UPF: Safety in Design

Posted: February 11, 2013 - 3:05pm | Y-12 Report | Volume 9, Issue 2 | 2013

Safety is a fundamental requirement in the design of the Uranium Processing Facility.

Designing controls for uranium and other hazardous materials can be daunting. That's why the Uranium Processing Facility has a Safety-in-Design Integration Team.

Lynn Harkey, who leads SDIT, admits it is a challenge to balance competing requirements, but the payoffs are significant. “Safety is not an afterthought,” he stressed. “It's something we've been doing since the beginning.”

Safety is a fundamental requirement in the design of the Uranium Processing Facility, and integrating safety into design allows the incorporation of engineered controls, such as ventilation systems, which eliminate or reduce hazards to workers. These engineered controls are preferable to administrative controls, such as procedures, which are subject to human error.

To understand the difference between these controls, think of an automobile. A driver may fail to comply with an administrative control by forgetting to lock his car door before leaving his driveway; but an automatic lock, an engineered control, will still secure the car doors when the vehicle starts moving. Similarly, engineered controls at Y-12 — like a fume hood that's removing airborne contaminants in a laboratory — contain or reduce hazards simply by their design.

UPF's SDIT effort not only predates Harkey's tenure with the project but also predates the development of Department of Energy Standard 1189, Integration of Safety into the Design Process. In fact, several UPF staff members played a role in developing the standard that outlines the expectation that “safety issues are identified and addressed adequately early in the project design.”

Harkey refers to the team as “a significant step forward” in integrating safety as compared with projects five or 10 years ago. Gary Hagan from Environment, Safety and Health noted that the team approach allows development of the best composite design with the lowest risk to workers, the public and the environment.

Hagan explains that the process is much like the holistic approach your family physician might take. “Specialists want to treat what they know, but your family physician ensures the whole patient is addressed to reduce overall risk.” This analogy is applicable to the competing requirements of criticality safety, fire protection and industrial safety. Hagan elaborated, “The criticality safety personnel may be assuming that no water will be used if the material ignites, while the Fire Department says, 'If that catches on fire, we're going to want to put water on it.'” By getting all the disciplines working together, SDIT can facilitate and expedite mutually acceptable solutions, such as using an inerting system to protect against fire and avoid a criticality.

Hagan indicated that without this team, designers could be running from one specialist to the next because each discipline sees the process from its own perspective. Developing optimum and balanced solutions for complex issues from multiple stakeholders can be difficult and time-consuming. SDIT continues to focus on improving integration timeliness to ensure resolutions fully support UPF schedules.

“Lynn's style facilitates conversation, which is essential in achieving consensus among disparate and often deeply entrenched perspectives,” Hagan said. Under Harkey's leadership, SDIT encourages all disciplines to think outside the box.