dartmouth College professor in 1997
  • a 2010 explosion at Texas Tech University (TTU) that severely injured a graduate student, who lost three fingers in the blast and suffered eye damage
The video provides extensive information on the CSB's investigation of the TTU accident and the resulting case study.

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Safe Driving Tips for UofT Vehicles

Driver accidents are costly in terms of time, trouble and money if they only involve property damage losses but driver safety is an even more important factor. All designated University drivers can help reduce accident frequency and increase their own personal safety by practicing awareness and caution to avoid accidents when operating vehicles.

We are a busy urban campus and there are many competing interests for using the roads and facilities surrounding the University – accidents are mostly preventable and always irreversible, so please keep in mind the following precautions when driving UofT vehicles to minimize the risk of accidents:

Drive defensively at all times, and especially in winter conditions.

Accidents increase with changes in weather when driving conditions deteriorate and extra precautions must be taken, but it is also important to drive defensively and cautiously at other times because of the high density University campus environment, especially during periods when we have exams, convocation, student orientation events, etc when drivers must be super careful and the level of distraction is higher than normal. At all times, better to be extra careful when operating a vehicle than to get into an accident and hurt someone.

Scan your surroundings.

Before starting, do a complete check of your vehicle surroundings using your mirrors and a walk around the vehicle is recommended as well. Scanning is particularly important when turning at intersections so ensure that your path to turn is clear before moving across oncoming traffic and pedestrian lanes. Wait a few seconds before you start moving into an intersection in case the other person (vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist, roller-blader, jogger, etc) does not stop. Look again, left, centre, right before proceeding.

One of the most frequent accident causes is backing into an object, such as a parked vehicle, a pole, a bike rack, a fence, a building or a fire hydrant. Using your rear view and side view mirrors is essential to check your surroundings prior to backing up but if the place is not familiar, you should walk around the vehicle to see what obstructions exist. Always look where you are going and make sure there are no obstacles in your intended path of travel.

Check any blind spots when you drive near buildings and be extra cautious when reversing. Keep in mind that the turning radius for bigger University vehicles is much wider. If you’re unfamiliar with a vehicle’s handling characteristics, we suggest you practice maneuvers (backing up, turning, doing 3-point turns, etc.) in open areas with no pedestrians or parked cars around to get a feel for the vehicle.

Respect all signage, yielding and stopping accordingly.

Many accidents occur when a driver moves through a stop sign or traffic light or does not yield as instructed by a sign or by the rules of the road and University drivers are no exception. You rarely save time and you jeopardize your personal safety by not following the rules or by speeding. And when roads are wet with rain, icy or snow covered, it can take up to three times the normal distance to stop so always drive according to prevailing conditions. Increase your stopping distance by reducing your speed and being prepared to stop.

And remember to always wear your seat belt and do not use mobile phones or similar devices when driving!

These precautions are simple and common sense; following them will ensure you get to your destination safely. Always be alert and drive defensively! You and your vehicle are assets we want to keep intact!

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Fire Sprinkler Systems/Heads/Piping

Fire sprinklers and related equipment are a vital part of the physical fire protection provided in University residences and other buildings and they are not to be tampered with under any circumstances. Do not touch them in any way because you might accidentally set them off and serious water damage will result.

We have had several incidents in residence buildings where sprinkler heads were tripped by students using sprinklers as hangars for clothing or other items, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages and inconvenience and disruption to residents and their personal property as well as unnecessary costs to the University and to the City of Toronto Fire and Emergency Services.

To avoid accidents, you should know that

  • Sprinklers operate when the heat from a fire melts their temperature sensitive linkage allowing the high pressure water in the piping attached to the sprinkler to discharge. Water from one sprinkler head will fill a bathtub in about one-two minutes!
  • Sprinklers operate individually and when one sprinkler goes off, it doesn’t mean that all sprinklers are activated. Only the sprinkler heads directly exposed to a fire will activate. Most fires are extinguished or controlled by three or fewer sprinklers.
  • Sprinkler heads can also be activated by sufficient mechanical force acting on the linkage that pops the link and allows water to discharge, same as if activated by a fire.
  • Sprinklers are never to be used to hang items. Never attach anything to a sprinkler head. Never use a sprinkler head in your residence room as a hanger or to attach decorations e.g. around Christmas time.
  • Sprinklers and pipes contain pressurized water at all times so they are prone to freezing in winter if exposed to cold temperatures. Always maintain adequate heat in your room/office during cold weather, especially if it is sprinklered. Don’t leave windows open for a long time in winter. Don’t turn off the heat to save energy as this can lead to frozen pipes and unnecessary floods.
  • Never paint over sprinkler heads as paint will act as an insulator and may delay the reaction time of the sprinkler head in a fire. In a worst case scenario, the sprinkler may not activate at all.
  • A damaged/bent sprinkler head may fail resulting in accidental discharge of water. The serrated round disk at the end of the sprinkler develops the water spray pattern. If this is damaged or interfered with, the sprinkler will not operate properly.
  • Sprinkler heads need 18 inches of clear space around and below them in order to develop the spray pattern required to put out a fire. Keep the top shelf of your storage area clear so that sprinklers can work properly.

