Monday, February 23, 2004

DOE's Really Stupid Workplace Safety Policy

Jonathan Bennett at NYCOSH noted that I missed one of the most important parts of last week’s NY Times article about hazardous conditions at the Hanford Nuclear Facility in Washington: the unveiling of the Department of Energy's new safety policy:
The contractors are on notice that they must ensure safe working conditions, said Joseph Davis a spokesman for the Energy Department. "We will not put at any risk any of our workers for the benefit of a faster cleanup," Mr. Davis said. "We can terminate them any time if we think they're doing something really stupid."
Doing something really stupid? How does that work, I wondered? To find out, I hung out at a favorite watering hole of DOE officials and sure enough, along came one of my usual “sources,” who shall remain nameless.

I asked him about this quote.

“Yup, that’s our new safety policy. We’ve essentially enhanced OSHA’s penalty categories: As with OSHA, we start out with "non-serious," then "serious" and "willful." Boring. And no one really knows what all of those mean. So, we developed our own "plain English" version of citation categories and penalties:

Dumb: Tsk, tsk.

Dumber: DOE sends the contractor a letter remind them that workers are their most important resrouces and urging them to do better.

Stupid: DOE sends the contractor a letter (see above) that uses harsh language.

Really Stupid: The contractor risks termination.
"Dude, that’s harsh," I said. "So, like what do you consider 'Really Stupid?'"

“Getting caught,” he said, bursting into laughter. “No, no, seriously, I don’t know, maybe, oh, let’s see…”

“How about sending someone down into an 8 foot deep trench without shoring up the walls,” I asked.

“That would be 'stupid',” he admitted. But not 'really stupid.' The trench would have to be 12 feet deep for it to be classified as “really stupid.”

“Sending someone into a confined space without monitoring first?”

That might be “stupid,” but probably not “really stupid” unless someone died.

“What about exposing someone to radiation or beryllium?”

"If it kills someone, it’s probably “'really stupid.'”

"What if it doesn’t kill them for 20 or thirty years.”

“Then it’s probably just ‘stupid.’”

“That’s really stupid,” I said.

“No, it’s just 'stupid,'” he replied

“No, I mean the policy is really stupid.”