For more than twenty years, officials at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex have responded to concerns about safety with a promise: “Safety is Job One.”
But a report released August 25, 2011, by the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board following a review of safety procedures at Y12 suggests the motto needs updating. A more accurate motto might be: “We Have A Safety Manual, We Just Don’t Use It.”
The DNFSB report summarizes a review of safety procedures at Y12 triggered by “several reports during the past year related to poor conduct of operations, in general, and poor execution of procedures, in particular. In some cases, safety issues have resulted,” according to the cover letter from DNFSB Chairman Peter Winokur to NNSA chief Thomas D’Agostino. The report identifies a June 2010 fire during dismantlement operations in Building 9204-2E, an incident in which workers knowingly skipped a step in the operating procedures, as an example.
The report outlines numerous instances of safety procedures being skirted, of suggested changes being delayed, and describes work situations where “Git ‘er done,” appears to take precedence over safety procedures.
The DNFSB notes the both B&W Y-12 and the Y-12 Site Office have implemented corrective actions, including adding additional people and surveillance, but “these corrective actions have not yet been effective in determining or addressing the root causes for the issues associated with these deficiencies in conduct of operations.”
Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance said, “This report calls into question the fundamental commitment to worker and public safety at Y12. The safety procedures that are not properly implemented are required because of the nature of the materials used at Y12 and the risks they pose. This is a facility where we can not afford to have ‘the accident,’ and the only way to insure against it is for people to be utterly scrupulous about safety, including going by the book.
“While many of the problems cited by the DNFSB seem minor, taken together they raise a major question: if workers skip steps during operations, and skimp on safety, risks increase for everyone. This report demands some accountability.”
The full report can be found here: