Andy Cooper applied what he learned in the WIPP Leadership Academy to move up in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant organization, taking on positions requiring more responsibility.
Andy Cooper applied what he learned in the WIPP Leadership Academy to move up in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant organization, taking on positions requiring more responsibility.

An association recently named the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) as a recipient of the 2022 Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Outreach Award in recognition of the EM site’s pursuit of safety excellence and community outreach through its first-of-a-kind leadership academy.

Inaugurated in 2015, the WIPP Leadership Academy was established by Nuclear Waste Partnership (NWP), WIPP’s management and operations contractor, as a joint effort with New Mexico State University to provide the WIPP management team and employees with high potential with the knowledge and skills to effectively support the WIPP mission. To date, an estimated 450 employees have graduated from the academy with over 60% of the graduates assuming new roles or accepting management positions within the company.

The award is from the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association (VPPPA), which helps worksites advance safety and health goals. Working through cooperative efforts among labor, management, and government at DOE contractor sites, DOE’s VPP promotes improved safety and health performance through public recognition of outstanding programs.

Noting the academy’s successes, Sean Dunagan, NWP president and project manager, said, “I have heard of amazing stories from numerous graduates about how the program has not only changed their mindset, but provided them with the tools to make positive changes at work and home.”

The academy’s four-week program features a curriculum that includes such topics as nuclear safety culture, human performance improvement, communicating for leadership success, resolving workplace conflicts, time management, effective presentation techniques, and leadership styles and personality types. Topics involving WIPP operations include regulatory compliance, fire protection and engineering, transuranic waste handling and facility operations, work planning and maintenance, contractor and quality assurance, human and information resources, project management essentials, and emergency management procedures.

WIPP’s nomination and subsequent awarding of the VPP Outreach Award was a result of one of the academy’s graduating classes. Each graduating class chooses a topic or issue that best benefits and improves work at WIPP. One group, led by NWP employee Brenda Kirkes, decided to revitalize the effort of the VPP at WIPP with the goal of regaining VPP's Star Status for safety and health excellence.

“We were able to bring awareness to many safety functions at WIPP through events such as the safety fair, VPP pancake breakfast, and greeting at the gate,” Kirkes noted. “The VPP committee meetings created an open forum for safety issues to be discussed directly with management and traced issues through resolution.”

The academy graduates were successful. WIPP regained the VPP Star Status in 2020.

Kerri Usher, a member of the VPPPA Awards Committee, said the award recognizes those who achieve an outstanding level of outreach activity and seeks to share knowledge with others.

“This is truly an impressive and commendable accomplishment,” she said. “We believe you deserve credit and acknowledgement for placing such a high personal priority on the safety of everyone at your site.”

WIPP will be recognized at the VPPPA annual safety symposium, slated for Aug. 23-25, in Washington, D.C.