Deputy Secretary McSlarrow’s Videotaped Remarks
for the Facility Representatives Annual Workshop
in May 2004
I am very happy to once again address you as you gather to share experiences and lessons learned so that you can be more effective. Learning from our experiences is fundamental for our continued improvement. Your work is extremely important to the Department and I commend you for the excellent job that you are doing.
I want to talk with you today about safety culture, why it is important, and what each of you can do to help build an enduring safety culture at DOE. When I speak of safety culture, I mean the embedded principles and values, behavior patterns, and underlying assumptions that define how and why we build safety into our work activities. A healthy and robust safety culture manifests itself throughout an organization, at all levels, from the individual level to the site level and on to the enterprise level. This is the goal the Secretary and I share. In January of this year, Secretary Abraham designated 2004 the “Year of Safety” at the Senior Leadership Summit. Since then he has vigorously communicated his expectations and commitment to safety in a variety of forums and through a variety of actions. The Secretary and I, along with the entire management team are deeply committed to public health and safety, worker health and safety, and the environment. At the Department level, an effective safety culture is demonstrated by leadership commitment, a comprehensive set of safety standards, an adequately staffed and technically skilled. Our strong commitment to the Facility Representative program reflects the importance we place on federal oversight in achieving the levels of safety that we demand from our operations.
For you, the Department’s Facility Representatives, I want to emphasize three specific attributes that I expect you to bring to your job to promote the safety culture that we need. (1) excellence in technical knowledge, skills, and abilities, (2) an unquenchable questioning attitude coupled with persistent follow-through, and (3) an enthusiastic desire to promote these attitudes and behaviors in others. These are exactly the characteristics exhibited by this year’s DOE Facility Representative of the Year, who I understand will be announced later this morning by Mark Whitaker and John Evans. Let me speak briefly to each of these attributes.
Strong technical competence is the foundation of excellent performance as a facility representative. To be effective, you need a solid foundation of technical expertise and a thorough knowledge of your facility, its various operations, and the hazards and associated controls. This knowledge must go beyond that required for mere qualification which is just a starting point. I expect every Facility Representative to be continuously learning and continuously building your knowledge, your skills, and your capabilities. Learn from the experiences of others. For example, I encourage you to go to school on the NASA Columbia Event. The nuclear field has built its base of knowledge and expertise through over 60 years of hard work – honor this history and learn its lessons. The chemical industry has an even longer tradition. I want to challenge you to be extraordinary in your technical competence and to set an example for others. Your investments in yourself, in your knowledge and capabilities, will be well repaid.
Armed with outstanding capability, the next challenge is how to apply it. I encourage you to adopt a vigorous questioning attitude coupled with persistent follow-through. Apply your intellect and knowledge and skill through a critical eye and a critical mind to thoroughly understand operational situations, their implications, their potential weaknesses and the actions needed to make them safer. Maintain a healthy skepticism. Look for the anomalies – for the odd and the unusual. Don’t accept surface answers, and of-course spend time in the field – no indicator is more important to me than knowing that you are spending at least 40 percent of your time in the field performing oversight.
Finally, spread the safety message. I encourage you to promote these positive attitudes and behaviors in others. Communicate safety issues clearly to foster mutual understanding so that others will understand their implications and significance. Make sure that all work-related hazards are identified and controls are adequate. If something goes wrong, make sure that incidence critiques are held promptly and effectively so that we learn from the experience. I want you to look hard at our feedback and improvement systems – to make sure that everything that should get reported is getting reported, root causes are properly identified, and corrective actions fix the original problem.
In closing, I want to again thank you for your work today. Our safety record is impressive, and a great deal of the credit of the success goes to you. The Secretary and I our proud of the Facility Representatives and know that we can count on you to continue our success.