|The Vit Plant|
• Los Alamos National Laboratory Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project (Los Alamos)
• Y-12 National Security Complex Uranium Processing Facility Project (UPF)
• Idaho Cleanup Project Sodium Bearing Waste Treatment Project (Idaho)
• Office of Environmental Management Headquarters (EM)
• Pantex Plant
The same protocol was used for each of the assessments: DOE's Health, Safety and Security organization formed a team of its own assessors and two outside experts from the Human Performance Analysis Corporation (HPA). Multiple data collection tools, including functional analysis, semi-structured focus group and individual interviews, observations and behavioral anchored rating scales, were used to assess organizational behaviors. The external experts also conducted a SC survey at each site.
A stand-alone report was prepared for each facility, consisting of a summary and recommendation (ca. 5 pages) and the outside experts' report (ca. 25 pages). The outside experts organized their observations and findings along the nine SC traits identified by the NRC, viz.,
• Leadership Safety Values and Actions
• Problem Identification and Resolution
• Personal Accountability
• Work Processes
• Continuous Learning
• Environment for Raising Concerns
• Effective Safety Communication
• Respectful Work Environment
• Questioning Attitude.
So, do Vit Plant SC concerns exist elsewhere?
That's up to the reader to determine. The DOE submittal contained no meta-analysis of the five assessments, and no comparison to Vit Plant concerns. As far as I can tell, the individual assessments made no attempt to focus on whether or not Vit Plant concerns existed at the reviewed facilities.
However, my back-of-the-envelope analysis (no statistics, lots of inference) of the reports suggests there are some Vit Plant issues that exist elsewhere but not to the degree that riled the DNFSB when it looked at the Vit Plant. I made no effort to distinguish between issues mentioned by federal versus contractor employees, or by different contractors. Following are the major Vit Plant concerns, distilled from the June 2011 DNFSB letter, and their significance at other facilities.
Schedule and/or budget pressure that can lead to suppressed issues or safety short-cuts
This is the most widespread and frequently mentioned concern. It appears to be a significant issue at the UPF where the experts say “the project is being driven . . . by a production mentality.” Excessive focus on financial incentives was also raised at UPF. Some Los Alamos interviewees reported schedule pressure. So did some folks at Idaho but others said safety was not compromised to make schedule; financial incentives were also mentioned there. At EM, there were fewer comments on schedule pressure and at Pantex, interviewees opined that management shielded employees from pressure and tried to balance the message that both safety and production are important.
A chilled atmosphere adverse to safety exists
The atmosphere is cool at some other facilities, but it's hard to say the temperature is actually chilly. There were some examples of perceived retaliation at Los Alamos and Pantex. (Two Pantex employees reported retaliation for raising a safety concern; that's why Pantex, which was not on the original list of facilities for SC evaluation, was included.) Fear of retaliation, but not actual examples, was reported at UPF and EM. Fear of retaliation was also reported at Pantex.
Technical dissent is suppressed
This is a minor issue. There were some negative perceptions of the differing professional opinion (DPO) process at Los Alamos. Some interviewees thought the DPO process at EM could be better utilized. The experts said DPO needed to be better promoted at Pantex.
Processes for raising and resolving SC-related questions exist but are neither trusted nor used
Another minor issue. The experts said the procedures at Los Alamos should be reevaluated and enforced.
I did not read every word of this 155 page report but it appears some facilities have issues akin to those identified at the Vit Plant but their scope and/or intensity generally appear to be less.
The DOE submittal is technically responsive to the DNFSB commitment but is not useful without further analysis. The submittal evidences more foot dragging by DOE to cover up the likely fact that the Vit Plant's SC problems are more significant than other facilities' and buy time to attempt to correct those problems.
* Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, Recommendation 2011-1 to the Secretary of Energy "Safety Culture at the Waste Treatment and Immobilization Plant" (Jun 9, 2011). We have posted on the DOE-DNFS imbroglio here, here and here.
** G.S. Podansky (DOE) to P.S. Winokur (DNFSB), letter transmitting five independent safety culture assessments (Dec. 12, 2012).