Monday, December 29, 2014

Financial Incentives to Promote Safety Culture at the Vit Plant

The Vit Plant

We have reported on safety culture (SC) issues at the Hanford Waste Treatment Plant (WTP, or “vit plant”) for years.  Some of these issues arose in the Department of Energy (DOE) organization at Hanford; other issues became evident at Bechtel, DOE’s prime contractor at Hanford.  But this post focuses on a bit of good news: recent Bechtel contracts have included financial incentives for good performance related to establishing and maintaining a strong SC.*

The incentives are very small potatoes in the overall scheme of things.  The WTP is an $11 billion plus project (so far); the semi-annual SC incentives have been in the $1-5 million range.  But it is the correct signal for the government to be sending to a contractor.  It’s also interesting how the incentives have been fiddled with during their brief existence, as shown in the following table.  To keep things simple, the table excludes incentive program components that are not related to SC, e.g., cost performance incentives.  Note that the dollar amounts shown are the maximum Bechtel can earn; published payouts to date have been less than the maximums.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013 the contract included a project management incentive (PMI) component.  Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture items (the Corrective Action Program, Employee Concerns Program, Differing Professional Opinion process, Safety Conscious Work Environment (SCWE) and Integrated Safety Management Systems) were 20-30% of the PMI.

Starting July 1, 2013 and continuing to the present a section was added to the incentive plan covering Self-Analysis/Assessment/Discovery/Action.  This basically means Bechtel will be rewarded for identifying and fixing its problems before outsiders tell them to.  The contract does not characterize this activity as part of SC but we do; fixing problems is an essential artifact of a strong SC.  In addition, the attributes under this section, including transparency and organizational learning, are also attributes of a strong SC.  Another new section on Environmental, Safety and Health is mostly about industrial safety but includes promoting a robust NSQC embracing INPO principles, including a SCWE.  The section on the Quality Assurance program includes supporting an effective CAP and, starting July 1, 2014, maintaining a robust quality culture.

Project Management Incentive (PMI)
Nuclear Safety and Quality Culture (NSQC)

30% of PMI: NSQC inc. CAP, ECP, DPO, SCWE (25%), Integrated Safety Management Systems (5%)
20% of PMI: NSQC inc. CAP, ECP, DPO, SCWE (15%), Integrated Safety Management Systems (5%)

Self-Analysis/ Assessment/ Discovery/Action
Environmental, Safety & Health
QA Program

Our Perspective

For starters, let’s give credit where credit is due: Huzzah to DOE and Bechtel.  For a long time, we have been saying that organizational reward systems should include SC components.  Safety slogans and empty mantras are just that—empty.  If a government agency, or a nuclear plant owner, or a board of directors, or any other overseer truly values SC then they should put some money where their mouths are.

Enough cheering, let’s put our reality hat back on.  Could Bechtel (or any other contractor) game the incentive system to get rewarded without actually creating a strong SC?  Possibly.  Who would you bet on: government bureaucrats or a clever, financially motivated contractor?  But an official incentive plan like the one described above is a good start.

Now that DOE has figured out how to design a contract that aims to motivate a contractor to strengthen its SC, let’s turn the spotlight back on DOE itself.  How does DOE do on transparency, extent of condition and other SC attributes?  Not so good.  Over the last few years we have been reporting on the DOE effort to evaluate SC at other (i.e., non-WTP) sites to determine if WTP SC issues exist elsewhere.  We saw foot-dragging, an unorganized SC assessment program and deliberate opacity in the resultant reports.  DOE can and should do better.

*  The WTP Performance Evaluation and Measurement Plans used in this post are available here.  For prior related posts click on the Vit Plant label below.

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