Local 1-689 Representatives Successfully Push for Improved Safety Culture

Through actions like stop work orders, demands for information and diligent monitoring of contractors’ adherence to established health and safety provisions, the seven Local 1-689 health and safety reps. are improving the safety culture at the cleanup site of the former Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio.

Normally, the health and safety reps. examine problem reports to detect re-occurring safety issues, but they decided they wanted to take it even further and at a January 2021 meeting with Fluor BWXT Portsmouth health and safety management successfully requested notification of any incident that occurs, no matter how small, said Local 1-689 lead health and safety rep. Jason Knauff.

Knauff said the reps. initiated the change so they can spot health and safety problems and patterns before they develop into major situations that can injure or kill others.

The health and safety reps. are also helping the members and managers change how they view responsibility for health and safety incidents, Knauff said. Instead of an “it’s-the-workers’-fault” mentality, he said they understand other factors are involved, such as workplace hazards that have not been addressed.

Another example of how the Local 1-689 health and safety reps. are installing a better safety culture at the Portsmouth site is their work with Fluor management to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on Covid-19.

This included pushing the contractor to replace gaiters it had purchased to cover employees’ faces because they did not meet CDC guidelines.

This diligence has helped keep the number of positive virus cases from spiking.

“No one has contracted Covid-19 from exposure at our site,” said Local 1-689 President John Knauff. “Our union health and safety reps. are preventing the plant from becoming a super spreader site that harms the surrounding communities.” 

Photo courtesy of Dept. of Energy

Stop work order

Building a pro-active safety culture is a constant process. Knauff told of a November 2019 incident where members worked with the health and safety reps. to use the power of a stop work order when managers insisted on proceeding with an unsafe job.

A bolt loosened inside a High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) unit—used to keep workers protected from exposure to hydrogen fluoride (HF)—and it blew out the side of the fan shroud. Jason Knauff said no one was hurt, and workers removed the unit from service. Management persisted in saying it was an isolated incident and the other HEPA units were fine, even though no one knew if they all had been examined. Health and safety rep. Alex Watts issued an official stop work order, contingent on the findings from the damaged HEPA unit and the inspection of the remaining units.

“Had it not been for the persistence of the workers and the involvement of the safety reps, there was potential for someone to be seriously hurt had this incident happened again when someone was nearby,” said Lou Thompson, former lead health and safety rep.

Local 1-689 members and health and safety reps. are also improving labor-management relations through their safety activism.

“Every day we are making improvements and working toward the goal of having a better safety environment and relationship,” Jason Knauff said.

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