Review of Hanford concerns programs finds weaknesses

A review of four Hanford Employee Concerns Programs found some weaknesses, but concluded the programs were sound enough that it made no formal findings, according to a report by the Department of Energy's Office of Health, Safety and Security.

The DOE Hanford Richland Operations Office requested the review last year and announced plans for improvements last month before the report was issued. The review team spent the first week of May looking at the programs.

It reviewed programs run by DOE at Hanford and by three DOE prime contractors: CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., Mission Support Alliance and Washington River Protection Solutions.

The review found the programs met legal requirements, but did question some policies and procedures, and the thoroughness of some investigations. Weaknesses could cause a lack of confidence in the programs by some workers, the report said.

"In many cases, the details of employee concerns were not sufficiently established and documented to ensure a full and accurate understanding of the employee's issue," the report said.

In one case, an employee alleged that workers were required to work faster to meet a deadline at the expense of safety so management could earn a bonus. The term "bonus" was interpreted during the investigation as monetary awards to individuals, which management denied existed.

However, there might have been a corporate performance-based incentive bonus in place, and there was no evidence that was investigated, the review said.

In another case, an allegation that a supervisor directed a worker not to report an injury was resolved based on discussion with the accused supervisor, and nothing in the paperwork showed an attempt to interview the injured worker or coworkers.

The report also found inadequate communication, particularly when workers were sent letters closing out the concerns they filed. Some letters said only that the concern had been investigated and not substantiated, but gave no details on the investigation.

Among strengths in the programs reviewed was the strong message to workers about their responsibility to report concerns about environment, safety, health and management of Hanford operations, the report said.

The programs' managers and workers had received appropriate training, were experienced, were knowledgeable about Hanford operations and seemed open to finding ways to improve programs, the report said.

Last month, DOE told workers that it was making improvements to Hanford Employee Concerns Programs, including better explaining how the investigation reached a conclusion.

Service to the employee would be improved in the programs, including capturing the concern accurately, investigating it thoroughly and communicating frequently with the employee during the investigation, said Matt McCormick, manager of the DOE Richland Operations Office, in June.

He also said that to make sure that employees have confidence in the investigations, the programs will rely more on technical experts not directly involved in the issues during investigations.

The review did not include Washington Closure Hanford, because it is ramping down to the completion of cleanup along the Columbia River in 2015, the report said.

Bechtel National, which is building the Hanford vitrification plant, was not included because its program was evaluated during a safety culture review in December, the report said.