At Sphera, we’re always focused on learning—and this is especially true when it involves risk mitigation.
That’s why, for Sphera’s inaugural Safety Day, Spherions from the Chicago office visited Fermilab, the particle physics and accelerator laboratory in nearby Batavia, Illinois, while colleagues from other offices participated in a host of other safety-related endeavors around the globe.
Besides being known for its breakthrough research in areas such as quarks, neutrinos, dark matter and dark energy, Fermilab, which is a U.S. Energy Department laboratory, has a world-renown history of innovations—even in some surprising areas.
In 1990, for instance, Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist from CERN, the European laboratory for particle physics, believed there must be a faster, more efficient way to transmit physics data. The solution he developed was a computer code called “protocols” that allows in-network computers to connect with each other without having to worry about login or database compatibility issues. But the question was: How could he make it work out-of-network as well?
A short while after writing the code, the head of Fermilab’s online systems department met Berners-Lee at a conference and invited him to visit the lab in 1991. At the time of his visit, there was a conference taking place that focused on hypertext, which is now commonly known as a link. After discovering the missing link if you will to his problem, Berners-Lee was ready to make a connection, according to a 1996 article that appeared in FermiNews, Fermilab’s newsletter. (Hats off, by the way, to those of you who spotted that sentence was linked to a link.)
A year later, Berners-Lee returned to Fermilab to finish the job when the first one-click link was established between Fermilab’s central computers and CERN’s servers.
Today, Berners-Lee is the director of the World Wide Web consortium, and the power of his brainchild, the web, sometimes gets taken for granted, especially by those who are too young to remember a time when there was no internet. But the net clearly is an invaluable tool that connects businesses to consumers, users to users and businesses to businesses. It also acts as the perfect tool for enhancing risk mitigation efforts.
Since that historic first connection nearly 30 years ago, the internet has obviously become the go-to communication hub for the world as well as the portal for sharing information and multimedia. Coincidentally, the web has also transformed into an invaluable tool for facilitating Integrated Risk Management where interconnectivity, access to information and analytics create the perfect platform for implementing software that harnesses and uses that deluge of data to create prescriptive and predictive risk mitigation strategies for workplace safety.
A Safe Place
Speaking of workplace safety, it’s clear as you walk the halls of Fermilab’s Wilson Hall, which is named after its first director, R.R. Wilson, that safety is a priority. The day Sphera visited, safety signs were omnipresent with instructions such as: “Safety is your responsibility. Accelerator division has worked 679 days without a lost time injury. The best previous record was 873 days. Do your part to help make a new record.” We also passed a sign explaining what all the different safety symbols mean: “Take 5ive: Pay attention to signs at Fermilab. They inform and remind us of potential hazardous areas, situations and materials,” including symbols for toxic materials, explosives and oxidizers.
But beyond the signage, we were also impressed by something—or many somethings—hanging on a wall in the lab behind locked glass cases. The key to operating something as complex as a particle accelerator takes training to ensure safety, but it also takes a lot of keys—dozens of color-coded keys actually. Only certain workers have access to certain keys based on training completion and authorization, which helps ensure the proper and safe operation of the equipment.
Fermilab also relies on an Operational Readiness Clearance, or ORC, approach to safety that applies to all experiments, tests, and research and development activities. “It is a formal ES&H review that utilizes a group of subject matter experts (SMEs), the ORC Committee, to review constructed equipment or systems that have the potential to cause harm to personnel, property or the environment. The ORC must be completed and approved prior to the commencement of operations.”
Such a commitment to safety is truly speaking our language—as is Fermilab’s commitment to sustainability with its 2,500 acres of restored prairie and woodlands, lakes and wetlands where bison and coyotes roam and red-tailed hawks and bobolinks flap their wings above the land.
As Enrico Fermi, the famed physicist whom the accelerator laboratory is named after, once said: “There are two possible outcomes: If the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.”
Having toured Fermilab, we can safely say that a measurement has been made and that, in itself, is quite a discovery.
A Safety Day Picture Says a Thousand Words
Below you’ll find some pictures from how other Sphera offices celebrated Safety Day. While our next Safety Day won’t take place till late 2018, please remember that, at leading companies, every day is safety day.
In Denver, Spherions toured Xcel Energy’s Cherokee Station where the group learned about the “journey to zero incidents” culture at Xcel.
In Houston, colleagues took a CPR class from the American Red Cross.
In San Ramon, California, colleagues participated in a web-based refinery safety discussion with Island Energy in Hawaii.
In Bangalore, India, Spherions participated in a roadside awareness program conducted by regional transport authorities.
In Toronto, Spherions took tours of either the local Toyota plant, pictured, or the Redpath Sugar Refinery to learn about safety best practices.
And in Warwick, United Kingdom, Sphera colleagues got to participate in safety training presentations and demonstrations from ADL Associates.