Lab safety officer honored

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By Roger Snodgrass

The Chief Electrical Safety Officer of Los Alamos National Laboratory has won high national recognition for outstanding leadership in electrical safety.

Lloyd Gordon is an experimental researcher in high-energy, pulsed power engineering and plasma physics. Among his many contributions in his parallel career as a national authority in the field of electrical safety, Gordon has developed a measuring stick for comparing the severity of electrical accidents.

Interviewed Monday, he remembered a turning point in 1987, when he was working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and found a critical need for training researchers on safety.

“I stepped up and developed all the training,” he said.

From there, he went on to Sandia National Laboratory and Stanford University with a growing role as a safety expert and an innovative approach to electrical safety training.

Since then, he has lectured to and trained more than 50,000 scientists and engineers throughout the departments of energy and defense.

Later this week, he will be giving a class at Sandia on high voltage safety to another 60 people.

“There are a lot of people who can make things work,” he said. “The problem is recognizing the problem and how to manage it.”

He said his advantage was his hands-on experience.

“I’m a researcher. I’m from the lab,” Gordon said. “The secret is – I know the equipment.”

He came to Los Alamos in 1998, and since then has intensified his involvement in a sweeping crusade for electrical safety.

He has chaired high-level national safety committees and a safety workshop program for the past five years. At LANL he oversees a group of 150 electrical safety officers.

Worker safety has been a recurring issue at the laboratory, but Gordon said there have been significant advances.

“For the past four to five years there has been an 80 percent improvement in electrical safety at Los Alamos,” he said. “We now lead the country in research and development safety.”

By R&D safety, he means the 3,000 scientists and engineers at LANL who regularly work with electrical equipment like lasers, accelerators and electroplating and substantial use of direct current electrical energy.

Over the last 10 years, Gordon has been developing an encyclopedic method for classifying all electrical hazards in the R&D universe.

Hazards faced by linemen and utility electrical workers were sooner and more easily standardized in the century-old battle for electrical safety but the distinctive risks for R&D specialties were less obvious at first.

As Gordon points out in a paper co-authored last year for the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers with Laura Cartelli of LANL, high voltage hazards common to the research laboratory can be paradoxical.

For example, “high voltage can be harmless if the available current is sufficiently low,” but “low voltage can be harmful if the available current/power is high.”

Systematic classification has led to better work controls, improved training and a Severity Ranking Tool that ranks electrical accidents more effectively.

It was the fourth year that the National Nuclear Security Administration has given out its “Safety Professional of the Year” award, but the first time it has been given to a national laboratory employee.

Gordon works with the lab’s Industrial Hygiene and Safety Division. He was recognized for his distinguished service on behalf of the Department of Energy’s Managing and Operating Contractors. Xavier F. Aponte of NNSA’s Nevada Site Office was named the Federal Safety Professional of the year.

The two recipients will be honored at a ceremony in Washington on March 30, by NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino.