The hardest part of Hope Thomas’ job is specifically telling people what she does as a safety coordinator for the university.
“Even my parents used to ask, ‘What exactly is it that you do?’ because it’s such a diverse field,” Thomas said. “Every day is different.”
A 1996 UGA alumna, Thomas manages the Facilities Management Division’s occupational safety and environmental compliance programs for the campus. She uses her environmental health science degree every day for policymaking, decision-making or supervising campus asbestos, lead or mold remediation work. Between the federal government’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, UGA is responsible for complying with 53 separate programs. The university’s Environmental Safety Division takes care of the overall environmental compliance side, while FMD handles the day-to-day operations.
“In addition to compliance issues, we have created new sustainable practices on campus through the FMD safety program, the Green Lab program and industrial hygiene programs,” Thomas said. “We spent about a year where we went through all the FMD trades shops and the custodial divisions. We ‘cleaned up’ the chemicals that we were using on campus, either using greener products or safer products for our frontline employees. It definitely benefits campus occupants as far as indoor air quality and personal health is concerned.”
Thomas grew up on a farm in Watkinsville. At a young age, she knew how to drive tractors and use tools to make repairs. This proved helpful after she graduated from UGA and worked with a consulting firm in Atlanta that did EPA remediation sites all over the country. While visiting her parents one day, she saw the job posting for UGA’s safety coordinator and applied for the job, which is based in FMD.
As the largest of seven divisions reporting to the vice president for finance and administration, FMD includes more than 400 buildings, 2,000 labs and 700 acres on campus. Thomas’ job as safety coordinator is to facilitate the management of regulatory compliance, safety equipment, personal protective equipment and engineering controls for FMD’s 800 employees and various others on campus.
“I have 800 of the best friends,” Thomas said of the FMD team. “I can call at a moment’s notice, and they’ll drop what they’re doing, redirect and take care of an issue on campus. It’s amazing to have that kind of support.”
Thomas helped to create new programs that directly benefit UGA faculty, staff and students. In 2016, the Green Lab program began after a task force meeting with the Office of Research, ESD and the Office of Sustainability. The Green Lab program was established to improve safety measures in labs on campus. The program, in conjunction with Lab Safety, will monitor labs, helping them comply with state and federal laws, to be more energy efficient and sustainable, and to recycle products. The formal Green Lab program will roll out in 2019.
In her free time, Thomas works at her horse farm and helps train horses for competition in two disciplines: eventing and dressage. Two horses are competing at an international level. There is also a veterinary practice on the farm, and she helps do veterinary technician work.
“I do that 100 percent for fun,” she said of her farm. In addition to her 12 horses, Thomas has seven dogs—three rescues and four border terriers.
Thomas also enjoys traveling. With her first job, she traveled all over the U.S., including Puerto Rico. Since then, she has traveled to England, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Holland and France. She even had two horses that competed in England for a year, saying “flying with my competition horses was an incredible experience.”
At the moment, Thomas is working with John Lambeth in ESD to create a campus-wide occupational safety program aimed at teaching people how to be safe and reduce workers’ comp claims.
“I’m everywhere from manholes to rooftops,” she said. “I love getting dirty. I’d rather be running around with a shovel than a pencil. I just enjoy working here. Growing up in the shadow of UGA’s backyard, you become embedded in the culture and diversity of our town. I’m really proud to be part of that.”