Meet Columbia’s safety specialist

By Alexandra Kukulka

As Columbia’s campus continues to expand, a newly created position in the Office of Campus Safety & Security has been filled.

Susan Rizer is the college’s new environmental health and safety coordinator, a job created just for her. She has been charged with carrying out the College Safety Plan, which requires her to visit each department and conduct safety assessments, to discover what safety hazards are present.

According to Robert Koverman, associate vice president of Safety & Security, he created the position with John Kavouris, associate vice president of Facilities and Construction, when the college started to construct and remodel campus buildings two years ago.

“Rizer’s background made her ideally suited [for the position],” said Koverman, “Plus, [the department] really liked her personality.”

Rizer, who was hired in July, has an Associate Safety Professional certification, but said she will soon test to become a Certified Safety Professional, which will further her training, education and experience in the field.

She said her job is to follow and enforce Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations that keep employees safe.

Rizer initially studied pharmacy, but ultimately received her degree in environmental health science from Purdue University.

“I really liked the classes that were involved,” Rizer said. “[The program] was a really good mix of everything in the health and safety field. It was all about your health in your environment.”

Rizer said that after graduating college she worked as an assistant project manager at OCS Environmental, a small environmental consulting company that focused heavily on the steel industry. She went on to work as a consultant in the auto industry, conducting environmental health and safety inspections for 70 various car and truck dealerships in seven states.

Most recently, she worked as an EHS specialist at Underwriters Laboratories, a global independent science safety company, where she said she supervised workers as they tested product safety by damaging products until they were no longer functional.

“We would burn things up, we would blow them up, we would shoot lasers at them,” Rizer said. “My job there was to make sure that while we’re doing all these [tests] that you are never supposed to do, that we [kept] our employees safe.”

Rizer works closely with Kavouris and his team. She said she enjoys her job because it is new to both her and the college. However, she said the campus layout makes the job challenging.

“We have many buildings spread throughout the South Loop, so it’s not like everything is in one building where I can just go and walk around and see what might be out there in the work environment,” she said.

Once the college’s safety program becomes more established, Koverman said Rizer will teach faculty and staff about workplace safety.

“One of my favorite things about the safety field is actually getting to get in a classroom and just do training with employees [and] teach them what they need to know to be as safe as possible at work,” Rizer said.

According to Rizer, she has been working to formalize the college’s safety programs and develop employee safety training. She said she has been meeting with many departments to learn what they do on campus and what types of  safety hazards are present.

She encourages anyone on campus to talk to her if he or she has safety concerns. Safety experts have said that 88 percent of all workplace injuries are caused by unsafe acts or unsafe behaviors, 10 percent are caused by unsafe conditions and 2 percent by uncontrollable conditions, such as natural disasters.

“Many times, people become complacent and actively choose to perform a task in a way that they know is unsafe because they’ve never been injured before,” Rizer said. “They don’t perceive the risk as being great, or they want to take a shortcut to save time. My job is to change that way of thinking and strengthen the safety culture at Columbia.”