Jun 30, 2008

DOE Concerned About LANL’s Capability to Protect Workers

The Department of Energy (DOE) recently wrote the Director of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in which they raised concerns about how the new management is not protecting workers from occupational hazards as required by federal safety and health requirements. DOE is also concerned about the delays in responding to the non-compliance reports by the new manager, the Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS).

On June 16, the DOE Director of the Office of Enforcement in the Office of Health, Safety and Security wrote LANL Director and President of LANS, Michael Anastasio, about “fundamental, laboratory-wide non-compliances in the LANL worker safety and health program.” DOE stated that LANS “failed to complete a review of laboratory work activities to identify locations where exposure assessments are appropriate to characterize and control occupational hazards.” This failure may result in increased exposures to airborne contaminants and adverse health effects for employees working in areas where the necessary controls have not been installed because there is inadequate hazard information.

In 2007, DOE conducted their annual environment, safety and health inspection at LANL. They reported continuing failures by LANL in identifying and controlling worker exposures to biological, chemical and physical hazards. DOE is so concerned about the continued failures that they have required LANS to respond within 30 days about how the failures have been addressed.

The letter comes at a time when current and former DOE workers held rallies across the country petitioning for reforms of the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program. Rallies took place in Las Vegas, Nevada; Denver, Colorado; Cleveland, Ohio; Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and Espanola, New Mexico.

Many of these workers became ill when they were exposed to radioactive, toxic and hazardous materials while working at DOE nuclear weapons facilities. Sick workers are eligible for compensation and medical coverage under the Program. But under the existing guidelines, the sick workers are required to prove the link between their illness and occupation. The workers are petitioning for reforms to streamline the process.

The Los Alamos Project on Worker Safety, an organization of former and current LANL workers who became ill from such exposures, hosted the rally in Espanola on June 25, which was attended by about 100 people. Speakers included Michele Jacquez-Ortiz, District Director for Congressman Tom Udall. She read from a prepared statement. Representative Udall said, “These workers are the unsung heroes of American military strength. Their work has made it possible for America to build the most powerful military and science system on earth. They should not be forced to spend their remaining years battling both cancer and their government.” Representative Udall introduced legislation so that the Program would automatically covers LANL workers.

Activists are distressed by the continuing problems with protecting workers at LANL. Joni Arends, of CCNS, said, “Whether during the Cold War or today, workers are being exposed to dangerous materials without the necessary protections. LANL and LANS must comply fully with the federal worker safety and health regulations. To do otherwise, is just plain wrong.”


This has been the CCNS News Update. For more information about this or other nuclear safety issues, please visit our website at nuclearactive.org.

[Download a copy of the enforcement letter here.]

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

What is LANL doing to address these concerns from DOE?

Anonymous said...

9:15 PM - did you not read the article? Nothing.

Anonymous said...

It is touching that CCNS is so concerned about LANL workers. I guess we can be thankful that CCNS is on our side. I feel much safer already.

Anonymous said...

What is "LANL" doing? Oh, not to worry. Many lower-level managers and staff will soon be spending all of their time helping the ES&H support staff complete these exercises. (Think Nanos standdown if you're uncertain how this will proceed).

Anonymous said...

What the Lab is doing is making us take ever more stupid training. Also, you can't go to any meeting at any level without getting "safety and security" preached at you as the first item on the agenda.

Anonymous said...

Remember that when it comes to ES&H, "the means justifies the end."

Anonymous said...

THINK: "Work free safety zone".

It's not just a catchy phrase at LANL anymore. It's a new lab-wide reality that's here to stay.

Frank Young said...

That's a step in the right direction. It sure beats "Accountability free contamination zone".

Anonymous said...

I prefer a "reasonably-safe-without-going-to-bullshit-lengths work zone."

Anonymous said...

And I'd prefer my kids ate their vegetables without my nagging, 2:28.

Based on history, however, the options are no work or no accountability.

There does not appear to be any historical precedent for the third option of reasonable work and reasonable accountability.

Personally, since you can't work with reasonable accountability, I would prefer that you did not work.

Frank Young said...

