Issue Date: November 17, 2008
Panel Chides NIST Brass On Safety
A blue ribbon commission has faulted management at NIST for failing to provide leadership at the agency to ensure a disciplined culture of safety. The commission was appointed by Secretary of Commerce Carlos M. Gutierrez after a plutonium spill and release at NIST’s Boulder, Colo., facility in June (C&EN, July 28, page 42). The accident caused serious plutonium exposure to researchers at the lab and released some of the radioactive material into the public water system. In its report, the commission concludes that safety has not been a core value at NIST and that safety was not integrated into its conduct of operations in a meaningful way. It says that NIST had not measured its safety protocols or performance against similar organizations and that the agency was plagued by a serious lack of resources for safety. In acknowledging the findings of the report, NIST Deputy Director Patrick D. Gallagher said safety improvements are already under way. These include greater authority by NIST-Boulder management over safety at its lab and appointment of a dedicated chief safety officer.
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