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Grassroot Efforts Bolster Safety Culture

I’m proud of our safety culture at Berkeley Lab.  We have a groundswell of support coming from all levels of every division. This broad participation manifests itself in a consistently strong safety culture as well as in new and innovative ways to keep the conversation on the subject relevant and meaningful.

I’d like to highlight three instances where crowd-sourcing types of initiatives have contributed toward the betterment of our safety culture.

Two years ago, an optional Lab-wide survey asked employees what safety culture meant to them. The 2,200 respondents proved it was a subject that mattered immensely. A working group then hosted a contest, asking members of the lab community to put forward a slogan and icon that represented the Lab’s commitment to a strong safety culture. Again, the numbers were impressive, with more than 150 entries submitted. The winning “Safety is Elemental” slogan and icon evocative of the Periodic Table came from within the Lab.

The Safety Concerns Program relies entirely on voluntary employee submissions to address potential or existing hazards within and outside of Lab buildings. Information about loose stairway treads, unclear roadway markings, and potentially inadequate ventilation systems all have been identified through the program. A self-monitoring approach like this should be applauded and demonstrates how employees care about their own and each other’s well-being. I’m a strong proponent of having approximately 4,200 pairs of eyes watching out for one another’s safety every day.

Modeled after the way the commercial aviation industry continuously works to improve safety, the Material Science Division’s Near Miss Program is in its sixth year.  It actually started in my Lab on campus when a gas cylinder rolled off a cart and injured an employee. The cart had been used hundreds of times with the knowledge that cylinders were prone to roll off and create a potential hazard. Instead of modifying the cart, users just dodged the rolling cylinders when they fell, not taking advantage of learning from those potential hazards. The Division now uses this example to fuel the Program, where near misses are turned into learning opportunities. Rick Kelly administers the program but it is the many students, post docs, and lab technicians who contribute and then vote on which near miss entrant should receive a Spot Award.

All three of these activities have become successful not because people are required to participate, but because they want to. This is further proof that a strong safety culture is the responsibility of every individual at the Lab. I’m confident that we have a rich culture here and I want to build upon that by asking each of you to think about how safety factors in to everything you do here at the Lab and beyond in your personal lives. Have a look at this website, too. It offers a wealth of resources.

— Paul Alivisatos