April 1999

A clear task for ISMS

Integrated Safety Management System returns responsibility for safety to everyone

Chances are you’ll be hearing quite a bit in the next several months about ISMS—the Integrated Safety Management System. ISMS is a DOE program meant to ensure that attention to environment, safety and health is built into the way we go about our work.

On the surface, that’s really all there is to it. Most workers probably think they already do their work safely through implementing their Work Smart Standards, and they are likely correct. However, a closer look reveals something very different from the way things were only a few years ago.

Safety is no longer an overhead function, no longer someone else’s responsibility. Safety has become the responsibility of line management and every employee who performs the work.

The increased emphasis on ES&H that occurred more than a decade ago at the DOE facilities, however well intended, resulted in one unintended consequence.

“The creation of the many safety-related organizations and positions had the effect of taking safety away from those who perform the work,” says Dennie Parzyck, who is currently coordinating the ISMS implementation program at ORNL. “People began to think that safety wasn’t their concern because someone else was looking after it.”

Or as Chemical and Analytical Sciences Division Director Marv Poutsma, who is leading the Lab’s ISMS Implementation Committee, says, “They took good managers and removed safety responsibility from their hands.” Parzyck and Poutsma believe the resulting “stovepiping” of organizations and responsibilities might actually have been the basis for accidents.

“And these didn’t have to happen,” Parzyck says. “Accidents and injuries are avoided when job safety is integrated with the planning and performance of the work, whether it’s in a research lab, an office or in the field.”

The steps toward integrated safety management revolve around five core functions.

This framework could be applied to something as simple and potentially hazardous as changing a tire or as complex and potentially hazardous as performing work with heavy equipment or hazardous materials.

“Injuries arise from a lack of planning,” Parzyck says. “You have to think about what you are doing and plan what you’re going to do. All staff members, from workers to senior managers, should go about their jobs with an ethic that before they start work, they think about safety.”

Poutsma adds that employees should feel they have the support from their management to work safely, even if it means extra time and additional planning to establish a safer working environment, or even stopping work if unsafe conditions arise.

“Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help,” Poutsma says.

DOE is certainly serious about safety. A team of observers has already visited ORNL as part of the first phase of an ISMS implementation verification. One of the visit’s purposes was to test how familiar Lab managers are with ISMS and how well they understand its principles. On their return in a few weeks they will interview managers to determine how well we incorporate safety into the planning and conduct of our work and how familiar we all are with the ISMS framework.

If the reviewers deduce that Lab employees aren’t mindful enough of safety in their work, it could lead to greater regulation and oversight—things few people think we need more of.

“We have to manage and perform our work safely if we want to be able to manage our own work,” Parzyck advises. “We must take responsibility for our own safe operation or someone will take that responsibility away from us.”

More important are the human costs of injuries on the job. It’s the grandchild that can’t be lifted because of an injured back, or a tennis racket rendered useless by a repetitive-motion injury. Job-related injuries can devastate families and personal lives.

“Injury removes you from work, but it also impacts your personal life,” Parzyck says. “It’s not someone else’s responsibility any more. Safety is your responsibility, and it’s in your interest that you work safely.”

The ISMS program has a number of materials available that explain in more detail the tenets of integrated safety management. For more information, call Rick Forbes, 574-5490.—B.C.

New safety training goes after the human factor
Human error is a leading factor in accidents at ORNL. In an effort to reduce accidents, the Lab has contracted with an industry-leading California firm, Performance Improvement International, to provide a new regimen of—and new outlook on—safety training.

PII’s courses focus on prevention and finding systemic causes of safety problems. Their programs have been credited especially with reversing poor safety trends at nuclear utilities, and nuclear operations is where the initial thrust of the training will be at ORNL.

“A number of reportable events have been directly caused by human error, whether it’s inattention to detail, failure to follow procedures or simply bad judgment,” says Mark Kohring of the Office of Nuclear Safety. “The PII program addresses the root causes of these errors and recommends changes, whether they are cultural or procedural, to reduce or eliminate them.”

Nuclear facilities managers, supervisors and workers will undergo the first phase of training; the second phase will include employees from other selected facilities. The PII contract lasts through FY 2000.