The Skolkovo Innovation Center is often praised for the rate at which it is sprouting out of the ground on a patch of land just west of Moscow. Just a few years into the project, hundreds of resident companies are already here, as is the Skoltech university and the first wing of the Technopark research facility.

More rarely heralded, however, are the people who expedite the process. Those who make the essential tweaks at every stage of construction to ensure that facilities are worthy of a place within Russia’s biggest innovations hub; so that every scientist, inventor, professor, student and investor settles harmoniously into his or her new work environment.

At stake is the viability of the Skolkovo ecosystem as an engine of innovation, Russia’s biggest effort to date to catalyze the diversification of the economy.

At Skolkovo, this is all the responsibility of the so-called ДБЖ department, a cousin of the Environmental Health and Safety department we know in the West. ДБЖ stands for безопасность жизнедеятельности, which translates literally as ‘safety of daily living’ – and its mandate is just as broad as it sounds.

'ДБЖ is about caring for people in their environment' - Ruslan Suleymanov

Skolkovo’s ДБЖ department consists of a five-person team supervised by Ruslan Suleymanov, a 46-year-old former department chief in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The duties break down into fire safety, occupational health and safety, road infrastructure, and migration issues.

“ДБЖ for us, first of all, is about caring for people in their environment,” says Ruslan Suleymanov, deputy head of Skolkovo’s Environmental Health and Safety department. “Skolkovo is a huge area – not only a construction site but also a place where people have gathered from all corners of the earth, bringing with them their own expectations for life and work,” he adds.

“The primary task for our team is to prevent people from coming to any kind of harm while at Skolkovo. You’ll never hear from us the phrase ‘my work here is done,’ since we are responsible for constant monitoring that the various demands of Russian law are being met on the territory of the Skolkovo Innovation Center.”

Fire safety drills at the Hypercube

So what does their day-to-day work entail?

“Very often the builders pay scant attention to the smaller things,” says Okin. “For instance, facilities are sometimes built that don’t conform to fire safety standards, and the builders are in effect passing the buck to the operating organization. It’s the operator who must solve these problems when an Emergencies Ministry planned check is carried out. But we try to address these issues before the building is commissioned. That way, the inhabitants of the building have less trouble to deal with.”

Fire safety was the center of attention during drills at the Technopark Office Center earlier this year, when the buildings were evacuated and smoke pumped into the building to simulate a blaze. Two fire engines sped to Skolkovo, and team of firefighters entered the building in gas masks and other protective gear. A flag flapped under the temporary field headquarters on the road outside, and hundreds of Skolkovo staff looked on from a safe distance.

The appraisal from the firefighters? Suleymanov’s team passed with flying colors.

“The evaluation from the fire safety training conducted at Skolkovo was ‘good,’” says Okin. “This appraisal says a lot: the slickness with which all services worked to evacuate everybody from the building, plus notifying employees about the fire in the first place.”

There were lessons to be learned, however. “Obviously our weaknesses were highlighted, and we are working to get an even better appraisal next time,” he says.

Pressed on the areas that need improving, Okin said: “Certain services didn’t fully understand what the situation demanded of them, what their actions should be in the event of a fire. This is exactly why we hold drills – so that the actions of all employees become automatic, and the whole company leaves the building with minimal material damage and without any employee coming to any harm.”

The fire safety drills at the Skolkovo Technopark Office Center, held last April

Checks such as these are conducted across all of the department’s competencies to ensure life is as safe and comfortable as possible from every angle.

Resident companies are kept informed about the department’s services and know where to turn to should they need information: Technopark general director Renat Batyrov recently hosted a meeting to explain the specifics of the department and how to, for example, apply for a work permit at Skolkovo or how to apply for an invitation for foreign coworkers, as well as on-the-job safety and the other aforementioned competencies.

“We’re open for all residents and help with consultations,” says Dmitry Simonov, the fire safety manager.

'We’re open for all residents and help with consultations' - Dmitry Simonov, fire safety manager

As for those other competencies, the health and disease control section cooperates with the Russian government consumer agency, known as Rospetrebnadzor, in ensuring a clean and safe work environment not just for the Skolkovo Foundation, its subsidiaries, the hundreds of resident startups and the Skoltech University, but also for the construction teams responsible for building them.

Occupational health and safety, for its part, ensures the work place is free of hazard of any kind, that hallways are kept clear, and the toilets and kitchens hygienic. Noise levels, lighting and radiation levels are also monitored to ensure maximum productivity and minimum disruption.

Keeping the traffic flowing along Skolkovo’s streets and boulevards is the work of the road infrastructure section, which conducts planned and unplanned checks on public transport, mail carriers and other frequent travelers at the Innovation Center, while the migration section facilitates work permits for foreign employees and liaises with the Russian government’s Migration Service.

No one person is responsible for each section; the duties of the Environmental Health and Safety department are shared. Any doubts about the department’s experience in each sphere are immediately dispelled with a glance at the staff resumes: Dmitry Simonov, for instance, is attached to Emergencies Ministry and supervised 25 people in the Moscow firefighting division before arriving at Skolkovo. Svetlana Beloglazova used to work for mobile telecoms giant Beeline, where she oversaw a nine-person department; and Natalya Korotchenko had a nine-person team at Rostekhnadzor, the Federal Environmental, Industrial and Nuclear Supervision Service of Russia.

Artist's impression of the Renova Lab at Skolkovo

The team has been called upon many times during construction of the 26,000 sq. m. Renova Lab, a research and scientific-production work facility that will focus on mechanical engineering, microelectronics and biochemistry and medicine.

“Our colleagues gave multiple consultations on the building’s specifications,” Natalya Korotchenko said. With parts of the Skoltech university now operating at the Technopark Office Center, Suleуmanov’s department was required to issue recommendations on fire safety, workplace safety and hygiene, among other things, and monitor the building’s compliance with those standards according to Russian law. The department also conducted an educational program to ensure the building’s inhabitants were up to speed with the rules.

As the Skolkovo Innovation Center expands to fill the 400-hectare patch of land near the Russian capital, the work of the Environmental Health and Safety department will be in greater and greater demand. For now though, their praises have been sung, however humbly, in recognition that without them, Skolkovo would be a very different place.