Kurt Dreger’s superpower is protecting workers

PLS's Kurt Dreger (left), with Donavon Day (Download Image)

Kurt Dreger (left), Physical & Life Sciences directorate assurance manager and directorate security officer, inspects gas cylinders outside with Donavon Day, Materials Science Division backup operations manager. “Kurt is approachable and responsive as he helps us navigate occurrence reporting, issues tracking, and compliance and transparency,” Donavon said. “He solves problems that few other people understand.” (Photo by Garry McLeod/LLNL)


Kurt Dreger’s superhero costume would have an “s” on it — for safety, not Superman — for doing everything he can to protect workers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The assurance manager and directorate security officer’s impressive resume includes stints as a certified industrial hygienist and an environment safety and health management professional and an education in employment law.

While working toward a chemistry degree at UC Berkeley, he completed an internship in a Genentech lab. While he enjoyed the research, he realized that working in a lab would not be his preferred work environment when he graduated.

Landing his first job as a field chemist at an environmental company that transported hazardous waste throughout California sparked Dreger's interest and passion for protecting workers: a theme that has continued throughout his career. The next step on his career journey took him to San Francisco State University to work as an environmental safety and health coordinator. While working there, he earned his MBA.

He later returned to UC Berkeley to work as the environment, safety and health (ES&H) manager in the College of Chemistry. Working in a large organization helping principal investigators, graduate student researchers and administrators manage and comply with health and safety requirements in several high-rise laboratory buildings helped give him the knowledge, skills and passion for lab safety that he uses in his job here at Lawrence Livermore.

By the time he relocated to Livermore, he knew he wanted to work at LLNL. After spotting an open industrial hygienist position, he applied and was hired. Dreger started work a week after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He moved on to serve as the deputy team leader for one of the institutional safety teams. Next came a role in assurance for ES&H and then on to Physical & Life Sciences (PLS) directorate in 2016 as an assurance manager. “It’s a lot of fun, and you can always find a friend in PLS,” he said.

For his daily work as a PLS assurance manager, part of his job includes fact-finding, analysis and occurrence reporting. When an accident or injury occurs, Dreger talks to those involved, documents what happened and why, briefs the relevant authorities and helps develop recommendations to prevent a similar incident from occurring in the future. “We learn from our mistakes,” he said.

Dreger also is deeply involved in internal safety assessments. He and his deputy James Jones work with subject matter experts and the PLS IST to physically tour PLS workplaces, look for possible uncontrolled hazards and help ensure that PLS employees conduct their work in a safe and secure way. “It’s important to make sure things don’t happen in the first place,” Dreger said.

“The assurance manager role is critical in PLS,” said PLS Principal Associate Director Glenn Fox. “They bring fresh, independent eyes to safety issues, and Kurt does that in an inquisitive and collaborative way to get to the root of any issue. He also is very calm when an issue arises, which is important when we are dealing with unknowns or if the situation is evolving in real time.”

Going back to school while working at the Lab, Dreger obtained his juris doctor degree from John F. Kennedy University.

“One of the things I’m most proud of is going to law school and passing the bar,” he said. “I’m able to use those skills to help with fact-finding, causal analysis and advocating for PLS employees.”

Dreger’s years of experience in safety and assurance give him extra appreciation for his current role. “When I started in ES&H management at other places, my job was often viewed as negative — ‘he just wants to shut us down.’”

That view is not shared at the Lab. “Here we have the best people who want to do the right thing,” he said. “Everyone cares about safety.”

--Gwen Pinkela