Making progress safe
Automobile airbags. Computer keyboards. Cell phones. These are examples
of innovative technologies that have been associated with safety or
health risks for users. Hazards from technology, like carpal tunnel
syndrome, are often identified too late, resulting in costly interventions
and product redesigns. DOEs
Office of Environmental Management
(EM) is working to ensure that the innovative technologies being used
for DOE environmental cleanup do not have hidden hazards for the workers
in the field.
Staff from the Office of Science
and Technology (OST, EM-50), the Office
of Safety, Health and Security (OSHS, EM-5), and non-DOE organizations
collaborated in a recent effort to ensure improved occupational health
and safety during technology design and development. The result is
a new policy titled Occupational Safety and Health in the Environmental
Management Science and Technology Program. The 30-page document
promotes a new level of commitment to occupational safety and health,
beginning at the earliest stages of technology design and maintained
throughout the development process.
The new policy includes requirements for enhanced development and communication of hazard information among developers, workers, and contractors. This goal will be accomplished, in part, through greater emphasis on active worker involvement to assess hazards during the technology development and deployment stages.
Such worker participation is seen as a major factor in creating safer
technologies. With this information, designs can be improved during
development, potentially eliminating or mitigating hazards to the
workers in the field. Where hazards remain inherent in the technology,
they will be clearly identified and worker training specified.
The workers are the ones who know what safety and health issues
they will deal with performing the job, said Barbara McCabe,
program manager for human factors assessment with the International
Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE). IUOE representatives were
partners in the development of the new policy and are providing independent
analysis of OSTs occupational safety and health efforts. They
give developers a workers perspective on technology issues,
a view from outside the laboratory. On paper or as a prototype, a
new technology can appear perfect. However, its true value is difficult
to assess without significant input from the real world.
A tangible product of increased worker involvement will be the completion
of Technology Safety Data Sheets (TSDSs) for every OST technology.
From the worker perspective, were looking at this as a
big step forward,McCabe added. It will provide workers
with information to better perform their job safely and efficiently
and be able to go home to their families at the end of the day.
TSDSs, which are modeled after better known Material Safety Data Sheets
(MSDSs), have already been written for approximately 60 OST technologies.
They contain a wealth of information about each technology, including
risk ratings for safety hazards, such as gas cylinders or protruding
objects. They also include risk ratings for potential health hazards,
such as inhalation concerns or noise.
Mac Lankford, director of OSTs Office
of Technology Development and Demonstration (OTDD), said that
more worker involvement will build a sense of ownership and facilitate
eventual deployment. This is important when workers are skeptical
of new, unfamiliar tools or processes.
Robert Goldsmith, deputy director of the Office of Safety, Health, and Security (OSHS) said, You always have to get the workers and the community involved right from the beginning. The policy aims to further improve communication through more worker training requirements. OSHS and OST were the key partners in developing the new safety and health policy for science and technology.
The new OST occupational safety and health policy also promises to
have positive impacts on technology development schedules and expenses.
If you address safety and health at the end of the development
process, during demonstration, any issues that arise are expensive
and take a lot of time to correct, said John Moran, a member
of the Environmental Management
Advisory Board (EMAB) who chaired the ad hoc working group that
recommended the new policy. If you do it early in the process,
you can address the safety and health hazard much more cheaply and
quickly. You can eliminate all of the occupational safety and health
compliance costs associated with a safety and health hazard that may
be present in the technology.
The changes outlined in the new policy build upon an EM safety and
health assessment system that has already been recognized for its
effectiveness, thanks to the implementation of Integrated
Safety Management (ISM) systems at all six EM-led sites. According
to a 19992000 report from EMAB, The OST program addresses occupational
safety and health more comprehensively than other federal agencies
with development programs in the remediation technology sector.
Moran added that, while OSTs attention to safety and health
issues was commendable, EMABs review of OSTs efforts found
that greater emphasis on these issues was needed earlier in the technology
development process. EMAB presented recommendations to further enhance
safety and health within OSTs technology development program, such
as initiating a heat stress management program.
EMs continued emphasis on safety is one of the six core EM principles promoted by Assistant Secretary of Environmental Management Carolyn L. Huntoon (see Initiatives, Fall 2000). She approved and signed the new policy in January 2001. We view this as a dynamic policy, Huntoon wrote. She sees the policy as a reflection of EMs commitment to accomplishing environmental cleanup work safely and of OSTs commitment to providing technologies that facilitate safe cleanup work. To emphasize these commitments, the policy mandates the establishment of clear lines of responsibility and requires developers to analyze the hazards of all aspects of new technologies.
In practice, OST is requiring safety evaluation to be part of its peer review process that helps determine which technologies continue to receive funding for development.
Safety is good for business,said Goldsmith. Thorough
attention to safety and health issues can reduce injury and illness
rates, reduce time and costs to bring a new technology online, and
reduce time for overall documentation. In a paper recently presented
at Waste Management 01, there is recognition that safety and
efficiency reinforce each other. The paper (authored by Gerald Boyd,
Randal Scott, and Donald Oakley) also noted that worker safety and
health have become even more important as the focus of the remediation
programs shifts from characterization of hazards to actual site-cleanup
Goldsmith said that the new policy is guided by the concept of Safer
to use and safer by use, meaning that innovative technologies,
which are designed to make the environment safer through their use,
should also be safe to operate. The policy promotes a proactive, standardized
approach to the way occupational safety and health concerns are analyzed
and addressed within OST, toward the creation of an institutionalized
sensitivity to such issues.
We cant afford, on any front, not to do what were
doing, said Lankford.
The ramifications and the potential benefits are enormous, Moran said of the new policys goals. I think this is truly exciting. The rest of the world is a lot farther down this road than we are [in the United States]. Moran added that by building occupation safety and health analysis into technology development, EM is setting the pace for the United States. DOE will also be better able to use its technologies for international environmental management projects.