Hanford safety gets uniform

No matter where a Hanford worker is assigned to hazardous cleanup projects across the nuclear reservation, the worker will know exactly what safety procedures to use in most situations.

The Department of Energy announced Thursday that since Hanford began adopting sitewide safety and health standards in 2008, 15 programs now are standard across the site.

"The goal is to get workers home safely to their families," said Karen Flynn, DOE Richland Operations Office assistant manager for mission support.

One of the newest programs provides sitewide standards for fall protection.

While much of the public attention at Hanford is on its unusual radioactive and hazardous chemical dangers, industrial hazards remain one of the largest potential risks for workers, said Jeff Frey, DOE Richland Operations Office deputy assistant manager for safety and environment.

Hanford workers have had some serious falls, most recently the 2009 accident in which a Washington Closure Hanford worker fell through an open hatch of a 50-foot-high catwalk, but survived after hitting a ladder part way down to break his fall.

A man died in 2004 after a fall from a ladder while he was on site briefly to remove a mobile office, and in the early '90s, an ironworker died after falling through the roof of a reactor that was being repaired.

Individual contractors always have had safety programs, but the new sitewide safety standards combine the best of the diverse programs and streamlines them into a single, uniform safety program.

A building trades worker might finish up a project at Hanford one day and go out on another the next, working for different contractors, said Gordon McCleary, vice president of the Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association.

Sitewide safety standards provide consistency for workers, avoiding ambiguity and allowing workers to be trained to just one program, according to DOE.

Standardized fall protection training will be done by Mission Support Alliance at the HAMMER training center. The training has been offered by HAMMER since its opening in 1997, but this is the first effort to train Hanford workers from different cleanup contractors and job classifications to the same guidelines and standards.

For fall protection, workers will have a day of classroom instruction and practical exercises, and then a half day of retraining every two years.

The first program to go sitewide was a lockout/tagout system to make sure electrical and other systems are turned off and stay turned off when maintenance or other work is being done.

Other sitewide programs added since then include beryllium protection; respiratory protection; hoisting and rigging; and excavation, trenching and shoring. An electrical safety program is in the early stages of implementation.

That should be followed with a standardized program for determining the medical clearance needed for individual tasks, including work that might include beryllium or asbestos exposure, respiratory protection or lifting, said Darrell Riffe, manager of standards integration for Mission Support Alliance.

Now the 15 sitewide safety standards apply everywhere at Hanford, except for the vitrification plant under construction, which has its own programs, said Brian Harkins, DOE Office of River Protection Safety and Health Division director. Once operations begin at the plant, it also will be covered by the sitewide standards.