As businesses increasingly focus on safety in the workplace, many jobs require a background check or initial drug and alcohol screening. The nuclear power industry goes even further. To work at a nuclear power plant, employees must be able to safely and competently perform their duties at all times. This is referred to as being “fit for duty.”
The concept is not new. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and commercial nuclear power industry began addressing concerns about the potential public health and safety impacts of workers being fit for duty in the 1970s. Most nuclear utilities voluntarily implemented programs during the 1980s. Because the quality of the voluntary programs varied widely, the NRC instituted formal fitness for duty (FFD) rules in 1989.
The NRC requires all nuclear power plants to have a program to ensure that individuals given unescorted access do not pose a threat to plant operations. New nuclear employees and contract employees must pass several tests and background checks before they are allowed access to the plant’s protected area. Even then, employees are granted access only to plant areas where they have a business need. For example, a nuclear worker who has no business need to visit the main control room will be badged or given access only to the plant locations that worker needs to access.
Duke Energy’s FFD Program, which complies with all NRC rules, is designed to provide reasonable assurance that individuals are not under the influence of any substance (legal or illegal), or mentally or physically impaired from any cause, which in anyway adversely affects their ability to safely and competently perform their duties. In addition to initial testing, the FFD program also includes random drug and alcohol screening to ensure employees are continuously able to safely perform their duties.
Nuclear FFD programs also include a behavioral observation component. Under the behavior observation program, workers must inform their supervisors and plant security of any legal action that may impact the worker’s trustworthiness and reliability. Workers are also responsible for informing their supervisor of personal issues that could affect their suitability for unescorted access.
Additionally, workers are trained to recognize behavior changes in co-workers that might constitute a risk to the individual, others, public health and safety, or the common defense of the plant. Workers are advised to report such observations promptly to management or plant security.
While nuclear fitness for duty programs might seem far-reaching, the primary goal is protecting the health and safety of the public. Nuclear workers understand this responsibility. Being fit for duty means a safe plant for everyone – the public and plant employees.