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Facility chiefs at Tooele plant urged to hone people skills

Operations at the Army's Tooele Chemical Demilitarization Facility are safe, but managers need to work on their people skills, an independent study concluded.

The 113-page study was done by consultants hired by the Utah Citizens' Advisory Commission on Chemical Weapons Demilitarization.The commission spent $129,065 in state funds to get an independent analysis of safety and management concerns raised by some former employees at the plant.

The generally favorable results were reassuring, said Steve Erickson, a member of the commission and longtime critic of the incineration program.

Lisa Puchner, director of Families Against Incinerator Risk, said the report's findings showed that aggressive oversight by her group and others is paying off.

While safety and management may be improving, remaining problems were "smoothed over" in the presentation, she said.

She described it as a "touchy, feely, pat-on-the-back night" for EG&G Defense Materials, the company hired by the Army to operate its incinerator.

The report, prepared by IHI Environmental and The Ralston Consulting Group, concluded:

"It is our opinion that the `prospects for continued safe operation' of (the plant) are presently very good and that these prospects should improve further as operational experience is gained and existing deficiencies in management systems are resolved. While there have been highly publicized problems and occurrences at (the plant), these have been very minor with respect to both public and worker safety."

The facility "ranks high in safety awareness and performance," said Donald E. Marano, president of IHI Environmental.

Some former employees previously complained of a lack of "safety culture" at the facility.

The consultants said it is common for organizations to mature and change during time.

The report said maintaining and improving the safety culture would depend upon management continuing to make progress in workplace morale, management interaction and organizational cooperation and interpersonal communication.

One cause of morale problems was EG&G's inconsistent pattern of rewarding and advancing employees, the report said.

Henry T. Silvestri, president and general manager at EG&G, said steps are being taken to resolve the employee-review and compensation concerns.

Also contributing to poor morale was the steady stream of criticism that has been directed at the facility, said the consultants.

Another management problem identified by the consultants was excessive Army oversight of EG&G's activities.