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Cultivating safety culture at Sandia

National Safety Council names Christopher Quinn-Vawter a Rising Star of Safety, Class of 2022

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SAFETY SUCCESS — Sandia industrial hygienist Christopher Quinn-Vawter was recently recognized as a Rising Star of Safety by the National Safety Council for demonstrating leadership and fostering a strong culture of safety through several initiatives at the Labs. (Photo by Craig Fritz)

Safety isn’t just an idea, initiative or program. Safety is a culture, according to Christopher Quinn-Vawter, a Sandia industrial hygienist in the Environment, Safety & Health division and National Safety Council Rising Star of Safety, Class of 2022.

Chris was recently recognized by the council for his demonstrated leadership, safety initiative success, safety culture engagement and personal ethics in promoting safety in Sandia business operations.

“A safety program checks a regulatory box spelling out the policies and procedures to comply with regulations or help guide workers in basic requirements,” Chris said. “A safety culture is about workers taking an active role in their safety and understanding existing or emerging hazards associated with their activities. It’s an important distinction, and our work at Sandia incorporates both.”

Chris demonstrated his leadership during a 2021 national security project to recover test components that would provide valuable forensic information. There were numerous potential safety hazards associated with the recovery, and Chris led the team’s assessment of site conditions following the test. He developed mitigation measures for a wide range of chemical, respiratory and other operational hazards and implemented controls to ensure the team’s safety.

Chris also showed leadership while guiding a successful safety initiative pilot. As the industrial hygiene lead for the Smart Labs initiative to identify efficiencies for local exhaust ventilation systems, Chris implemented the Laboratory Ventilation Risk Assessment tool to find hazards and associated risk in lab spaces, including 91 laboratory fume hoods.

“The new Smart Labs initiative will enable Sandia to design and manage our laboratory ventilation systems much more efficiently and effectively,” said Chris. “It’s a leadership-supported project that will significantly improve safety for hundreds of Sandia employees and contractors.”

Through this initiative, Chris and his team identified in a single building several fume hoods for replacement and numerous unused ventilation systems that could be capped to reduce system flow. “We were able to optimize ventilation controls that enhance safety for workers during daily operations while saving energy,” he said. “We hope to expand this process to the rest of Sandia’s campus soon.”

Chris’ expertise in exhaust ventilation systems enables him to provide his peers with technical support in evaluating old systems and identifying design criteria for new systems. Consequently, he has established close relationships with the facility engineering teams he supports and continues to build a culture of trust throughout Sandia.

“Honestly, being nominated for this award by my ES&H peers means as much to me as the award itself,” Chris said. “My nomination signifies Sandia’s awareness of and commitment to workforce and personal safety and its support of those working on our programs’ front lines.”

Since 2010, the National Safety Council has honored the next generation of safety professionals through the Rising Stars of Safety award. Rising Stars are under age 40, provide safety leadership in their organization and are dedicated to continuous improvement in safety.

“These 39 women and men hail from 31 states and eight countries, making this year’s class of Rising Stars NSC’s most diverse yet,” said Lorraine M. Martin, National Safety Council president and CEO. “Each has demonstrated enthusiasm, skills and leadership that will undoubtedly inspire other safety leaders and colleagues. They exhibit a commitment to doing their part in ensuring people live their best lives, free of preventable injury and death.”

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