Director’s Message: The importance of speaking up and listening too
Depending on your daily round at the lab, you may have noticed that new safety restraints have been installed to prevent gas cylinders from tipping over in Building 200. An alert employee noticed the risk posed by the unrestrained cylinders and reported it to firstname.lastname@example.org, and our Infrastructure Services (IS) organization acted quickly to correct the situation. Similar interventions are continually taking place, which helps the laboratory mitigate risks and develop a safer environment.
I mention this for a few reasons: First, to thank our employees for helping to improve our working environment by reporting and correcting unsafe conditions such as these. Second, to share that these situations and many others recorded by our Health, Safety, and Environment Division are great examples that demonstrate how we have become vigilant about identifying and reporting risks that we see. I want to commend everyone for being alert to hazards around us and acting to fix them.
I want to take this opportunity to ask you to act just as boldly when the risk is not a cylinder in need of restraint, but rather, a fellow colleague who may be in need. We are all, at one time or another, distracted or experiencing a bad day. It takes great courage to correct another individual’s behavior. But staying silent can result in tragic consequences.
Perhaps you’re afraid of offending your colleague, or you’re not entirely certain that what you’re seeing is truly unsafe — you just sense that it is. I encourage you to take action and err on the side of caution; preventing an injury is worth a pause of work. This is always true and certainly worth reminding ourselves as we have recently experienced a number of serious incidents at the lab. Together we can create a community to keep each other safe.
Just as important as being willing to point out a colleague’s unsafe behavior is being willing ourselves to welcome the intervention. Pride and ego might tempt us to react defensively or dismissively when someone points out something that may be unsafe or inappropriate, but being open to feedback is a big step toward making us a safer and more inclusive community.
In fact, I would urge you to go one step further — when working in a potentially hazardous situation or even in just your day-to-day routine, proactively ask a colleague for a second opinion on whether you’ve properly planned your work and put appropriate controls in place. Seeking a “second set of eyes,” no matter what the task, can benefit you and your colleague as you both put safety first.
The lab has formalized this “second opinion” approach in its compensatory actions required as part of restarting electrical work at the lab. More than 100 employees have been trained as electrical observers. Observers are an independent set of eyes to help ensure we perform our hazardous electrical work safely.
Sometimes, in our vigorous pursuit of answers, we lose perspective of the bigger picture — we are so focused that we lose focus, so to speak. Join me in stepping back and collaborating with your colleagues to make Argonne safe and successful.
A number of events in the coming weeks will support us all in our efforts, which include:
- An excellent presentation on “Changing the Electrical Safety Culture” by Mark Scott of Berkeley Lab is available on-line from the Electrical Safety page, which also includes other useful resources and contacts and available on Inside Argonne.
- “Anatomy of an Incident and Lessons Learned: Arc Flash Accident at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Technical Area 53,” an Integrated Safety Management Colloquium, will be held Tuesday, Aug. 29, at 10 a.m. in the Building 402 Auditorium. LANL Deputy Chief Electrical Safety Officer Tommy R. Martinez will break down the accident, which left a worker severely injured, and describe the findings from the Joint Accident Investigation Team, lessons learned and enhancements made to the LANL Electrical Safety Program.
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- Directorate priority meetings start next week with the first one presented by Computing, Environment, & Life Sciences (CELS) on Monday, Aug. 28, from 1 to 3 p.m. in Building 240, Room 1416. Open to all employees, these priority meetings are an opportunity to learn about the important work your Argonne peers are doing, identify potential ways in which you might be able to collaborate, and stay up to date on the spectrum of science and engineering happening around the laboratory.
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Finally, I invite you as always to join me for my weekly Conversations with Kearns. Our next Conversations is scheduled for Monday from 9 to 10 a.m. in Building 362, Room F108. All are welcome to attend for informal discussions of the issues of the day. You can also email me anytime at email@example.com.
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Let’s all work together to be each other’s eyes and ears and keep every member of our Argonne community safe.