Safety manager strives to keep city workers safe by providing proper training and procedures
By Todd Wildermuth, City of Roswell Public Information Officer
When Kathy Louer owned an occupational medical clinic, she often saw firsthand in her patients the results of unsafe workplaces and injuries experienced by workers. Today, as the City of Roswell’s Safety and Risk Manager, Louer strives each day to try to prevent the city’s employees from having to deal with injuries she treated in her previous career.
“I have the means to keep workers safe so they all go home to their families each day,” Louer says, “and that gives me great enjoyment.
“I enjoy the people. I enjoy explaining the ‘whys’ of a specific OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulation and how we can meet those safety requirements. I enjoy ensuring that all city employees have the tools and training to do their jobs safely.”
When accidents do happen in a city department, Louer is one of the first people to be contacted. Since stepping into the position about five years ago, Louer has reinforced the importance of employees reporting accidents promptly and has let them know an accident does not necessarily mean they are going to get in trouble. Louer wants to avoid city employees having any misconception that she, as the safety manager, is the “safety police.”
“I don’t want to place blame when accidents happen,” she explains. “I want to find out why it happened and put procedures and tools in place to avoid accidents in the future.”
To help make that happen, Louer formalized the city’s reporting system for accidents and other safety-related incidents or situations. She developed the current form used to gather all information necessary for her to do a “root-cause analysis” of a given accident or incident and find out “if we were lax in any area” and then initiate procedures to prevent such things in the future. The actions taken by Louer may involve new training or retraining of employees, having employees use different equipment for their jobs, or simply replace a work procedure with a better one.
Throughout the city’s many departments, Louer enjoys the cooperation of supervisors, who are now offering their own idea for a “fix” when one of their employees is involved in an accident or other safety issue.
“It is great to see the safety culture growing throughout the city,” Louer says.
Born in California, Louer grew up in an Air Force family that made stops in multiple states before she ended up in Michigan. She arrived in Roswell in 1981 and discovered she loved New Mexico. She worked as a surgery scheduler at St. Mary’s Hospital before she and a hospital co-worker opened their own occupational medical clinic. Her business partner in that venture, Cyd Roller, went on to earn her nursing degree and remains a nurse practitioner in Roswell today.
“We look back at how we started our business, knowing nothing about running a business, but we just figured it out as we went along,” Louer says. “It was scary, leaving a paying job and going out on our own, but we learned a lot and that experience put us both on the path to where we each are today.”
Louer’s path included positions doing medical billing at the New Mexico Rehabilitation Center, safety consulting for the New Mexico Workers Compensation Administration and eventually led to a job as a records clerk with the Roswell Police Department. A year and a half later she moved on to become Safety and Risk Manager for the city.
Louer has an associate’s degree in Occupational Safety Engineering and Environmental Management Technologies from Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell and is also a Certified Safety and Health Official.
Except in special circumstances (such as having an employee from another department temporarily assigned to the Safety and Risk Department during the COVID-19 situation), Louer serves as a one-person department. In addition to investigating accidents and incidents, she handles things such as coordinating safety training and maintaining those records to supply to the city’s insurance provider, responding to personnel safety inquiries about particular procedures or equipment, conducting safety inspections of city facilities, filing insurance claims for repairs to equipment involved in accidents or other incidents and coordinating with the appropriate departments to ensure the repairs are accomplished, coordinating the protective footwear program, maintaining OSHA-required Hepatitis B program information that includes the offer of immunizations and subsequent shot records, handling workers compensation claims, being involved with monthly Employee Safety Committee meetings and responding to issues employees bring to its attention, and investigating and making recommendations relative to tort claims submitted by people claiming damage caused by the city.
“I want the public and city employees to know that I am available to listen to their questions, to talk situations over and help find solutions to issues they may have,” Louer says. “I want to help make our work environment and our city be the best it can be.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has meant Louer’s job has also recently included trying to identify sources for and acquire extra cleaning and disinfecting products, as well as track down and maintain a supply of personal protective equipment – facemasks being the key item – for city employees.
While the pandemic has certainly been a new experience, Louer points out her job can offer “something new and interesting” any given day. Like the time she dealt with an accident in which an employee at the city zoo inadvertently struck and damaged some property when he swerved his maintenance vehicle to avoid hitting a duck. The employee told Louer, “Now we know that ducks have the right of way.”
Louer not only thrives in her job with the City of Roswell, but she enjoys calling Roswell and Chaves County her home. After much travel earlier in her life, Louer’s own three children have been born and raised here since their mom arrived some 39 years ago.
“In my lifetime, I have lived in many places and worked in a lot of different professions,” Louer says, “but I now know I’m right where I need to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and it’s a wonderful feeling.”