ARL supports safety symposium hosted by the Smithsonian Institution

April 28, 2015

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • Symposium on Innovative Planning to Eliminate Hazards and Reduce Risks to Workers featured a panel of safety and occupational health professionals from various federal agencies throughout the Washington, D.C. area
  • Primary focus for the event was a National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health initiative called Prevention through Design
  • ARL demonstrated how a collaborative effort produces a safer and many times more cost effective project with early involvement and innovative planning

The Smithsonian Institution recently hosted a symposium entitled 'Innovative Planning to Eliminate Hazards and Reduce Risks to Workers' at the National Museum of the American Indian, Rasmussen Theater located in Washington, D.C.

The symposium featured a panel of safety and occupational health professionals who shared their experiences with the application of hazard elimination and risk minimization methods in the design of work facilities, processes and equipment.

The event was attended by about 150 representatives from several federal agencies in the Washington, D.C. region to include the U.S. Postal Service, National Research Council, Architect of the Capitol, JFK Center for the Performing Arts (Kennedy Center), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of State, U.S. Secret Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Army Research Laboratory. ARL professionals – Robb Altenburg from ARL's safety office, and Kevin Agan, a mechanical engineer from the Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate, were among the panel members.

The primary focus for the event was a National Institutes of Occupational Safety and Health initiative called Prevention through Design. This initiative focuses on the preproject/preprocess planning that is performed in an attempt to reduce risk before the project or process beings.

"Anticipating and designing out hazards in tools, equipment, processes, materials, structures and the organization of work is the most effective way to prevent occupational injuries, illnesses and fatalities," said Jonathan Bach, coordinator for Prevention through Design, NIOSH. "This is Prevention through Design, or PtD. Yet PtD is not just a 'safety program.' Proof of that was the high attendance at the symposium by designers and users – architectural, engineering and facilities professionals. PtD is a management-driven team effort to get the mission done, while sending everyone home safely at the end of the day. Mr. Altenburg and Mr. Agan advocated and displayed this teamwork strongly."

Altenburg, who is a former employee of the Smithsonian Institution, was invited to talk about how the principles of Prevention through Design are applied to the work and research conducted at ARL.

"The focus of my presentation was on incorporating the principles into small scale and research projects. I described the scope and nature of research and small scale projects at ARL – explaining that the research our organization undertakes can be long-term research projects lasting years, while others are fast-paced, short life span projects," said Altenburg. "Each research project undergoes a risk assessment, and if there is risk associated with the research project, we then begin to employ the principles of Prevention through Design to mitigate that risk to its lowest level."

Altenburg said the principles include the total elimination/reduction of risk, substitution for less hazardous substances, processes or machinery, safety devices, early warning systems, administrative controls or work rules and personal protective equipment.

Altenburg said that his talk centered on the successful work Aberdeen Proving Ground's Infrastructure Management Branch did with SLAD during the recent Ballistic Testing of the M109A7 High Voltage Components and how the application of the Prevention through Design principles significantly contributed to the success of that project. "I see safety's role as a key partner to the success of the project," said Altenburg.

Agan spoke about the importance of the partnership between safety and engineering and articulated from an engineer's perspective how this partnership with safety helped contribute to the overall success of his project.

"A few months before this test was executed, we realized we had some unresolved risks that were a result of damaging high-volt hardware while it was energized. Mainly, how do we execute without creating a hazard on the test site, how do we approach and inspect HV hardware once it's been damaged, and how do we make this hardware safe for follow-on inspections?" asked Agan. "Robb and his team came on board, and working as a team with the test designers and execution personnel, helped us identify the risks and jointly developed the methods needed to safely execute the test. Without the cooperation between the safety office and the test personnel, this test could not have occurred."

During the panel discussions, Agan mentioned that safety offices in general have a reputation among the engineering and test communities for shutting down activities without working with the people they obstruct to find solutions.

"Robb and his team did the opposite, they came on board as a partner of the effort and recommended solutions to the risks they identified," said Agan. "The key to the successful execution of this activity was safety working as a partner to provide solutions, and, as I mentioned at the panel, not just provide obstructions based on risk identification."

Richard Wright, director for the Office of Safety, Health and Environmental Management at the Smithsonian Institution, said they were thrilled to share the symposium with other agencies and other publics who value worker protection.

"The symposium's strong message was the prevention of worker injury through early involvement of hazard elimination and risk reduction techniques. A key component of Prevention through Design is the application of hazard elimination early in the planning process," said Wright. "Robb and Kevin were able to demonstrate how effective the methods were and the value of not just injury prevention, but also how a collaborative effort produces a safer and many times more cost effective project with early involvement and innovative planning."


Last Update / Reviewed: April 28, 2015