NNSS News


Navarro’s Culture of Safety Results in 12 Years without Lost Workday

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Safety First: A sign marks the entrance to the site of an NNSS groundwater monitoring well.

Navarro, contractor to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Environmental Management (EM) Nevada Program, is celebrating 12 years without a lost workday.* This continuing safety record was accomplished while leading the EM characterization and remediation work scope, which addresses environmental impacts of contamination resulting from historic nuclear testing at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) and Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR).

EM characterization and remediation involves workplace hazards such as heavy machinery, radiological contamination, unexploded ordinances, work outdoors in excessive heat and extreme weather conditions, and the slips, trips and falls that are present in every workplace. Twelve years without serious incident is a remarkable accomplishment.

In carrying out EM Nevada Program missions, Navarro employees who work onsite at the NNSS and NTTR are tasked with developing groundwater characterization wells, surveying Soils and Industrial Sites for contamination, excavating land, demolishing structures, and disposition of waste. Like all DOE contractors, Navarro adheres to the Integrated Safety Management Policy, which ensures that safety is integrated into management and work practices at all levels and stages of planning and execution.

Navarro workers attribute their safety record to a number of factors, including meticulous planning, detailed coordination with other contractors and DOE federal staff, deliberate pace of work, prioritization of safety and an experienced workforce.

According to Navarro’s Health and Safety Manager Gregg Mickelson, up-front planning is key. “Hazard analysis always includes all personnel involved, from management, to the Health and Safety department, to the people who will be out there working in the field. Everyone has an awareness of the potential hazards,” Mickelson said. Without exception, every day in the field starts off with both a daily operations call and a Tailgate Safety Briefing, during which workers review procedures, acknowledge potential hazards and address safety measures.

Juvencio “JC” Castro explains that working at a deliberate pace is an effective preventive measure in avoiding accidents. “Due to the nature of our jobs, we have to move slowly to get the work done correctly,” said Castro, a radiological control technician working on the Soils project. Groundwater Characterization Program Site Supervisor Steve Hopkins shares the same sentiment. “We are not out to set speed records,” Hopkins said. This deliberate pace of work is expected by management and adhered to by field workers and results in careful, safe completion of tasks.

One of the most important aspects of the safety culture at Navarro is prioritization of safety over production. Dan Henry, site supervisor for the Soils project, described a typical summer workday in the desert environment of Nevada, which regularly reaches temperatures over 100 degrees: “There isn’t pressure on how much work is performed; instead, on a hot day, the pressure is focused on taking enough breaks to stay safe and healthy.”

“Safety over schedule,” is the motto of the workers and managers, according to Dawn Peterson, Navarro’s Closure Support manager. Peterson is in charge of scheduling workers’ shifts in the field. “We also have extra workers on site so that no one is rushing under pressure to get a job done,” Peterson said.

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Navarro personnel collecting groundwater at the site of a groundwater monitoring well.

Another major component of Navarro’s safety culture is its experienced workforce. Many Navarro employees have been working in various roles within the EM Nevada Program for decades. The unique hazards specific to their worksites are well-known, and the experience gained over many years in the field allows accident prevention to become second nature. In addition to technical experience, long careers spent working on EM Nevada Program missions lead to strong relationships between employees who have worked side by side for years. These relationships enable workers to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses, look out for one another, and respect each other’s instructions, cautions and advice. Ultimately, a collaborative environment is built where every worker takes responsibility for their own safety as well as the safety of their coworkers.

Workplace safety is no less important to Navarro employees who spend all or most of the workday in the office. Dona Merritt, of Navarro’s Strategic Communications group, distributes reports of reported workplace safety incidents from around the DOE complex to team members. “Sharing and reviewing these occurrences is part of a learning process to improve our awareness of potential safety issues,” Merritt said.

