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Volume 46 | Issue 1 | January 2004


photo: Robert Meyer
Robert Meyer, acting deputy center director, gave opening remarks for Make Dryden Safer Days 2004. This year's event focused on giving employees a chance to review safety practices in the context of recommendations made by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board.
NASA Photo / Tom Tschida

Safety remains job 1

Sarah Merlin
X-Press Assistant Editor

Amid a charged atmosphere of change and the inescapable feeling that it's a "new day" at NASA, Make Dryden Safer Days (MDS) 2004 went forward with a menu of offerings designed to provide Center employees with a broad context in which to reflect on safety and Dryden missions past and present.

MDS Program Manager Leslie Williams spearheaded a program format that spread training and "safety down days" over a two-week period. Individual sessions highlighted lessons learned from past Dryden mishaps, the impact of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB) report findings on Center activity and training opportunities for employees in all organizations.

Acting Deputy Center Director Bob Meyer opened MDS 2004 with remarks on Jan. 13 that stressed the importance of the human factor in all Center activity. He offered a preview of the safety program and its goals as they had evolved from the Agency-wide Safety and Mission Assurance (SMA) week held in December following the CAIB report's release.

"SMA week evidenced that employees were not familiar with past mishaps and lessons learned," Meyer said. The MDS program was one of several efforts designed to "evaluate the applicability of the CAIB report to Dryden activity."

"The goal is to provide (employees with) the culture, training and tools to do our job safely," he said.

In giving an overview of past mishaps such as those suffered in the Helios and X-43A projects, Meyer put special emphasis on the element of human experience in the research environment.

"It's the difference between the hugs and the high-fives in the control room" on successful projects "versus the atmosphere in there after, say, the Helios break-up," he said. For employees, the tragedy of such losses "can produce scarring that may never go away."

Meyer specified several areas of the work environment in which he said Dryden's administrators hoped to lead efforts at improvement. Among these were identifying and eliminating complacency, embracing dissent, eliminating barriers that threatened to stifle open communication and the free expression of opinions, and eradicating schedule pressure.

"We're asking employees to evaluate their behavior and see if it is consistent with the CAIB report findings," he said, adding that the overriding goal is to "bring unsafe behavior or practices to light" in the interest of improvement rather than looking for opportunities to expose individual weaknesses.

"This is our family," he concluded. "Our colleagues are our family. We want to do all we can to protect the Dryden family."

Meyer was followed at the podium by astronaut Jim Wetherbee, whose detailed presentation gave a further analysis of the human factor in risk assessment. Dryden pilot Dick Ewers introduced Wetherbee, saying the five-time Shuttle flight commander had "logged more time in space than any other American."

The 2004 Make Dryden Safer days were designed to give employees an opportunity to   reflect on the CAIB report findings and recommendations and evaluate those that might be applied to the Dryden workplace.

     "With the indispensable help from safety offices and great technical support - especially from (MDS Coordinator) Angie Heitmann," Williams said, "the safety down days accomplished that goal."