Looking back on three decades of ES&H work

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, associate head of the ES&H section, wrote this week’s column.

On May 18, after working nearly 32 years in Fermilab’s ES&H Section, I will retire. Before I joined Fermilab, I studied environmental engineering at Northwestern University and worked at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Through these experiences I gained a fair knowledge of the ES&H requirements facing the private sector.

After I got here, I discovered that the government prefers the rules and regulations for its own employees and contractors to have a bit more breadth and depth. While sometimes there might be too much paperwork, we also have seen good results coming out of this approach. Hazards such as laser light, oxygen deficiency and electricity are well controlled, in part because they receive lots of attention. I was fortunate to have worked with Peter Mazur in developing Fermilab’s original risk-based Oxygen Deficiency Hazards program. It is especially gratifying for me that our approach has stood the test of time and that Fermilab’s ODH program has even been adopted by several other accelerator facilities.

During the past decade, our injury rates have fallen dramatically. I think this is due in large part to the interest and involvement of our managers and supervisors who care about the well-being of all people at Fermilab. Today, it’s the common hazards that hurt people at our laboratory the most. Everyday injuries such as cuts, falls and overexertion are the bane of accident prevention at Fermilab, as they are elsewhere. To address this, we are constantly looking for more creative ways to get everybody at the laboratory to think about safety before they start a job. The Take Five campaign, the yellow message boards at the site entrances and the Safety Tip columns in Fermilab Today that I’ve written are just some examples.

Overall, I think Fermilab runs well and has a good ES&H program. This place is primarily managed by physicists, who are a decidedly objective lot, and their reasonableness permeates this organization. There is a shared understanding of what needs to be done to keep the place going. From the various departments to the Fermi Site Office, I have always encountered a spirit of teamwork and cooperative get-it-done attitude. These are the kinds of things that contribute to the Fermilab culture and have made it an easy choice for me to remain working here for all these years.

I will miss the people here. In fact, I may just have to come back every so often to let folks know how I’m doing and what it’s like “on the other side.” And I can guarantee you that I will think about Fermilab every time I reject a safety shortcut with a home project.