ATLANTA (AP) — Nuclear builder CB&I will avoid a fine over accusations that an employee was fired after raising safety concerns, and instead will take steps to encourage workers to speak up.
The terms were outlined in a settlement reached this week with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
The agreement resolves two violations against Shaw Nuclear Services, which was purchased in February by CB&I. Federal authorities accused Shaw of firing a quality assurance supervisor in 2011 after the supervisor raised concerns that potentially faulty metal bars might have been headed to a nuclear fuel facility in New Mexico. The NRC initially proposed a $36,400 fine as punishment for two violations of rules that ban retaliation against nuclear industry workers who raise quality or safety concerns.
NRC officials separately cited Shaw for creating an environment at a Lake Charles, La., manufacturing plant where the agency said workers feared raising quality control concerns. That facility manufactures parts for nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina.
The incidents predate CB&I's purchase of Shaw.
"Since the acquisition of Shaw in February, CB&I has taken action and will continue to implement new steps to foster and promote a healthy nuclear safety culture, where all employees feel open to identify issues and express concerns," company spokeswoman Gentry Brann said in a statement.
Federal officials dropped the proposed fine against CB&I, an energy infrastructure firm, in return for multiple commitments from the company, including a promise to review the safety culture of all its nuclear industry facilities and create a service where employees can anonymously report concerns.
"We believe the broad, comprehensive corrective actions (CB&I) has agreed to in the mediation process will result in greater improvements in public safety than we could have achieved through our traditional enforcement process," said Roy Zimmerman, director of NRC's Office of Enforcement, in a statement.
The deal also requires the company CEO to send all employees a message in writing summarizing the settlement and the firm's strategy for improving its safety culture and acknowledging "that efforts to date have not been fully effective," according to the terms of the agreement.
CB&I agreed to review and alter its policies and training programs to reinforce that workers cannot be lawfully punished for raising quality or safety issues. The deal also forces CB&I to create an executive board that will review proposed punishments against employees to make sure those punishments do not violate whistleblower protections.
The settlement does not affect other probes by the NRC's Office of Investigations, which is examining whether workers at the Louisiana factory improperly entered the identification codes for other employees when documenting who performed welds. The NRC said in the agreement that it may show leniency for similar violations that happened before or while the company was taking steps to fix the root problems.
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