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Regional News | Article published Saturday, May 3, 2003
DAVIS-BESSE
Workers donít see culture of safety
Plant has exhausting schedules, report says

By
BLADE STAFF WRITER


OAK HARBOR, Ohio - Workers at the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant are skeptical about FirstEnergy Corp.ís long-term commitment to safety, especially after the plant goes back into service and the NRCís presence eventually diminishes, according to a report by an industrial psychologist.

Although the utility generally recognizes that safety is a priority at Davis-Besse, it continues to fall short in drilling the need for it into the collective mind-set of its workers and its management running the plant, Dr. Sonja Haber, president of the New York firm Human Performance Analysis Corp., said.

She is an industrial psychologist that FirstEnergy brought in as a consultant to evaluate Davis-Besseís safety culture. The evaluation was performed by a six-member team that she headed.

In its summary, Dr. Haberís team cited concerns about FirstEnergy being able to "ensure the long-term promotion of a positive safety culture."

Her teamís much-anticipated report was released yesterday by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Jack Grobe, chairman of the NRC panel overseeing Davis-Besse, had little to say about the report. He said the NRC will discuss it in detail at an upcoming meeting that will include information being pulled together by the agencyís own seven-member team of workplace evaluators.

The NRC has demanded evidence of an improved safety culture before giving FirstEnergy authorization to restart Davis-Besse, but has been cryptic about what it wants.

Dr. Haber claims to have more than 25 years experience analyzing human performance at workplaces throughout North America and abroad, including training nuclear workers in former Soviet Union countries.

Davis-Besse is only the second U.S. nuclear plant to undergo this type of formal workplace scrutiny.

The first was the Millstone complex in Connecticut, where the agency had demanded changes in 1996 because it said it had learned of workers being intimidated and harassed.

Dr. Haberís report was based on a cross-section of on-site observations, record reviews, surveys, and interviews. The latter included 88 hour-long interviews with employees.

Few statistics were cited. Some of the more revealing statements were that:

w There is a widespread perception of "them versus us" within the organization, particularly among some senior managers with regard to station personnel.

w Workers believe senior management "has not acknowledged their accountability and responsibility" for the plantís severely corroded reactor head, the worst problem of its kind in U.S. nuclear history.

Acid that leaked from the reactor nearly burned a hole through the six-inch-thick device that holds back the reactorís enormous pressure.

"Staff point out that some of the managers directly involved in the event remain in the organization and have been reassigned to other sites and positions. The reassignments are perceived as indicating that the managers have not been held accountable by the organization," the report said.

w Exhausting work schedules could be counter-productive. Some workers have been assigned as many as six, 12-hour shifts a week for months - 72 hours a week.

Those type of hours are consistent with industry practices during a normal outage, but outages normally last a few weeks. This one will soon enter its 15th month. "The continuing long hours have the potential to lead to degraded safety performance," the report said.

w Midlevel supervisors arenít trusted enough to make tough calls. "Decision making in the organization is a very top-down process and is based upon the perception reported to the team by senior management that station managers donít know how to make decisions," the report said. It further noted that style inhibits lower-level managers from being as involved as they could.

w Employees continue to be frustrated by a lack of follow-through. "Most employees believe that it is the resolution of issues that has been a problem in the past and that, unless improvements in this area occur, the station may again experience an apathetic attitude towards reporting," the team said.

Richard Wilkins, FirstEnergy spokesman, said the company got what it wanted: An honest assessment of its workplace atmosphere.

"What we were not looking for was a report that gave us a pat on the head. We knew then and we know now that weíre not done in terms of addressing issues of safety culture," he said.

Overall, the company saw no major surprises and believes it is on the right track for making necessary improvements, he said.

Its latest management shuffling, announced April 25, was partly in response to Dr. Haberís report. Randy Fast, who had been Davis-Besseís plant manager, was named to the newly created position of director of organizational development to help oversee safety culture issues, Mr. Wilkins said.

Observers such as U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Cleveland) have said they are puzzled by the NRCís apparent lack of continuity between the safety culture review process at Millstone and Davis-Besse.

Paul Blanch, a former Millstone employee who brought forth some of the problems there, said he concluded after reading Dr. Haberís report that FirstEnergy hasnít "learned the lessons from Millstone yet."

Amy Ryder, Ohio Citizen Action spokesman, said Dr. Haberís report raises new questions about Davis-Besseís safety culture.

"She seemed to identify a pretty big gap between the leadership and the workers running the plant." Ms. Ryder said.

For earlier stories on Davis-Besse, go to www.toledoblade.com/davisbesse



More articles on this subject Ľ
FirstEnergy hedges on Davis-Besse restart 05/01/2003
Real risks at Besse hidden, activist says 05/01/2003
Treatment of ex-nuclear plant staffer questioned 04/29/2003
FirstEnergy restructures Davis-Besse management 04/26/2003
FirstEnergy blames whistleblower for safety woes 04/25/2003

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