Thursday, March 23, 2006

Safety Gains At LANL: Are They Sustainable?

Board Hails Safety Gains At LANL
BY JOHN ARNOLD Journal Staff Writer

(Publication:Journal Santa Fe Section; Date:Mar 23, 2006; Section:Front Page; Page Number:1)

LOS ALAMOS — A federal safety oversight board on Wednesday praised safety improvements at Los Alamos National Laboratory following a lab shutdown in 2004.

But members of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board also questioned the sustainability of new safety initiatives as a new manager prepares to take over LANL operations.

And a board staff member expressed concerns about recent federal investigations into safety lapses that faulted some of the same underlying problems that led to the 2004 shutdown.

The DNFSB was in Los Alamos to hear from the current and incoming lab directors and National Nuclear Security Administration officials on the status of safety programs at the lab, as well as plans for ensuring safe operations in the future.

“The sustainability (of safety programs) is a concern — not lapsing back into old practices, old ways,” said board member Joseph Bader.

A new company called Los Alamos National Security will take over lab management June 1.

The head of the U.S. Department of Energy’s NNSA, which funds and oversees lab operations, told the board that the new contract provides a financial incentive for safety improvements.

“Los Alamos National Security has the potential to earn nearly a half billion dollars in fees over the next seven years,” NNSA Administrator Linton Brooks said. “In return, I expect them to provide dramatic improvement in internal operations, including safety. And I expect that improved performance to happen immediately.”

Current lab director Robert Kuckuck said he has seen marked improvement in safety at the lab since he came on board 10 months ago.

He praised lab workers for taking the initiative to make their work environments safer, pointing to a recent incident in which a lab technician was briefly exposed to acid while working alone in the lab. The worker was not injured, but reported to her supervisor that she was exposed because she had not followed lab procedures.

Kuckuck views that as a sign that employees are taking safety more seriously.

“Because this laboratory has been under siege. It’s been under fear, and speaking up has not been something people have done readily,” Kuckuck said. “And yet, she came in and spoke up.”

But DNFSB technical director Kent Fortenberry questioned why recent federal investigations found some of the same underlying problems that preceded the 2004 lab shutdown. For example, a DOE investigation into a July 2005 contamination accident that spread radioactive americium-241 off lab property faulted lax safety controls and “a significant level of complacency.”

NNSA’s Los Alamos site office manager, Ed Wilmot, acknowledged there is work to be done.

“It just takes time to change individual attitudes,” he said.

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[Interim Director Kuckuck can take considerable satisfaction in his sane approach to re-establishing an atmosphere of calm at the Laboratory after the previous Director's benighted shutdown in 2004. Removing the abusive climate of fear and intimidation is the first step on the way to recovery from Nanos' actions. An institution like LANL, with some 10,000 employees, some of which carry out very dangerous activities with dangerous materials, will never achieve--honestly--zero instances of safety missteps (or security, or accounting, for that matter) in the course of a year. Yet the "half billion dollars in fees over the next seven years" that Linton Brooks touts as a reason for expecting "dramatic improvement" in safety practices--"immediately," no less--from Bechtel (LANS) must be monitored closely, so that they aren't just part of a corporate, glossy-brochure, coverup. -Editor.]

Comments:
Sure, it's easy to not have accidents when you don't have any real work to do. Going to meetings, writing IWDs, and taking training are NOT hazardous activities.
 
I don't know. I almost "worked" myself into a heart attack doing this non-work.
 
“The sustainability (of safety programs) is a concern — not lapsing back into old practices, old ways,” said board member Joseph Bader.

This is B.S. there were more serious accidents in DX Division per hour worked after the shut down than there were before it. I suspect this is probably true in other divisions as well. This is just more propaganda aimed at justifying the massive fraud perpetrated on the U.S. taxpayers and the LANL workforce.

I'd like to see the "old practice" of rewarding incompetence and fraud come to an end. The transgressions of Nanos, Jones, Seestrom, Hockaday and the rest makes Alexander and Bussolini look like saints.
 
receedingHairline: Go ahead and have your heart attack. Just don't have it on lab premises.
 
Well, of course I would have my heart attack at home. I wouldn't want to skew LANL's statistics.
 
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