Director’s Message: Improving how we work
Our laboratory has a long history of outstanding research, innovation and collaboration. We want to be known for next-generation research and science, exemplary operations and an outstanding work environment with great people and teams. Of late, our safety record has cast a shadow on our ability to execute our mission. Last month, I wrote to you about the need to strengthen critical and robust conversations to improve work planning, control and execution and ultimately maintain the safety of our people.
Since then, teams across the laboratory have increased their focus on improving all work planning conversations and increasing awareness of upcoming work activities. Our directorates have a simple tool involving a combination of risk-screening criteria combined with overlay considerations to help line managers to consistently identify higher risk activities. All upcoming high-risk activities are now discussed and screened by the deputy laboratory director for operations and the associate lab directors prior to execution. Particularly high-risk work is being reviewed on a weekly basis at the senior leadership levels.
Despite these actions, our performance in work planning, control and execution is not where it needs to be. Recent events indicate that work is still not consistently analyzed with a sufficiently critical eye to identify and mitigate all hazards to an acceptable risk level. Therefore I’m taking additional steps to raise the level of focus and attention on safe operations.
Beginning immediately, I expect that prior to the commencement of any work, our work planning conversation agendas will cover:
- The risk and rigor of upcoming work
- Additional planning and checks required to match the risk/rigor of the work
- Research performed by guest appointees and/or students who may be less familiar with lab facilities or processes (unless that work is covered under an existing subcontract or user facility agreement [e.g. APS, ATLAS, CNM])
- Implementation of any process changes that have not been previously identified and/or executed
Final authorization for all high-risk work will be elevated to the division director for authorization prior to execution.
In response to feedback from front line supervisors, we commissioned a cross-laboratory team to recommend a more effective and simplified work planning and control framework. To implement the framework, I will stand up a project office, led by an expert in work planning, control and execution, reporting to me. I expect this office to drive effective implementation of simplified yet rigorous processes as well as identify additional short- and long-term actions to accelerate our journey to a simpler and stronger culture of safety. UChicago Argonne LLC will oversee our progress.
Safety is an outcome of our processes and how we manage and perform work. While we revise our processes to enable more engagement across the laboratory, please continue your work planning conversations with a critical eye to expose and correct vulnerabilities in our work plans, tools and skills. We have no more pressing priority. Safe operations give us a license to continue our scientific pursuits, and our future success depends on our collective efforts to protect our people and ensure that Argonne is known for our great science.