No argument there. And speaking of "bullshit lengths", over two years and still no answer to the question 'what did the effluent spill in PF-4 contain?' is bullshit. Whatever is wrong with safety at LANL is clearly still not fixed.

Anonymous said...

The notion that you can't get any work done if you're required to work safely and conduct yourself responsibly is what's bullshit!

Anonymous said...

"The notion that you can't get any work done if you're required to work safely and conduct yourself responsibly is what's bullshit!"

7/1/08 6:52 PM

Spoken like a true-blue employee of the ES&H division at LANL. It seems that your job security depends on slowing down any useful work from being accomplished at the lab.

Anonymous said...

7/1 10:43 pm:
"The notion that you can't get any work done if you're required to work safely and conduct yourself responsibly is what's bullshit!"

7/1/08 6:52 PM

Spoken like a true-blue employee of the ES&H division at LANL. It seems that your job security depends on slowing down any useful work from being accomplished at the lab."

So, your attitude at work is "I don't care if I get injured and I refuse to act responsibly"?? Be careful; your rigid anti-management dogma is leading you to say (or at least imply) some really stupid things.

Anonymous said...

All of life is a risk. You can't flush risk from all activities, but that is exactly what NNSA is trying to do with the labs. Once you take that attitude, useful activities come to a screeching halt. You're left with a culture of compliance that is devoid of any spark of creativity.

I get angry when I see people make stupid safety mistakes. That is not what we are talking about here with the path NNSA is taking with LANL. NNSA is taking compliance to stupid extremes that generate lots of CYA paperwork, but little in the way of true safety. Few scientists are willing to do ground-breaking research under these conditions.

Anonymous said...

"Few scientists are willing to do ground-breaking research under these conditions."

Well, that should not be a problem for you.

Anonymous said...

I'm following up on this warning letter from DOE. Who is preparing the LANL response and is it available for the public to review? Since ES&H is mentioned several times in the blog comments, who is in-charge of ES&H for comment?

Frank Young said...

The last page of the enforcement letter lists two names with phone numbers in the 301 area code. If you find a contact inside LANL (other than public affairs or legal), please post or email the details to me. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

8:53 PM - you should be asking the ADs and PADs and Mikey and not ES&H. ES&H gets nothing out of this but the ADs and up get bonuses. Focus on the right group of people.

Anonymous said...

I have difficulty with unqualified and naieve ESH staff that play a nazi-like role over my highly technical work activities. Shielded by mounds of IWDs, I no longer can fulfill my technical obligations to the customer.

Anonymous said...

Who are these Nazi-like ES&H people? What roles are they really doing? Are they covering up anything? From the outside, we cannot see what actually goes on behind the fence.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 7/3/08 11:29 AMsaid...

"Who are these Nazi-like ES&H people? What roles are they really doing? Are they covering up anything? From the outside, we cannot see what actually goes on behind the fence."

Too many of the people who end up in ES&H are failed technologists. They are individuals who could not compete with their peers in the performance of technical work.

Now, in the ES&H role, they have become self-important martinets. And, I believe that there is some resentment toward their more successful colleagues.

As a result, the entire ES&H staff at LANL are disrespected.

The LANL safety culture does not really take into account that much of what we do is experimental (not production line work) and is done by intelligent people. The ISM process has merit but it is overburdened by needless training and paperwork.

We have indeed become a "work-free safe and secure place."

Anonymous said...

"7/3/08 5:02 PM"

Amen, and Amen!

Anonymous said...

Prior to the LLC, this letter would have gone to UCOP, and they would haul the Lab Director out to Oakland for a grilling. Now it goes only to the LANS President, who is also the Lab Director.

So LANL is accountable to the LANS President, who is the LANL Director, who is accountable to LANS, who is accountable to the LANS President, who is accountable to...

I'm so glad NNSA forcing the creation of an unaccountable LLC to run the Lab has improved things...

Anonymous said...

"Too many of the people who end up in ES&H are failed technologists. They are individuals who could not compete with their peers in the performance of technical work." (5:02 PM)

Same goes for many of the computer support employees at LANL. Some of them are very good and know the true meaning of the term "customer service", but many are failed computer technologist who couldn't cut it as a computer scientist or as a programmer. Some of them also have a very sketchy knowledge of how to properly manage and setup a PC.

