Buckets of Radioactive Material Found At Grand Canyon Museum: Safety Gone Wild?

For nearly two decades, Grand Canyon tourists, employees, and children passed by three buckets stored in the National Park’s museum collection building. Countless visitors learned Grand Canyon lore while tip-toeing past a radioactive time-bomb.

The five-gallon containers (found to be full of uranium ore) were stored next to a taxidermy exhibit for twenty-years, according to an NPR report. Hidden in plain sight, the uranium was discovered when a curious young man (and Geiger counter enthusiast) did a sweep of the area in March 2018.

Holy Plutonium! How did the radioactive material get there (and more importantly) how the hell did workers miss it?

Before you shake your head and cluck your safety-driven tongue, take a look around. Could your company have hidden safety issues? The Grand Canyon’s smoking hot discovery proves that some safety issues are overlooked simply because they’ve been around for so darned long. No one noticed the buckets, and no one asked. Until they did and the repercussions in terms of health and liability are still unknown.

According to an Occupational Health & Safety report, the only way to rid your company of such hidden dangers is to make safety a part of an organization’s DNA. These five tips will help your company uncover hidden-in-plain-sight issues before they become a real danger.

  1. Coach team members on safe behavior to deepen their mindfulness of safe-work practices (which will make them more aware of safety-related issues when they spot them).
  2. Post company-wide signage that clearly indicates safety requirements and expectations as well as what employees should look for in terms of problems. According to some manual somewhere, the Grand Canyon containers should probably have been stored away in a specific location. Make it obvious to employees when a safety protocol is being breached by showing what a breach might look like.
  3. Don’t rely on employees to spot every safety issue. Get outside eyes. At the Grand Canyon, an outside evaluation would likely have flagged the containers. Companies often function under the “we’ve always done it this way” mantra which can make them blind to unsafe working conditions or hazards that are hidden in plain sight.
  4. Engage employees in a see something, say something safety policy. How many times did employees move, or walk around the Grand Canyon containers? Why didn’t anyone ask what they were doing sitting in the same spot for decades? Consider establishing employee-led safety committees and invite all employees to join.
  5. Continually educate and train employees on what a safe environment looks likes; how hazards are defined; and who they should tell if they see something that seems off. Ongoing training supports a culture of safety.

By V.L. Brunskill

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