Different types of sprinkler heads installed in the University’s buildings:

Image FireSprinklers

Since UofT buildings have been constructed at various times, different sprinkler applications exist in compliance with building codes at the time. Newer buildings are sprinklered throughout while some older buildings only have sprinkler protection in below grade areas (basements). Some buildings have detection systems only and are unsprinklered.

The water in sprinkler systems comes from the same water mains under the streets that supply our domestic (drinking) water. There are special one-way check valves installed to prevent the water in the sprinkler system from traveling back into the water mains once it has entered the sprinkler piping to prevent cross-contamination.

In the event of a fire, a sprinkler will discharge about 20-30 gallons of water per minute and start suppressing the fire almost immediately. In the absence of sprinklers, we rely on the Fire Department to respond to put out a fire. It can take 10 minutes or more for the Fire Department to be notified, arrive at the building and begin to extinguish a fire which has grown that much larger during this time. The hoses they use will discharge 200 gallons per minute in a very powerful stream. This is ten times the amount of water to do the same job as a sprinkler does and it can result in extensive additional water damage loss to the University and our community.

The University’s expert on sprinkler systems is Steve Janes from the UofT Fire Prevention Department. For more information about sprinkler systems please call Steve at 416-978-0383.

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Alert for Users of Water Purification Systems and Similar Lab Apparatus: Check Loose Connections!

There are certain types of equipment in labs at the University, such as water purification systems, that require regular inspection and periodic service. Generally speaking, any apparatus that is permanently connected to a water supply should be checked on a regular basis to make sure all connections are secure. The City water pressure fluctuates, and pressure is usually higher during the night so that is when connection failures are most likely to occur.

We suggest having a protocol in place to make sure connections are inspected regularly and replaced at intervals as recommended by the manufacturer. If a water connection fails during the night, or on a weekend, serious water damage will result to your own lab as well as adjacent University premises.

Image Water connection failed during the night...

Here are some guidelines and recommendations as applicable for users of water purification systems. For more information regarding the maintenance issues about your water purification system, please contact your supplier. Normally, you should change fittings and connectors about every 2-4 years.

  • Mount in plain view and mark with signs
  • Clean, inspect and maintain as needed
  • Provide your lab staff with suitable training
  • Make sure you can quickly turn off water in case of an emergency
  • Report any problems immediately
  • Check the water level sensor in the tank; if it doesn’t work then it won't shut off the inflow of water and an overflow will result
  • Pay special attention to possible failures of connective tubing of water purification systems. A failure might occur due to repeated on-off filling cycles. The vibration induced during the filling cycles might cause a connector between cartridges to detach. If the attachment fails, the system doesn’t sense that it should automatically shut-off and the water continues to run.
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Works of Art on Campus
(Portraits, paintings, sculptures, items in cases or exhibits, etc.)

Attention: Property Managers, Business and Administrative Officers

Please contact the office of Heather Darling Pigat, University of Toronto Collections Manager, at (416) 946-7090 if you are planning to paint walls, renovate, or perform any construction work that might adversely affect or impact any paintings or other works of art in the immediate area; these will need to be temporarily removed or properly protected.

Do not allow painters to just paint around any works of art - too risky! If necessary, Heather can arrange for art movers to take down the works and store them in the art storage vault of the Art Centre during your project. Works of art should not be removed or just be stashed in cupboards on site, or the like without the prior consent of the Collections Manager.

For information concerning the insurance aspects of art works, please contact Tanya V. Patina, Insurance and Claims Administrator, (416) 978-7484.

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Laptop Theft and Recovery Device – STOP Security System

Security of laptop computers, one of the most commonly stolen items on the campus, concerns everyone. Personal computers, flat screen monitors and other audio visual equipment are also popular targets for thieves. The University of Toronto Campus Police has implemented a plan to reduce thefts of these devices — STOP security system.