So what do they do? They work to make sure that they have full control over everyone's PC and may soon bring desktop computing to a halt from much of the technical staff. And to make sure that this mis-guided empire building is possible, LANS management gives them their blessing and full support.

Anonymous said...

It may be only a matter of time until LANL employees go to a 4 day work schedule for every week, just like the state of Utah. Lots of employees commute from Espanola and Santa Fe each day. Once gas gets close to $5 a gallon (which may be fairly soon), I suspect it will be a done deal.

------------------
Utah is going to a 4-day work week to save energy - AP News, July 3

SALT LAKE CITY - Starting next month, it will be "TGIT" for Utah state employees. As in: "Thank God It's Thursday."

In a yearlong experiment aimed at reducing the state's energy costs and commuters' gasoline expenses, Utah is about to become the first state to switch to a four-day workweek for thousands of government employees.

They will put in 10-hour days, Monday through Thursday, and have Fridays off, freeing them to golf, shop, spend time with the kids or do anything else that strikes their fancy. They will get paid the same as before.

"One of the jokes is that one of the biggest benefits will be for golf courses," said Ryan Walker, 49, an information technology director. He said he is looking forward to tackling items on his long-neglected "honey-do" list (As in: "Honey, do this" and "Honey, do that"); camping; and traveling more around the state.

Anonymous said...

LANL should outsource the ES&H activities. These Nazi-like characters are only getting in the way of my work and not really adding anything to the safety of the organization.

Anonymous said...

Nice thought but for a lot of us with families (small children who require day care), the 4-10 schedule is totally impractical---Unless the business are willing to open earlier and stay later.

Also, I would argue its a choice to live in Santa Fe and Espanola so these people need to deal with commuter costs. Don't force the rest of us into a new schedule because people choose to commute to Los Alamos.

Anonymous said...

The problems with the 4-day work week are seen with the 9/80 schedule.

The people who cannot get to work on time for an 8AM start, are going to be even later for a 7AM start.

The ones who sneak out at 4PM and beat us out of an hour will now be stealing 2 hours.
The ones who cannot get their lunch eaten in one hour are not going to get it done in a half-hour.

The ones who take a sick day for a fishing trip are now going to beat us out of 10 hours instead of 8.

The ones who take a whole family leave day for a two hour funeral are now going to take 10 hours of family leave.

And, there will be problems with dropping off the kids at school and with child care.

Anonymous said...

Many people live off of the Hill because of the high cost of housing in Los Alamos. Of course, that is changing these days.

Anonymous said...

OK, let's discuss this 4-10 crap. All the people on it at LANL do NOT stay and work 10hours M-Th. YOu are lucky if they come in at 8 pm and luckier if they stay until 5pm. Oh, and let's not forget the all important 1 hour lunch break. Of course, we have to take our needed Friday's off. None of the managers EVER dare to enforce the policy or else the worker will cry "discrimination!". It is a total joke and I am surprised that LANS as a for-profit organization is tolerating this crap.

Anonymous said...

7/3/08 8:38 PM, didn't you read the reponse to this question in the Readers' Forum? Management won't allow a universal 4/10 because - wait for it - it would make it too hard to find enough time for all the necessary MEETINGS!

Anonymous said...

I'm amazed that the blog commenters are even questioning whether LANL's approach to implementation of safety and compliance rules is a problem. We've had a "we can do better than the minimim" philosophy here that predates LANS even, and is utterly self-destructive. If the federal exposure limit is 100 (an already conservative value), we decide to give ouselves a good buffer against exceeding that limit and set it at 10. It sounds nice, but when we exceed our own internal policy limits, we still get hammered just as badly as if we'd worked to the federal standard. Now OSHA standards are being implemented in the strictest possible interpretations, regardless of the many interpretation letters that have been written that would allow more flexibility and lower cost of operations.

Anonymous said...

7/4/08 10:38 AM

Is close to the mark... the problem is not the LANL ES&H staff, its the DOE/NNSA oversight types. DOE is applying the standards of another agency - OSHA - instead of letting that agency and its inspectors, who are specifically trained on these standards and OSHA interpretations/guidance.