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No Gobbledygook Award 11

The White House
Office of the Vice President

For Immediate Release
July 20, 1999

Vice President Gore Praises NASA Employee for Plain Language Rewrite of Safety and Health Handbook

Washington, DC — Vice President Gore awarded Den Clem, a NASA employee, his monthly “Plain Language” award today for leading the rewrite effort of a NASA safety manual.

In 1996, Clem, of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, became the principal force behind an effort to rewrite a 600 plus page Safety and Health Handbook into plain language. The handbook covers safety and health requirements for civil servants and contractors at the center, as well as other related sites in New Mexico and California.

The original manual was written in “legalese”, was poorly organized and mixed administrative and technical material. Under Clem’s guidance, the new handbook has been streamlined and written in a user-friendly question and answer format. Each chapter begins with “Who must follow this chapter?”, so employees no longer have to wade through irrelevant introductory material to find out the information they need.

“This is a great example of taking critical technical information and making it accessible to the reader,” Vice President Gore said. “More importantly, the rewrite of this manual will help ensure a safer workplace for NASA’s employees.”

“Safety is our number one priority at NASA, “ said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. “I can’t think of a better way to promote that goal than to communicate safe procedures to our employees in plain language. I’m very proud of the team at Johnson Space Center for this achievement and for the Vice President’s recognition.”

Today’s award builds on an Executive Memorandum the Vice President announced on June 1, 1998. The memorandum directed all executive departments and agencies to: (1) write any new document that tells the public how to get a benefit or comply with a requirement in plain language by October 1, 1998; (2) write all new government regulations in plain language by January 1, 1999; and (3) revise all existing letters and notices into plain language by 2002.

With regard to today’s announcement, below is a sample of the language both before and after it was re-written. Additional material from the manual and past plain language awards may be found on

Chapter 204: Cryogenic Materials

  • Before

    204.1 Purpose

    The purpose of this chapter is to provide minimum safety requirements for the safe handling and use of the more commonly used cryogenic substances and to identify specific precautions, emergency treatment (Attachment 204A, Appendix B), protective clothing and equipment guidelines, training requirements, and housekeeping information.

    Requirements set forth in this chapter shall apply to all JSC personnel performing operations that require the use, handling, or storage of cryogenic materials. Liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen used as propellants shall follow the requirements of chapter 206, “Explosives and Propellants.” Each supervisor involved with cryogenic substances shall thoroughly understand the hazards involved, the safe handling methods, work procedures, and emergency procedures, and ensure that these procedures are understood and strictly adhered to.

    Facility managers shall be familiar with the cryogenic safety and emergency procedures to ensure that they are implemented in the workplace.

    Each employee working with cryogenic substances shall thoroughly understand the hazards involved, safe handling methods, work procedures, and emergency procedures.

  • After

    This could be you:

    Two technicians passed out while transferring liquid nitrogen from a truck because nitrogen spilled into the loading dock and displaced oxygen in the area. They were rescued and are okay. A liquid helium dewar ruptured. Fortunately, no one was in the room at the time. A liquid nitrogen dewar exploded and sent glass fragments flying. Fortunately, the technicians working with the dewar were not in the path of the flying glass.

    You must follow this chapter if you:

    • Handle, store, or transfer cryogenic liquids as a part of your job.
    • Handle or work around gaseous nitrogen, oxygen, or hydrogen.
    • Supervise anyone who does the above tasks.