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LANL eludes fine in beryllium incident

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DOE > Prompt action in response cited in letter

By The Staff

The Los Alamos National Laboratory will not be fined after a lab machinist was exposed to higher-than-allowed levels of beryllium. That news comes from a May 29 letter addressed to LANL Director Charlie McMillan from the Department of Energy’s Office of Enforcement and Oversight.

The letter stated that the ignored procedures for collecting and controlling personal exposure assessment air samples and didn’t keep accurate hazard assessment and exposure control records when an employee was exposed to more than 0.2 micrograms per cubic meter of beryllium during an eight-hour shift, exceeding DOE’s “action” level.

The letter from Office of Enforcement and Oversight Director John Boulden stated, “the facts and circumstances indicate weaknesses in LANS’ collection and documentation of industrial hygiene exposure assessment information and the application of that information to anticipate, identify, evaluate, and control beryllium hazards. These weaknesses may prevent LANS from establishing a definitive cause for an event and identifying appropriate corrective actions when occupational exposure limits are exceeded.

“Despite the deficiencies revealed by this event, the Office of Enforcement and Oversight is electing to exercise enforcement discretion at this time based on the compensatory actions immediately instituted upon identification of the action level exceedance. However, the Office of Enforcement and Oversight and the NNSA Los Alamos Field Office will continue to closely monitor LANS effectiveness in preventing worker exposures to workplace hazards and LANS’ implementation of an industrial hygiene program that meets Part 850 and 851 requirements.”

The lab said in a statement, “The laboratory takes safety very seriously. As part of our on-going program to improve worker safety, we utilize both internal and external assessments to guide our efforts and as such will use feedback and concerns from the DOE ESH Office of Oversight to address any deficiencies in our methods for assessing and minimizing beryllium hazards in the workplace.”

According to the letter, the machinist was performing wet beryllium machining operations on a Hardinge T-51 lathe with a self-contained exhaust system when he was splashed with machining fluids on July 11, 2012.

According to the Nuclear Weapons and Materials Monitor, the employee wore booties, coveralls, gloves and safety glasses and was not wearing a respirator, and DOE’s Office of Enforcement and Oversight said the lab’s hazard controls left the employee unprotected from the possibility that the worker could be splashed by machining fluid.

The letter stated that the employee did not catalog his actions during his shift in documents submitted with air samples for analysis, and only later revealed that he had been splashed with machining fluids, and the lab failed to follow other procedures in analysis of the incident.

“The facts and circumstances indicate weaknesses in LANS’ collection and documentation of industrial hygiene exposure assessment information and the application of that information to anticipate, identify, evaluate, and control beryllium hazards,” the letter stated. “These weaknesses may prevent LANS from establishing a definitive cause for an event and identifying appropriate corrective actions when occupation-1 exposure limits are exceeded.”

According to the trade publication, DOE declined to fine the lab because it quickly took corrective actions to address the issues, but it did not identify the corrective actions in its letter.

The publication also is reporting that Neile Miller is leaving as NNSA administrator at the end of this month. She originally said she was leaving June 14.

The report indicates Miller will be replaced by Bruce Held, the former director of the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence.

Held would be the interim administrator until new Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz makes his decision on the NNSA post, which is not expected until the end of the summer.

The trade publication reports Moniz is considering former Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore Director Mike Anastasio, current Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon, and former Air Force Global Strike Command chief Lt. Gen. Frank Klotz for the NNSA post.