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Presented at Integrated Safety Management Workshop

August 26, 2009

Presented at Integrated Safety Management Workshop Presented by Thomas D'Agostino, Administrator, NNSA

Good Afternoon.  Thank you for the kind introduction, Ted.  I am glad to be here to talk to you about NNSA and share with you some of my thoughts on Integrated Safety Management and the key themes you have chosen for this year’s workshop. 

My views on safety were established very early in my career as a submarine officer.  We prided ourselves in our safety culture, attention to detail and quality.  After all, our lives were on the line, right?  Well, pride is a dangerous thing.  From my experience, our pride in our safety record led to complacency, and that complacency led me to witness a horrific accident onboard the U.S.S. Skipjack in 1984.  That accident has stayed with me for many decades and that is why I fully support ISM and this conference.

I would like to acknowledge the quality of these workshops and continued strong attendance.  I understand we have record attendance this year, with 950 people here.  It is great to see federal and contractor employees from all across the nuclear security enterprise, ranging from senior managers to our workers on the deck plate with us today.  It is a demonstration of how seriously we take safety. 

Second, I applaud the efforts of the Department’s ISM community to continually provide a first rate forum to share and communicate important information.

And finally I would like to thank Y-12, YSO, ORO, and ORNL for doing a great job hosting us, well done. 

This year’s theme of “Reaching New Heights” is one that resonates with our efforts in NNSA. We are in the midst of transforming from a Cold War nuclear weapons complex to a 21st Century nuclear security enterprise that will meet the future needs of our nation. 

This is an exciting time to be part of NNSA.  Earlier this year -- in his first foreign policy speech, during his first overseas trip – the President charted a new course for the United States.  He initiated bold steps to put an end to Cold War thinking to lead a new international effort to enhance global nuclear security.  Like President Reagan before him, he spoke of a long-term glide slope to zero nuclear weapons.  But he also made clear that, “[a]s long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies.” He also outlined an unprecedented commitment to securing nuclear material, preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and fighting nuclear terrorism.

Over the coming months, President Obama will be advancing his program to bolster U.S. leadership in reducing global nuclear dangers.  Because of our core capabilities, NNSA and the Department of Energy will play critical roles in this effort.

Our commitment to safety is tied to that.  Many of the major programs that will be required to meet the President’s nuclear security agenda and maintain the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear deterrent are major construction projects like the Highly Enriched Uranium Manufacturing Facility right here at Y-12. 

Of course, we just passed the two year marker on construction of the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility at Savannah River.  Not only is the project on time and under budget, but it recently went two million work hours without a lost work day. 

We must maintain a strong record of safe operations and good project management if we are going to maintain the political support we need to accomplish our mission.

This large, diverse, and challenging portfolio is a significant undertaking and one that demands a culture where work is accomplished safely and where our workers return safely to their families each and every day.  

Integrated safety management provides the perfect foundation to integrate other functional areas such as quality assurance, security, and emergency management.  This not only makes us more efficient, it saves money across the enterprise by minimizing duplication of effort. 

Of course, NNSA is not alone when it comes to facing significant challenges over the coming years.   All of our DOE Program Offices have very full plates and high expectations from the American public.  We cannot stumble or fall.  We must not only work harder, but we must work smarter, be more innovative, leverage science and technology, and continue to build upon what we know works and change what doesn’t help us get the job done. 

In keeping with Secretary Chu’s commitment to bringing reform to the Department, I established an internal Enterprise Reengineering Team (ERT) to identify complex-wide reform initiatives that will change the way we in the NNSA do business. 

The response was terrific. The ERT received over 100 recommendations from Headquarters, the Site Offices, the Service Center, and the national laboratories and production plants. I have set up team leads to work on the issues raised in those recommendations.

The ultimate goal is to streamline the Federal/contractor relationship with clear roles, responsibilities, and accountability between Federal and contractor employees to significantly enhance our ability to more effectively accomplish our programmatic missions. 

Improving safety at our sites without adding onerous new regulatory and governance burdens is a key part of this.  Reform means bringing best practices to all areas of what we do, including safety.

