Personal Accountability Supports an Organization’s Safety Culture

Stephanie Morrow
Safety Culture Program Manager

Personal accountability is one of the traits of a positive safety culture as outlined in the NRC’s Safety Culture Policy Statement. It’s defined as “all individuals take personal responsibility for safety.” But what does that really mean “in the real world” of the day-to-day operations of an NRC licensee?

I recently had an “aha moment” about the important role each employee plays in an organization when I accompanied a family member to the emergency room.

I could immediately see how there are many employees beyond the doctors and nurses who have a direct impact on the quality of patient care. These employees ranged from the person who wipes down the surfaces we come in contact with, to reduce the transfer of germs and bacteria; to the individuals who ensure paperwork is accurate and maintained in a secure and private system of records; to the patient advocate who ensures you understand the information you need to make informed decisions. There are also employees who ensure you are physically safe by monitoring the facility and ensuring that individuals who enter the hospital have an appropriate reason for being there. In a hospital, some of these employees are volunteers who recognize the important role their hospital plays in their community.

So the “aha” moment was that it’s not just one group—like the managers or front line employees—who support an organization’s safety culture. Instead, it’s the combined efforts of all people in the organization supporting the safety mission.

To apply this to the NRC environment, engineers at a nuclear power plant support the mission and contribute to a positive safety culture by ensuring design documentations are up-to-date. Administrative staff supports the mission by ensuring those documents are properly formatted and filed in the organization’s record management system. Janitorial contractors support the mission by ensuring that facilities are safe and clean. Radiation control professionals support their organization’s safety mission by following procedures to ensure that radiation and radioactive materials are used safely.

Whatever one’s role, he or she impacts the health, safety and underlying culture of the organization. Personal accountability means that every member of the organization takes ownership for their job and appreciates the role they play in supporting the organization’s overall safety mission. When employees demonstrate personal accountability, they are helping to shape and maintain a positive safety culture in their organization.

And a positive safety culture means a safer environment for all of us.

NRC Science 101: Understanding Ionizing Radiation – It’s Not That Bohr-ing!

Harry Anagnostopoulos
Health Physicist

science_101_squeakychalkIn this post, we will be discussing ionizing radiation. But to do that, we first have to talk about radiation, in general, and then build up to the concept of ionization.

In previous NRC Science 101 posts, we’ve talked about the composition of an atom, including electrons, protons and neutrons. In 1913, physicist Niels Bohr made adjustments to an earlier model which imagined that the structure of an atom was similar to a solar system: electrons in circular orbits around a “sun” otherwise known as an atomic nucleus.

While modern atomic science has a more accurate understanding of the atom, Bohr’s model is still useful. It is easy to visualize and helps us to think about the relationship between electrons and energy. So, for the purposes of this post, let’s use Bohr’s atomic model.

Radiation is simply the transfer of energy through a medium. The medium can be anything: water, air or even the vacuum of outer-space. The transfer of energy can be carried out by particles or by electromagnetic waves.

Let’s conduct a small experiment. Imagine putting your face close to (but not touching) a bare 100-watt light bulb in a lamp. If you did this, and closed your eyes, could you still tell if the light was on? Could you feel the heat on your face, even though you are not touching the bulb?

Of course you could. That’s radiation! Light, heat, pressure waves in the air (sound), radio signals, and x-rays are all forms of radiation.

atom2As noted in prior NRC Science 101 posts, the core of an atom (the nucleus) is surrounded by orbiting electrons, like planets or comets around a sun. The number of electrons (each with one negative electric charge) usually equals the number of positive charges in the center (from an equal number of protons). These charges cancel out. However, if an orbiting electron is pushed out of its orbit (due to it absorbing energy from an outside source), the charges are now unequal.

The result? An “ion pair” has been formed. The creation of an “ion pair” is called . . . ionization.

Ionizing radiation is radiation with enough energy to create ion pairs in atoms. It is ionizing radiation that is of particular interest to the NRC because of its potential to cause health effects (as will be discussed in a future post).

cometearthTo help you visualize this, think again about Bohr’s model. Imagine a comet (standing in place of an electron) passing through our solar system. As the comet approaches the sun, it feels an intensifying push as light from the sun imparts more and more energy to the comet. Eventually, there is so much “push” that the comet either changes speed or changes direction. Now where will it go? Will it now be on course to strike a planet or will it veer out of our solar system? It’s exactly what could happen to an electron in the subatomic universe it occupies.

But this example is nothing compared to the bizarre realm of atomic physics where a solar system (an atom) might spit out a mini-version of itself, split into two, or where two twin comets (electrons) might appear out of nothing! And there’s more! However, you will have to wait until a later post.

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