Spring 2001 Header Map Initiatives home What up Oak Ridge's sleeve? Microencapsulated Waste! Deployment Assistance Team factors in success A different kind of lead lab for SCFA Spotlight on TRU and Mixed Waste Focus Area credits Waste drum assay technology wins R&D 100 Award Tiny bubbles deliver the goods EM announces new industry partnerships reader service card Tech ID Numbers in Initiatives

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. DOE’s 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 workers are the ones who know what safety and health issues they will deal with performing the job.”

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 OST’s 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, we’re 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 OST’s 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.

Some real-life examples of safer technologies at DOE sites include the Diamond Wire Saw and Personal Ice Cooling System. 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 1999–2000 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 OST’s attention to safety and health issues was commendable, EMAB’s review of OST’s 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 OST’s technology development program, such as initiating a heat stress management program.

EM’s 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 EM’s commitment to accomplishing environmental cleanup work safely and of OST’s 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 activities.

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 can’t afford, on any front, not to do what we’re doing,” said Lankford.

“The ramifications and the potential benefits are enormous,” Moran said of the new policy’s 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.


Initiatives Home Graphic                   Next Page Submit CommmentsInitiiatives Home Button Graphic