The Strategic Communications group often travels to outreach and community events across southern Nevada to provide the public with information about EM Nevada Program activities. Safety procedures are always strictly followed, from safe driving practices, to proper techniques for loading and unloading the supplies needed for events. “Safety culture is promoted and embedded in every aspect of planning work, even in the office. Looking out for potential hazards has become routine. It’s so much a part of who we are as Navarro associates, that we take it home and make our home lives safer, too,” Merritt said.

These various components add up to a culture of safety in the workplace that permeates every job site, office, and cubicle. Dave Taylor, Navarro’s program manager, has championed this philosophy with regular Safety Leadership Training meetings and other programs that emphasize the importance of safety, as well as facilitate and encourage reporting potential hazards or safety concerns. “We had to develop a consistent philosophy that supports a culture of doing work safely, and then reinforce those values over and over. Once you get something in place that works, you can never let up,” said Taylor.

*A lost workday is an occupational injury or illness which results in an employee being unfit for work on any day after the incident.



Military Interns Get Rare Experience Learning NNSS' Mission Capabilities

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Bennett (left) and Taylor (right) observe Giuseppe Casalino, an NNSS biologist, changing a GPS data logger on a tortoise.

The Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) is training the next generation of 21st-century contributors to national security through the Site’s military internship program. Cadets and midshipmen are interning with the NNSS this summer to learn civilian skills that they can apply in their military careers. For eight years, the NNSS has hosted these interns from the Air Force Academy, Annapolis (Navy) and West Point (Army) in a variety of missions.

From May to the first week of July, Air Force cadets Denisha Bennett and Joseph Taylor worked with Ted Redding of the Ecological and Environmental Monitoring department to support the NNSS’ wildlife protection and environmental radiation monitoring programs. They tracked desert tortoise movements using VHF antennae/receivers in research studies including movements of tortoises near roads, and monitored translocated juvenile tortoises.

Working with the tortoises “was harder than I expected to track down because they’re hard to find,” added Taylor.

Bennett and Taylor also worked with the environmental monitoring group to determine the level of tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, in vegetation around the Schooner and Sedan craters.

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Taylor and Bennett at Sedan Crater during their tritium project.

“We don’t have the results yet, but the research process and techniques to determine radioactive levels of tritium was cool,” said Bennett.

The interns said that they’re fascinated with their experiences at the Site.

Two West Point cadets and an Annapolis midshipman will join our national security mission this summer at the Remote Sensing Laboratory at Nellis and with the Defense Experimentation & Stockpile Stewardship directorate, respectively.

The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)’s NA-10 group has been funding these internships. At each of NNSA’s eight sites, leading-edge research and development is carried out on key national security technologies critical to the United States and its allies. Programs include science, technology and engineering essential to sustaining the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, plus a wide array of work on other efforts for the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, among others, plus support to the Intelligence community.



Dr. Chip Martin Selected for American Nuclear Society Congressional Fellowship

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Dr. Charles "Chip" Martin

The American Nuclear Society (ANS) recently announced the NNSS’ very own Dr. Charles “Chip” Martin as its selection for the 2018 Glenn T. Seaborg Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship.

As a Congressional Fellow, Chip will spend a year in Washington, D.C., working in either a U.S. Senator’s or Representative’s personal office or on the staff of a Senate or House Committee. Chip will provide Congress with expertise in nuclear science and technology, becoming a direct contributor to the federal policymaking process.

“It’s an honor to be chosen for this Fellowship, and I am looking forward to it,” says Chip. “I’m hoping to do some good while I am there.”

Harsh S. Desai, chair of the selection committee, was excited to announce Chip as an addition to a unique group of ANS members who have had great opportunities to impact the national policy discussions from the halls of U.S. Congress. Desai said, “With Chip’s vast experience and expertise in the nuclear industry, he will be perfectly poised to provide technical advice to any congressional member or committee on Capitol Hill.”

