The first meeting Julie Drotz attended as a Department of Energy employee was at the ALS on Halloween 2007. The costumes didn’t spook her, and now that she’s joined the ALS, we see that safety issues don’t faze her either.
What did you do before coming to the ALS?
I came to the Lab in 2007 and worked for the Berkeley Site Office, which is now the Bay Area Site Office. I was overseeing construction safety, the worker safety and health program, the Molecular Foundry, Materials Sciences Division, and electrical safety, so it was kind of a little bit of everything. The first meeting I went to was at the ALS on Halloween, so it was an interesting introduction. In 2015, I left my 24-year federal career and came to work for the Lab in EH&S (Environment, Health, and Safety) as the Health and Safety Department Operations Support team lead. We mainly assisted the Facilities and the Projects and Infrastructure Modernization Divisions.
Moving from the federal side to the Berkeley Lab side was a dramatic change. At the Site Office, my role was to point out problems, but my personality is wanting to jump in there and solve the problems. Joining the Lab and being able to come up with creative solutions has been a better fit. I started off in science, as a chemist at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and then kind of grew away from that, so getting back to directly supporting science is really exciting.
What is a typical day for you?
I haven’t had a typical day yet! It’s an interesting time to join the ALS, when shutdown is coming to an end. I’ve been participating or listening in to a lot of the meetings regarding that and watching some of the different crane lifts, and now shifting gears into looking at a lot of ESAFs (Experiment Safety Assessment Forms) and doing lab inspections. I mainly look to see what kind of hazards they’ll bring to the lab. I want users to know that we have a ton of resources available to help, both within ALS staff and Lab EH&S. I’m always available if people have questions.
How did you choose safety as a career path?
I got into safety because I was bulking hazardous waste after hours at FDA to get overtime. I was reading regulations for hazardous waste and then started looking at all other regulations that we weren’t quite compliant with in safety. And so, I kind of turned that into a career. I’ve taken a lot of classes along the way, as well as obtained two certifications, as a Certified Industrial Hygienist and a Certified Safety Professional.
It’s really rewarding when we can reduce the number of injuries and accidents on-site and when people are able to get their jobs done and get the science done without having impacts to personal safety or the environment. I spent 17 years with the FDA, where the work was all about public health, protecting the consumers, and making sure foods, drugs, and cosmetics were safe. At the ALS, it’s making sure the workers themselves are safe as we’re solving the world’s toughest problems.
Have you encountered any wild situations as a safety manager?
In a previous job, somebody had disposed of a piece of equipment with a sealed (radioactive) source inside of it, and it went to a Navy shipyard as salvage. They called and asked me to go pick it up. When I got there, they pointed to a dumpster and said, “It’s in there.” I had to climb into the dumpster with all this equipment and root around until I could find that piece of equipment with that sealed source, secure it, and take it back to the lab. We have some sealed sources at the ALS, but hopefully they don’t end up in the dumpster!
What do you like to do in your free time?
I like to spend time with my dogs. We have three dogs, and I have chickens. We live on a little bit of property, so we’re starting to see what kind of animals we can start collecting, maybe some goats. I learned to crochet during the pandemic, and I make different products with essential oils. I also do some painting as a hobby. I started with watercolors and I’ve been trying a little bit of acrylic abstract painting. I’m just starting an oil painting class, so I can bring out my inner Bob Ross with happy little trees.