Report: Immediate Action Needed to Improve NIST Safety

"Immediate action is required" to provide leadership in integrating safety more fully into National Institute of Standards and Technology's (NIST) day-to-day work, according to a blue ribbon commission of safety and management experts.

The commission issued a report describing the adequacy of safety programs at NIST and provided findings intended to help the agency improve the safety of its operations. While noting that safety is currently not a NIST "core value," the NIST Blue Ribbon Commission on Management and Safety said that the Institute's staff is "eager, willing and ready" to embrace a stronger safety culture.

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez formed the commission in August, after a June 9 plutonium incident at NIST's campus in Boulder, Colo. In its report, the Commission said it found "serious safety concerns at NIST" and identified the root cause as a lack of leadership to ensure a disciplined safety culture.

At the same time, the group's report noted that the NIST staff "should be commended for the candor and openness in discussions with the commission. The approach outlined by the recently appointed Deputy Director is a cause for optimism."

"I'd like to thank the commission for lending their substantial expertise to carrying out this very important study and assure them that we will be working with NIST to follow through on actions that address their findings," said Gutierrez.

The commission studied previous investigative reports on the NIST plutonium incident as well as NIST safety-related documents. It also held two public meetings and gathered information from more than 35 individuals at all levels at NIST.

"We are committed to making the management and other changes necessary to ensure that safety is a core value at NIST," said NIST Deputy Director Patrick D. Gallagher. "The commission's report will be invaluable to us as we work to ensure that our world-class research efforts are matched with an equally exemplary safety culture that is fully integrated into everything we do."

In its report, the Commission said that:

• identification of hazards and safety training is inconsistent across NIST,
• NIST has not benchmarked its safety performance against similar organizations with strong safety cultures,
• NIST lacks a set of meaningful measurement tools to evaluate and manage its safety operations, and
• the agency is plagued by a serious lack of resources for safety.

In his presentation to the commission, Gallagher proposed changes to NIST management, including greater authority for NIST Boulder management over safety and facilities, the placement of a dedicated Chief Safety Officer at a high level in the organization, better sharing of information and resources across organizational barriers, and reducing the high variability and decentralization in safety management by defining performance measures, metrics and goals for the organization.

More information is available at http://www.nist.gov/director/blueribbon/index.html.

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