An overview of the Operational Excellence Initiative

July 11, 2022

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


Since the lab-wide safety stand-down in May, there have been multiple discussions at senior leadership, organizational, and group/project levels to understand the safety issues at the lab and also to get your feedback.

At the June 9 lab-wide town hall, I talked about the common themes that have surfaced from these discussions, as well as some actions that were already underway to address immediate areas of focus. I also introduced the Operational Excellence (OPEX) initiative, a longer-term effort to improve our operational and safety culture at a systemic and institutional level. 

My update today will focus on the OPEX initiative, which I am leading with support from Craig Ferguson. Many of you may remember Craig as the associate lab director of the former Infrastructure & Safety Directorate at SLAC. After his most recent appointment as deputy director for operations and chief operating officer at Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, he has returned to SLAC to consult on the OPEX initiative.

Following recent safety discussions, one of the first actions we identified was to put some immediate local and institutional “compensatory” measures in place where more permanent improvements would take some time to implement. In many cases, this involves adding more “eyes” to work planning and activities, such as engaging subject matter experts in LCLS when reviewing work activities or requiring additional Accelerator Directorate and Radiation Protection approvals to changes made to accelerator/radiation system configurations. In other cases, we’ve engaged outside vendors (e.g. to perform crane inspections and maintenance) or conducted focused reviews of current work activities (e.g. to ensure Integrated Safety Management principles are incorporated into work planning).

Now, we are developing medium-term and enduring actions that address those gaps as well as the common themes of your feedback and the underlying causes of our injuries and operational events.

Given the broad and deeply-ingrained nature of some of our systemic issues, it will take time to develop effective and lasting solutions. Outcomes we are working to achieve include better planning of our work and anticipation of associated risks, providing clearer work expectations and priorities, and sustainably managing workloads.  

A key aspect to this work is the participation of people from across the lab and at all levels. At the highest level, SLAC’s senior management team is accountable for the safety of our people, and we are committed to engaging all levels of staff and management to develop workable, sustainable solutions. Together, we want to strengthen our safety fundamentals and incorporate Human Performance Improvement principles into our work. We also want to foster an engaged and inclusive culture at all levels, which requires providing a psychologically safe and respectful work environment.  

I want to emphasize here that OPEX is not just about improving safety; it’s a broad and long-term initiative to strengthen how we operate across the lab by improving how we do things today and better preparing ourselves for the opportunities ahead. The work we do in enhancing our processes, structures and culture will provide enduring, systemic benefits across the lab.

I’ll be publishing periodic updates on SLAC Today about the progress of OPEX and other safety-related initiatives. I welcome feedback and ideas, and encourage you to reach out with any concerns you may have - as a reminder, ES&H recently published a helpful article showing the various avenues through which employees can voice concerns. Please feel free to reach out to me directly also, as my door is always open.