Helping to ensure the safety of the university community by managing risks, advocating safe work practices, providing quality educational programs and ensuring compliance with university policies and regulatory standards are among the goals Maureen Kotlas has for MU’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (EHS).
Kotlas took over as director of EHS Aug. 1 after former director Peter Ashbrook retired.
She came to Mizzou from Harvard University, where she was director of environmental health and safety. She previously served in similar roles at Stony Brook University–New York and at the University of Maryland–College Park.
“My history has been at public research universities, which is why Mizzou was a good choice for me,” she said.
One of the aspects about MU that interested her was the diverse research programs — medicine, law and veterinary medicine — on one campus.
“I worked at other universities that had parts of those programs, but when I arrived here, it was interesting to see that this is more comprehensive in the types of research than had been my previous experience,” said Kotlas, who recently was chosen by the American Society of Safety Engineers as one of the “100 Women Making a Difference in Safety.”
As director, Kotlas heads an all-inclusive environmental health and safety program to support the missions of the university. The department has about 40 professional, technical and administrative staff members who provide such services as laboratory safety, environmental management, training, and collaborations and partnerships with researchers and others to ensure they work in the safest environment possible.
“My role is to set strategic direction for the department and to be a resource for our professional and technical folks to help them with the complex issues they have to deal with or problem-solve.”
Much of what EHS does falls under various federal and state regulations, which requires constant monitoring. “This is a large university, so trying to make sure it meets all those regulatory requirements and trying to ensure a safe and healthful environment in accordance with those regulations is probably the most challenging part of what we do,” Kotlas said.
Kotlas said she was like a sponge her first few months on campus, gathering information, meeting people and understanding how the university works. Now she is looking closely at the department’s short- and long-range goals, and what strategies can be put into place to achieve them.
“One big focus for us is in the area of research safety,” she said. “Laboratory safety is so important for managing the risk aspects of what the university does in research, and we are working to improve on what we offer and the consultations we provide in our laboratory safety program.”
Kotlas said EHS is one of the departments that links many parts of the university together. “We virtually touch every area of the university in some way, and our roles are to consult with, provide services to and partner with the campus community to ensure a healthful and safe environment for faculty, staff, students and visitors to the campus, so the entire campus community has the right place to live, work and study.”