Berkeley Lab’s Environment, Health and Safety Division supports the Lab’s scientific mission by helping protect workers at the Lab and providing technical expertise, services, and integrated safety management in support of research. EHS Division Director Maria Nappi sat down with Elements to discuss what division projects will impact the Lab in 2024.


What are the major projects of the Environment, Health, and Safety Division for 2024, and how are you addressing the challenges that come from these projects?

There are several things that I think are important. One is the CCRF, which is the central chemical receiving facility that we are working on constructing with the PIM and Facilities divisions. The facility is important to the Lab because it’s how we properly receive and manage every chemical container that arrives on-site. Right now, we have a temporary facility, but the new facility will be adjacent to where packages arrive at Building 69, and once completed, we can reclaim the temporary facility for its intended uses.

The goal is to have the new facility up and running by year’s end. We have funding and a preliminary design and have met with our partners in the PIM and Facilities divisions, so we’ve now entered the detailed design phase.

We’re also creating some integrated safety management (ISM) performance tools for the divisions that will be important for everyone to know about.

We’re developing a self-assessment line of inquiry for the divisions to use in the periodic ISM reviews they are required to do. These self-assessments will be complementary to the work the Office of Institutional Assurance and Integrity (OIAI) does, and we’re collaborating with the divisions on the implementation of these self-assessments for their technical programs.

We’ve already begun interviewing division safety coordinators, conducted focus groups, and surveyed several hundred people at the Lab to see how and where we can improve. This is how we came to realize that work, planning, and control (WPC), a process that’s required by the DOE, is something that people are struggling with. It’s all interrelated in carrying out integrated safety management, and it’s really an attempt to continuously improve on WPC and Activity Manager, which is the tool used to carry out the process.

WPC is here to stay. In 2024, our plan is to amp it up, so to speak, to take the feedback we received from the focus groups and our customers and look outside the Lab at best practices. With that feedback, we plan to make changes to WPC to simplify it and make it more useful and agile for the Lab’s researchers.


How does EHS collaborate with research on large and small projects?

EHS is an integral part of planning for most Lab projects. Our subject matter experts (SMEs) cover all aspects of safety, such as electrical safety, environmental safety, radiation safety, and industrial safety. They also provide expertise, guidance, and support for chemical, biological, and personnel safety. Our Waste Services Group collects, catalogs, and properly disposes of radioactive, hazardous, and mixed wastes, while our Health Services group is dedicated to the health of everyone at the Lab.

Depending on the project, appropriate areas of EHS will engage early to ensure seamless implementation. On large projects, we provide guidance, specify requirements for contracts, and give follow-on support for each phase up to and including daily construction support and safety oversight. For small projects, our electrical safety folks support new research instrument installations and help remove old or outdated equipment.

In addition to what we already do to support the Lab, we’re also creating a high-level dashboard that will provide science and operations division line managers access to real-time comprehensive information on their division’s ISM performance. The target for completion is the fiscal year fourth quarter.

So, basically, we are here to help everyone be successful safely. 


Please tell us a little bit about yourself. What have been your biggest challenges?

I’ve been at the Lab for almost 4 years. I think the biggest challenge I’ve encountered was coming to the Lab at the height of COVID, shortly after the state of California basically shut down. There was actually a question of whether or not they were going to let me travel here from Los Alamos.

I came to the Lab having met very few people in my division because everybody was working remotely at the time and preoccupied with COVID and the upkeep of the Laboratory. That was probably my biggest challenge because I’m a people person. Yes, give me a technical task and put me in a corner. I’ll do it. I love that. But if that’s not what I’m charged with, I prefer to be around people – working with people and helping people be successful. Because when they’re successful, I feel that I’m successful.

What I’ve learned about people at the Lab is that we have a fairly good safety culture. Safety culture is a big priority at DOE. Secretary Jennifer Granholm has clearly stressed the importance of building safety culture into our DNA. [Watch Secretary Granholm’s message on DOE Safety Culture Expectations from August 2021]. We have a lot of independent thinkers at the Lab, and I believe the people who work here love this place and what they do, and they’re very proud of our collective performance as a laboratory and our connection to the university.  (More information on DOE’s Safety Culture can be found here.)


What do you enjoy doing when you’re not heading the EHS Division? What would you like people to know about you?

I’m a rower, and I row four to five times a week. There are a few others here at the Lab that I row with, and it’s a wonderful way to communicate with people that I work with in a setting outside the Lab. I enjoy hiking and cooking, and anything associated with water. Also, I’m a first-generation Italian-American. My parents were immigrants. My mother’s Sicilian, and my father’s from Genoa, and I’m bilingual, although I have little opportunity to practice my native tongue, so I’m concerned that I’m losing my Italian.