October 1999


Safety Improvement Team puts ISMS at grassroots level

The Plant and Equipment Division’s Safety Improvement Team was born out of a sense of urgency. After a worker died from injuries after an accident at the East Tennessee Technology Park in 1997, conditions and attitudes that were identified as leading up to the accident at ETTP were also perceived at the Laboratory.

Jeff Hill, one of three Atomic Trades and Labor Council safety representatives, says the worker’s death at the former K-25 Site brought home the importance of safety on the job.

“The ETTP fatality shook us up,” says Hill, who works with ATLC safety reps David Barncord and Jim Blankenship. “We’d hear the same comments the ETTP people said they’d been hearing; things like, ‘They hired me from the neck down,’ and ‘My opinions aren’t valued.’

“We were very concerned that there was potential here for a similar accident.”

After almost a year in existence, the SIT is beginning to compile a track record in resolving those issues and finding ways to help employees work more safely together. At the outset, the SIT didn’t
In a perfect world, what would you do to improve on-the-job safety?

encounter a smooth road toward making things happen. One of the goals of the Integrated Safety Management System is to institute a culture change: Safety is now everyone’s responsibility. Such culture changes take time. On the other hand, the tragedy just up the road showed that there was no time to lose.

With support from P&E Division Director Jerry Hammontree, the ATLC safety reps, who work through the Office of Safety and Health Protection, convened a group of six hourly workers, one planner-estimator and four first-line supervisors and asked a simple question: “In a perfect world, what would you do to improve on-the-job safety?”

Among the group’s ensuing observations were that the weekly informal “tailgate” safety meetings by different work groups were the most valuable and that the quarterly division-wide safety meetings were probably the least valuable. They also pointed out that ES&H job planning and communications throughout the division could be vastly improved.

“The SIT said we needed ownership of safety at the grass-roots level; where the rubber meets the road,” Hill says.

The SIT’s observation on safety meetings has led the division away from quarterly safety meetings to channel those resources instead toward the “tailgate” system. Every P&E supervisor is expected to have a weekly tailgate meeting. There are 60 supervisors in the division, so that’s 60 tailgate meetings.

“It’s not a knock against the people who organized the quarterly sessions,” Hill says. “It’s just very hard to have a one-size-fits-all safety meeting for a group as large as P&E. The tailgate meetings, because they can be tailored to the safety and planning needs of the small groups, are much more beneficial, and the workers have said that they get more out of them.”

The ATLC safety reps are also working on the communications issue within the division. They’ve established an SIT Web site, www.pe.ornl.gov/apps/sit, that features a way to enter suggestions and report safety concerns and a news pages of “hot” (recent) and “cold” (older archived) lessons learned and incidents. Status and progress reports on safety issues are also available.

How does a Web page serve a division where most employees don’t have computer accounts?

“P&E Division is making arrangements to provide all crew representatives with computers that have access to the internal Web page,” Hill says. Crew “reps” are responsible for helping the supervisor plan the weekly safety meetings, write up and relay concerns from the crew, and help plan the integration of safety into the job planning process.

The P&E Division's Ken Wheeler (left) and Larry Roach tackle a job together in Building 4500-South. The Safety Improvement Team stresses putting ownership of worker safety at an on-the-job level.
“If a worker has a concern, he or she can tell the crew rep,” Hill says. “The news pages will also be available from those workstations.”

So far, the SIT has received 63 safety suggestions on issues ranging from lack of communication about changing regulations and requirements to bushes blocking the view of pedestrians. Of those, 35 have been resolved and 28 are pending. They are all listed and detailed on the Web site.

Hill points out that the idea for a safety improvement team was not a directive out of the ISMS program. It was born out of a real, and tragic, accident that might have been avoided through more worker involvement.

“The tailgate meetings, suggestions, feedback and job planning—those are things that we should be doing anyway,” he says. “In fact, the idea for the Safety Improvement Team actually came before ISMS. “But they are a natural fit.”—B.C.