Luis Lopez, the lead plant operator of the Charles Strickland Central Utility Plant at New Mexico State University, was given the university’s Friend of Safety award Friday morning.
The gold globe award was given to Lopez during a workforce meeting for the Office of Facilities and Services. Drew Kaczmarek, assistant director of the Environmental Health & Safety department, nominated Lopez for the award.
Lopez has been with NMSU for 24 years. He currently leads the front line operation of three boilers and a turbine to provide both heat and electricity to the main campus. Two of the boilers date back to 1965 which add challenges due to their age, Kaczmarek said.
“As Luis has stated in the past, starting up boilers is literally a ‘controlled explosion’ which requires keen attention to detail,” Kaczmarek said. “He continues to be a pillar of knowledge for the Central Plant, and he leads the training of key staff both below and above in regards to operational safety/environmental compliance and unique historical issues involving NMSU equipment.”
Kaczmarek said that in June 2015, Lopez played a key role during a full day, unannounced Environmental Protection Agency Air Compliance Inspection at the Central Plant. Lopez led a full tour and answered multiple equipment questions posed by the inspector.
“In the end, NMSU received no formal Notices of Violation or fines, which is independent validation that Luis is doing a fine job,” Kaczmarek said.
Lopez was surprised that he received the award, but said he appreciated the recognition of the work he does at the plant.
“I just come to work and do what I can to make the university a better place,” Lopez said while being congratulated by his coworkers.
Lopez is one of only six award recipients since it was established in 2008. The award was inspired by the contributions of Michael Johnson, a chemistry professor, and Mary O’Connell, a Regents Professor in plant and environmental sciences, to improve the safety in science laboratories on campus. Environmental Health & Safety staff nominate deserving NMSU employees for the award before voting for the winner.
Katrina Doolittle, NMSU’s executive director of Environmental Health & Safety, said the award acknowledges achievements that make a positive impact on the safety culture on campus.
“It’s given to people who have made a long-term impact,” Doolittle said. “They have, through their own efforts in their areas, made huge changes. They’ve gone above and beyond and made this a safer and more protected environment for us all.”
Author: Adriana M. Chavez – NMSU