STOP is an anti-theft system, a unique theft deterrent, will help reduce theft by eliminating the reason for most theft: resale value. Professional thieves usually are not interested in the laptop or notebook itself, only its resale value on the open market. The STOP security system reduces the street value of the item to zero.

How it works: Every piece of equipment protected with a STOP security plate is automatically registered with STOP and the Campus Police. Registering your STOP security plate number and pertinent equipment information is critical for equipment recovery. Security plate numbers and item information are stored in a registry system that is accessible online 24/7. A STOP security plate can withstand 800 pounds of force. If removed a permanent “tattoo”, indicating stolen property, is left behind diminishing the resale value.

How it can benefit students: University of Toronto students who are required to purchase a laptop or already own one will have an added sense of security knowing their laptop is registered with the STOP program. Approximately 300 to 400 computers and related equipment is stolen every year from various University buildings. In most of these cases, laptop owners are unable to provide campus police with the serial or model number of their stolen item. The likelihood of recovering the stolen item diminishes without this information. Students who purchase a STOP plate will automatically have their item information recorded. The STOP plate will help deter theft and aid in the recovery of lost equipment.

How it can benefit University departments: Staff and faculty members will be able to secure University property such as laptops, CPUs, projectors and other office technology. The STOP program also acts as an asset tracking program. Alerts can be sent to specific employees or management notifying them when loaned equipment is to be returned.

Purchasing a STOP plate: The UofT students, staff and faculty can purchase individual plates at the Campus Police office which is located at 21 Sussex Avenue for $20 each (tax included). For more information please contact Peter Franchi, University of Toronto Police Service , at 416-978-2323 or visit the STOP website at

For more information click here Attachment (1.3 MB)

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Dell Laptop Battery Recall

Under rare conditions, it is possible for these batteries to overheat, which could pose a risk of fire.

Dell has identified a potential issue associated with certain batteries sold with Dell Latitude™, Inspiron™, XPS™ and Dell Precision Mobile Workstation™ notebook computers. In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and other regulatory agencies, Dell is voluntarily recalling certain Dell-branded batteries with cells manufactured by Sony and offering free replacements for these batteries. Under rare conditions, it is possible for these batteries to overheat, which could pose a risk of fire.

Is your battery model affected?

Potentially affected batteries were sold with the following models of Dell notebook computers or separately as secondary batteries:

  • Latitude: D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800, D810
  • Inspiron: 500M, 510M, 600M, 700M, 710M, 6000, 6400, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 9400, E1505, E1705
  • Precision: M20, M60, M70, M90
  • XPS: XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170, XPS M1710
In addition, these batteries may have also been provided in response to service calls. The batteries were shipped to customers between April 1, 2004 and July 18, 2006 .

The following battery models, only, may be subject to recall:





































These part numbers are printed on the back of the battery packs as illustrated below.


If your battery does not reflect of these markings, it is not impacted.

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Driving Stakes into Campus Grounds

This message is from Bruce Dodds, Director, Utilities and Building Operations, Facilities & Services

As you can appreciate, the grounds of the St. George Campus contain a complicated network of buried services such as power cables, utility piping, data wiring and irrigation piping. What may seem like simply a patio could actually conceal a membrane roof of an underground section of your building. Contractors often do not understand that something as seemingly innocent as driving a stake into the ground to support a tent or a sign can cause interruptions to services provided to the University community, serious damage to our infrastructure or even personal injuries.

For instance, just a few years ago, a worker employed by a construction company drove a stake into the ground by Sidney Smith Hall without permission and nicked the insulation of a 4,160 volt cable. When heavy rains soaked the damaged cable several days later, the cable shorted-out causing an explosion in the Central Power Station. The power to half the campus was knocked-out for several hours.

This past summer, a similar event occurred when a contractor carpenter accidentally drilled a hole through a high voltage cable duct on Huron Street. Half a dozen buildings were without power and air conditioning.

The only fortunate thing about both of these incidents was that no one was injured or killed.

The Facilities and Services Department has a well-established procedure in place where any excavation - and even driving a stake into the ground is considered an excavation - must be granted a permit before proceeding. Before issuing this permission, cables and other underground services are located using drawings and sensing equipment in the field. In many cases, alternative methods of support for tents may be suggested. With only this minimal effort we can keep both the workers and the University's infrastructure safe from harm.

If your department or organization is contemplating an event which may involve penetrations to the ground, it is essential that you first contact the Office of Space Management at least five days in advance. OSM will initiate the process to notify the appropriate campus authorities who will arrange for any underground services in the vicinity to be located.

With your co-operation, the University can continue to avoid serious accidents in the future.

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