I think we can all agree that, together, we have improved our ISM systems over the years.  But, when it comes to improving safety in our day to day performance, our work is never done. We must never become complacent.  To truly reach new heights and achieve our reform initiatives, we must develop a strong safety culture. 

At NNSA, we don’t view health and safety as an “add-on” or a “barrier” to doing good work. It is, in fact, the way we do our work.   To say it another way, “Safety is good business.” 

For example, our Pantex site has been a trailblazer in merging best business practices with best safety practices.  They adopted the principals of a high reliability organization (HRO) and have utilized advanced tools like human performance improvement (HPI), behavioral based safety, and a robust causal factor analysis program.  As a result, there has been over a 90% improvement in quality (96% fewer defects) and a 44% reduction in total reportable cases of safety concern.  This was all accomplished with an 82% increase in production. 

That’s not a coincidence.  This was done deliberately.  And it was done by working closely with the DNFSB and implementing a program we called SS21, or Seamless Safety for the 21st Century.  It took time and money to do this, but the results have been nothing short of remarkable.  As I said, we doubled production, we improved quality, and we reduced reportable safety concerns by almost 50%.

We all have a responsibility to one another to work safely.  That extends from my office at headquarters, to the site manager or lab director, and throughout the entire organization. 

Safety must be a “core value” in achieving our work in NNSA and the Department of Energy.  This will require each of us as leaders to clearly communicate expectations and demonstrate our commitment in tangible and meaningful ways.  It’s easy to say safety is a “priority” and that we value the safety of our workers, the public, and the environment.  But how do we choose to demonstrate that commitment? 

As leaders we must continuously reinforce those beliefs and communicate expectations at every level of the organization from senior managers down to the individual worker. 

Walk your spaces. Listen to your workers. Reinforce positive behaviors. Act on issues.  Establish an environment of open and honest reporting.  Ensure accountability is clear.  Value your workforce.  Make sure your workforce understands that they are valued and that their views are important. 

In fact, engage them in taking responsibility for safety in their workplaces.  True worker engagement starts when all employees understand and demonstrate responsibility and ownership for safety.  I believe you see this at sites that have achieved DOE VPP status. 

Let me tell you a story about the importance of the workforce. The Nevada Test Site has instituted a new program to financially reward people for providing suggestions to improve operations.  Several suggestions have led to improved safety with a 70% reduction in safety incidents.  In one case, an employee responsible for covering equipment and material in large truck beds suggested an automatic truck covering system.  The new system eliminated the need for employees to climb up on top of large loads and balance as they attempted to cover this material.  This individual received a $5,000 award for his efforts. 

As a result of this program and other efforts, it was our pleasure to award the Nevada Test Site as a DOE VPP Star site.  In the coming year we will have NNSA sites that will complete recertification of their ISM systems and others preparing applications for DOE VPP status.  I welcome that, and I strongly encourage more sites to follow in their footsteps.

In closing I would like to leave you with a few thoughts and challenges.

First, I challenge you to enjoy your time here and learn.  This is a wonderful opportunity to meet new friends and colleagues and share experiences.  But, most importantly, this workshop is a great forum for you to learn from your colleagues and bring new lessons back to your sites.  Building a true safety culture in your workplace begins with each of you.

Second, I would like to challenge each of you to take two or three items related to areas where your programs or processes could be improved and take a leadership role to making those improvements in your the organization.  If you’re a manager, work with your leadership team and workers.  If you’re a worker, work with your management team and co-workers.  It takes a team to make a site safe.

There are over 80 sessions that will be available during the conference.  Take advantage of as many as you can.  I understand the quality of the panels and presentations are outstanding.  I am also very happy to see there is a track on employee wellness this year and I’m sure it will be very popular.

Finally, I want you to think about my Navy experience and story.  The Department of Energy and NNSA should be justifiably proud of their safety record and improvements made.  However, we should never let pride lead to complacency.  Your commitment to safety and this conference give me the confidence that we will remain vigilant.  Thanks.


Knoxville, Tennessee

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