Pantex’s Shaun Ashley (left) and Kirk Spear identify lock out/tag out isolation points on a steam piping system prior to performing work.
Employees in Consolidated Nuclear Security’s Infrastructure organization have worked more than 3.2 million hours since a lost-time injury. For electricians, carpenters, machinists, riggers, welders and other craft personnel at the Pantex Plant and the Y-12 National Security Complex, the “office” is often atop a ladder or in a bucket truck working on high-voltage lines. That’s why working safely is a daily, if not hourly, preoccupation.
“It’s hard to pin down one or two things we’ve done to be successful,” said Scott Underwood, head of Y-12’s Infrastructure group with more than 900 employees who combined have worked more than 2.5 million hours without a lost-time injury. “We’ve leveraged all the people, processes and tools we have in place to make a difference.”
Foremost, explained Underwood, safety is not about a program; it’s about people. “You’ve got to care about your own personal safety and the safety of others. That’s where it starts,” he said. “We’ve also made improvements in some of our processes. When problems do arise, managers, front-line supervisors and craft personnel actively work together to find solutions.”
City of Oak Ridge employees and Y-12 Infrastructure and Environmental and Safety Programs workers gather for a pre-lift safety brief to repair a 24-inch water line on-site at Y-12. Though the recently completed project involved hazardous work, no injuries or negative events occurred.
Finding solutions is part of Steve Passmore’s job. “Every day, people call me and tell me their safety concerns,” said Passmore, one of the Atomic Trades and Labor Council’s safety officers assigned to Y‑12’s Infrastructure group. “We maintain a log, and we work the issues. If it’s a true safety issue, we find the money to get it fixed. However, some issues can be fixed without the need for additional funding. It’s just a matter of getting the right communication to the right people. Then I always get an answer back to those who call.”
Pantex Infrastructure manager Bob Asbury also knows a thing or two about closing the loop on safety suggestions, concerns and solutions. “It is critical that when issues are raised by employees they are welcomed by leadership, but more importantly the loop has to be closed with the employee,” he said. “You owe the employee an answer, and that is best delivered face to face.”
Asbury’s organization of about 375 employees has worked more than 330 days — more than 717,000 hours — without a lost-time injury. He attributes that track record to employee ownership of safety issues and solutions, supervisory engagement and an effective Plan of the Day, or POD. The POD, an electronic document prepared by Maintenance craft workers and management, serves as a daily risk-based review of work activities that then leads into a pre-job briefing.
Pantex’s Maintenance organization implemented the POD three years ago, and the idea has since caught on in other groups at the site. “The response has been truly amazing,” said Shane Feagan, Metal Trades Council safety officer at Pantex. “The POD now reaches people across many organizations at the plant. The most important thing the POD brings to the table is that it ensures we all receive timely and accurate information.”
Taken together, the Y-12 and Pantex processes, tools and people undergird the CNS Infrastructure organization’s commitment to creating and maintaining a continuously improving safety culture.
Y-12’s Ron Sharp (left) and Josh Howard (both heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning, or HVAC, mechanics) look over a job package before performing work on an HVAC system. Behind both men is one of the newly installed heat pumps to reduce utility costs and increase reliability.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
The following was taken from an abstract produced in association with the Presidential Migratory Bird Federal Stewardship Award nomination process:
The Pantex Plant – a Department of Energy (DOE) /National Nuclear Security Administrations (NNSA) facility— initiated and built a long-running program beginning in 2002 that contributes to migratory bird conservation through means that include research, partnerships and outreach. Works have and continue to result in attributes of conservation that include 1) the updating of management plans/strategies for species of concern; 2) the determination of use and management implications of a highly persecuted habitat type [prairie dog colonies]; 3) the evaluation of the effects of wind energy development on birds; 4) the development of risk models for Swainson’s Hawks (Buteo swainsoni) and wind farms in North, South and Central America; 5) the banding and identification of migrational stopover and wintering areas of a migratory songbird that is declining in parts of its range; 6) the contributions of findings and management implications to the scientific literature; 7) the development and turning-out of students experienced and versed in migratory bird conservation; 8) and the production of various forms of outreach that promote migratory bird conservation to professional and lay groups. Projects have been long-running, major in scale, involving special status or high profile species or issues, and many involve the whole suite of migratory birds that, nest, winter or pass through the study areas during the course of their life cycle.
While some of the work has been accomplished by Pantex staff members, most projects intentionally involve collaborations/partnerships. These have included Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC; Texas Tech University, Natural Resources/Biological Sciences; USGS Texas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit/Texas Tech; West Texas A&M University, Life, Earth and Environmental Sciences; York University (Canada); University of Manitoba (Canada); Texas Parks and Wildlife Department; the Purple Martin Conservation Association; and many private landowners and volunteers. Recently, Pantex successfully urged DOE headquarters to provide sponsorship of a National Raptor Research Foundation Conference and provided representation at that conference.
Program elements at Pantex developed beyond habitat and proactive protection strategies in 2002 through the funding and participation in collaborative research partnerships studying the western burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) and the whole suite of migratory bird species that use black-tailed prairie dog colonies and control plots. With study sites across the extensive High Plains of Texas, this now-published work has resulted in the better understanding of the ecology and management needs of the burrowing owl, a species of concern, as well as the importance of this habitat to the diversity of the shortgrass prairie of the Southern Great Plains. It has also led to the development of protection strategies on Pantex lands.