Chip currently serves as the chief nuclear officer at the NNSS and is also an adjunct professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. As the ANS Congressional Fellow, Chip will be one of nearly 30 scientists and engineers who participate annually through the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Congressional Science and Engineering Fellowship Program. More than 2,000 have served as Fellows on Capitol Hill since the inception of the AAAS program in 1973. ANS initiated its program in 2000. The ANS Congressional Fellowship term runs from January through December each year.



NNSS Aviation Team Sweeps DOE Aviation Awards

Congratulations to the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS)’s Aviation Program team members for winning all four categories of the Department of Energy (DOE)’s Office of Aviation Management annual awards recognition program.

The NNSS’ Aviation team, which works at the Remote Sensing Laboratory (RSL) offices at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, and at Joint Base Andrews near Washington, D.C., is responsible for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that conduct an array of special missions, ranging from aerial surveillance for radiological threats during major events around the world to aerial monitoring for consequence management to wildland firefighting operations at the NNSS. RSL’s aviators also were called on to help in an advisory capacity during the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.

The Aviation Program won top honors in the following categories:

Small Aviation Program Award Winner – Nevada Field Office/NSTec Aviation

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RSL-Andrews. From left to right: Wendell Stadig, Donnie Schuessler, Alex Brid, Grant Ebner (in helicopter), Charles Lightfoot and Tony Thompson.
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RSL-Nellis. From left to right: Manuel Avaro, Mike Hawkins, Dan Butler, Joe Cummings, Ed Zachman (on the helicopter), Dave Carder, Sue Roberts, Jessica Thomason, Mike Toland, Sandra Hayes, Shawn Cadwell and Dave Krausnick.
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Les Winfield

This program was judged to be the most outstanding, efficient, effective and safest in all aspects of their flight program among all DOE Aviation Operations. The management/administration, operations, maintenance, training and safety programs were recognized as being the best in class for the DOE. Members of this team included both federal and contractor representatives.

Federal Aviation Program Manager Winner – Les Winfield

This award was presented to the best Federal Aviation Program Manager whose primary duties involve management of a Federal Aviation Program. Les Winfield has been the Federal Aviation Program manager for the past seven years and has significantly contributed to the success of the Nevada Program by forming a true partnership with his contractor counterparts who make up the one-team, one-mission attitude of aviation professionals who represent this program.

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Tim Rourke (in yellow) receives his award.

Aviation Safety Professional Winner– Timothy Rourke

This award recognizes the best Aviation Professional in an aviation safety position. Tim Rourke has served as the Aviation Section Safety Officer for the past 10 years. Among Rourke’s many contributions to the foundations of aviation safety were his efforts to achieve the Stage III certification for the International Standards for Business Aircraft standards, which are the aviation industry's equivalent of ISO 9001 standards for Aviation Safety Program management.

Aviation Professional/Operational Support Winner – Jessica Thomason

This award is presented to the best Aviation Professional in an operational or support position. Jessica Thomason has served as the Senior Emergency Response and Operations Specialist for the past 12 years and has simply done an outstanding job of administering the operational and reporting requirements for this program that have been consistently recognized as a model for other DOE operations.

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Jessica Thomason

“This tremendous accomplishment signifies a total-team achievement, which recognizes each aspect of NNSS’ Aviation Program and the professionals who work tirelessly every day. They ensure that the program’s stewardship remains in a band of excellence that is among the best of the best,” said Jim Holt, president of National Security Technologies, a contractor that manages and operates the NNSS.

“Such an accomplishment is rare in the aviation industry and is also something that does not come easy. Aviation is an industry that entrusts the lives of people in their work, and this trust demands a level of technical expertise, skills and abilities that must be applied in the most professional manner. We are all exceptionally proud and gratified that the NNSS has this team of dedicated professionals who serve with this level of excellence and provide critical aviation support to our national security mission in a vigilant and diligent manner,” said Steve Lawrence, manager of the Nevada Field Office.

Winners in all categories are automatically submitted for consideration at the annual General Services Administration (GSA) Federal-level Aviation Program Awards competition.