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From the Director: Stay the Course

At Tuesday's Safety and Security Briefing I took the opportunity to underscore some of the positive strides the lab has made to improve safe work practices. We as a lab have a long way to go, but we are headed in the right direction.

If I compare this year to last year, I can see the progress. At last year's security briefing, management talked about how safety excellence must be a core value at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. Last year I don't think everyone at the lab quite knew what that meant. Now we all understand that we as a lab must have the same high expectations for our safety performance as we do for our science performance.

Last year management talked about how important it was to thoroughly investigate near misses and accidents, to understand root causes and learn from any mistakes. This year I believe the message is permeating the lab that over-communication is much better than under-communication; please risk over-reporting rather than underreporting. Only by acknowledging and understanding mistakes can we make progress.

Last year's briefing discussed how important it is to have active and visible engagement by the entire management team, starting with me and going down to the first line supervisor, to keep safety in the forefront. Now we are actively working to make "plan it right or don't do it" the standard for the lab. You will have my full support, even in the event of conflicts with significant SLAC programmatic and schedule goals, to hold work until the planning is done, and done right.

As you all know, we aren't just working to fix safety—we are working to move the laboratory toward its future, and improved safety performance will be part of that. We are doing this by clarifying roles and responsibilities, then insisting on accountable behaviors throughout the laboratory. Effective, strong and accountable line management is key to ensuring a safe work environment and to all our future success.

So when we ask, "Are we making progress?," the answer is certainly yes. It's not necessary to choose mission or safety. The aim is a culture of mission and safety.

And we are making progress in another way. A few weeks ago a member of our staff made the following comments: "After the electrical accident, it was as if we lost control of the lab. In the last year, we have gotten our lab back." That is a wonderful sentiment and I hope you all at least partly feel that. We do have the lab back. We are heading in the right direction and we are making good progress. Keep it up!

—Persis Drell
SLAC Today, November 7, 2008