This Common Nighthawk is just one of 202 bird species documented at Pantex.
Pantexans and their friends are busy preparing for what some would call their favorite Pantex event.
More than 150 volunteers will serve as officials for the regional Science Bowls sponsored this month by Consolidated Nuclear Security, LLC (CNS).
Pantexans (from left) Kayla Mendoza, Gabriel Chacon, Howard Thompson and Nathan Escarcega prepare to “buzz in” during a mock Science Bowl round.
The volunteers are employees from the Pantex Plant and NNSA Production Office, as well as West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) faculty and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Pharmacy students. Even a few Pantex Plant retirees will be on hand as moderators, science judges, scorekeepers and timekeepers.
Students from the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center School of Pharmacy learn the Science Bowl rules and practice during a mock round to prepare for the upcoming regional competitions.
Thirty-eight teams will test their skills in the Feb. 7 competition for middle school students. Thirty-one teams, some from as far away as Lubbock and Higgins, will face-off at the Feb. 21 high school competition.
As part of CNS’s commitment to education, it will donate $1,000 to the science programs of the winning schools. Winners also receive an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Science Bowl®.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
Jim Ray, wildlife biologist, holds "Pink-and-Green" and her brother, "Pink-and-Red."
In the "they grow up so fast" category, I am able to share photos of "Pink-and-Green" from when she was a kitten, and just recently, now a 3 year-old. "Pink-and-Green" is a daughter of our original female bobcat – the "Eastside Female."
"Pink-and-Green" was first captured in October 2011 as a 9.7-pound kitten. She was captured again in August 2012, this time weighing 17.2 pounds. At that point she was fitted with a G.P.S. satellite collar and was tracked until I remotely dropped her collar using a laptop, a special wand, and a unique code that activated a "spring action" release. At that time, she was two years old and accompanied by a couple of kittens.
"Pink and Green's" tale includes a prolonged relationship with her mother. Although not undocumented in the species, this cat continued to occupy her mother's homerange as an adult. In fact, a trail cam photo shows a photo of her mother, a young kitten, and "Pink and Green" in the same photograph. However, the core activity areas for the two adult cats were separate, thus the overlap the two adult females was minimal. In general, female bobcats are highly territorial and homeranges only minimally overlap.
The photo below was taken on December 11. At that time, "Pink-and-Green" was accompanied by two kittens. This is her second if not third litter. West Texas A&M University and Pantex studied bobcats on and around Pantex from 2006 to 2013.
"Pink-and-Green" at age three.
Article by Jim Ray, Pantex Wildlife Biologist/Scientist
For more than a decade Pantex and West Texas A&M University studied the ecology of our resident prairie rattlesnakes. We captured hundreds of them and marked them with subcutaneous microchips.
Around 40 of them carried radio-transmitters, which we carefully surgically implanted into their body cavity. These snakes then went about their business, and their transmitters allowed us to follow them around and learn more about their behavior and general ecology. We quickly confirmed the location and characteristics of winter dens, or hibernacula as they are referred to scientifically. Prairie dog holes are an obvious choice, as are sinkholes associated with old landfills and pipelines. Hibernacula must be deep enough that the snakes can escape freezing temperatures, and most animal burrows (ground squirrels, woodrats, etc.) evidently do not meet this requirement – snakes moved to dens of more significant depth prior to the onset of the coldest weather.
Rattlesnakes cannot be subjected to freezing temperatures; thus, as the nights get colder in the fall they begin to use burrows at night to escape this danger. After a few light freezes (usually in October or November), they make a quick trip back to the den in which they will spend the winter.
From our research, we learned that rattlesnakes can be on the surface during every month of the year. Rattlesnakes are cold-blooded and have a need to bask in the sun, and thus warm to the point that all tissues and organs work properly. In fact, chances are pretty good that some snakes will surface to bask in the sun anytime during the winter that temperatures exceed the low 50s, especially provided there are clear skies. At warmer temperatures, the snakes can actually bask even under cloud cover.
One aspect of wintering snake ecology that we did not get to was how many snakes might congregate in these dens. Just from experience, we think most Pantex hibernacula host up to a dozen or two snakes, but the prairie rattlesnake is known to congregate in numbers in the hundreds. I have seen as many as five or six basking around a den entrance at once. Oftentimes, the 9-inch young-of-the year will be coiled up on the backs of larger snakes.
Hibernacula receive historic use, and it is believed that the young snakes follow the scent of the older, experienced snakes to the dens. In our area, outside of prairie dog colonies, winter dens may be scarce and thus limit rattlesnake populations. Here at Pantex, snake populations from large areas oftentimes end up in a single available winter den, thus making that den site very important to the snakes of that area.
So what does this all mean? Well, I hope you enjoyed the ecological aspect of this blog. But, if it is just the safety aspect that you are interested in, be sure to be very observant when you are working or otherwise out in the field when wintertime temperatures warm.
A prairie rattlesnake basking on a warm fall day on the edge of its winter den.