Improving accountability, assurance, and Work Planning & Control

October 25, 2022

By Marc Clay, Interim Deputy Lab Director for Operations & Chief Operating Officer


In July, I gave an overview of the Operational Excellence Initiative - now called the Operational Excellence (OpEx) Improvement Project - on SLAC Today, which was followed in September by a joint memo with Lab Director Chi-Chang Kao that covered some of the changes and improvements made across various organizations. 

At the heart of OpEx is the idea that how we do our work is just as important as the work we do. Based on feedback received from all of you and by spending the last months examining how we conduct our work, we have identified a number of tasks that will help improve our operational excellence and have assigned a task manager to each. These tasks fall into three areas in which to focus our improvements: accountability, Work Planning & Control (WPC), and assurance.

Mechanisms to hold ourselves and each other accountable

Many of you may have heard Lab Director Chi-Chang Kao talking at directorate meetings and at the last town hall about the responsibilities we each have - as senior leadership, as managers, and as staff - to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment for all. Since the May safety stand-down, SLAC leadership has heard a lot of excellent feedback from employees about what’s working, what could be improved, and how we can better support your work. It’s now the responsibility of the senior management team and the division and directorate leadership teams to address this feedback - in particular, by setting clear priorities for groups to allow better management of workloads. As these activities progress, it’s important that you continue to provide feedback to help identify where things are improving and where we may need more focus.

The Management Walk Around (MWA) program was revamped and then reintroduced to managers last month. An online tool was developed to make it easier to enter observations from a computer or mobile device, and all supervisors have been tasked with performing a MWA once a week for non-administrative work and once a quarter for administrative work. The MWA program creates opportunities for supervisors to spend time in work areas, where they can observe the environment and ongoing activities first-hand and have in-situ conversations that wouldn’t naturally arise in meetings or through online interactions. By entering observations into a central tool, we are able to track trends and identify best practices that can be shared across organizations. In the last couple of months, over 300 MWAs have been logged into the system.

Continuous improvement and integration of WPC

WPC is a standardized process used at SLAC to approach any kind of work. It sets out steps that are aligned with fundamental safety principles, including understanding the scope of work, identifying qualified workers, evaluating and controlling hazards, communicating those hazards and controls to everyone performing the work, and then authorizing and coordinating the “release” of the work to be performed. Collectively, these steps are part of SLAC’s Integrated Safety and Environmental Management System (ISEMS). 

SLAC directorates that perform non-administrative activities recently completed self-assessments of their respective work practices to validate these steps were in place and made necessary adjustments to ensure work could be safely performed. Accelerator and radiation safety work and configuration control processes and approvals were also evaluated and improved. A cross-organizational team is currently developing a simple pre-job readiness process and tool that helps to ensure the WPC steps have been considered and that gaps are corrected as necessary immediately before potentially hazardous activities commence.  

When an off-normal incident occurs during work activities, the investigation that follows will explore how WPC was applied, in order to identify improvements to be made and learnings to implement in the future. To ensure effective reporting and investigation of incidents, a new two-hour course called “Basic Incident Reporting and Investigation for Practitioners” has been developed for Environment, Safety & Health (ESH) division leadership, ESH coordinators, duty officers, and representatives from line organizations. The course provides practical instruction for reporting, investigating, performing causal analysis, and developing improvement actions following incidents. To date, 54 employees have completed the class. Supervisors who feel they would benefit from the training are welcome to register their interest.

Assurance: Making sure we stay on track and improve what we do

To ensure we are delivering on our commitment to a safe and respectful workplace and making progress toward our OpEx goals, we need to have a robust approach for self-assessing the way we work, learning from our incidents, sustainably improving how we do things, and monitoring our progress.

In addition to completing the self-assessments noted above, organizations also reviewed and strengthened their processes for ensuring that all accelerator and radiation-generating device (RGD) operations were being performed in accordance with all authorization requirements. Chi-Chang has also chartered a team to independently evaluate whether our work processes are adequately and effectively aligned with the fundamental principles of ISEMS.  

Finally, we have developed a dashboard to monitor the status of all identified issues and their corrective actions stored in our SLAC Issues and Improvement Management System (SIIMS). This centralized view allowed each directorate to collectively work on resolving over 100 issues that had been in the system for a year or more.

We will be bringing you updates each month on how the OpEx project is progressing. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to your directorate line management or me with any questions or to provide feedback.