WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. (June 5, 2014) -- Anytime there is a significant pause in production at this Army-owned manufacturing center, reports are often prepared to alert higher headquarters of the incident that has stopped the critical manufacturing of weapon systems for our Soldiers. But not this week.

The arsenal turned off its machines and office lights on June 4 to reinforce workplace safety. There wasn't an incident that directed the shutdown, as is sometimes the case at other Army installations and commands, but a sense by the arsenal leadership that this time away from production was a sound investment for the future.

Arsenal Commander Col. Lee H. Schiller Jr. said this week was right time to pause operations having just come off of a very long winter and prior to entering the summer months.

"What was great about this week's safety program is that it reflected some of the key lessons learned from the after action reviews that we do after every safety-related incident," Schiller said. "So, this wasn't a check-the-box type of a program because we worked on areas that we know needed to be reinforced."

Schiller said the training addressed more than workplace safety, such as sling-load and forklift operations; the training also sought to improve the workforce's health and welfare.

"We checked body fat, glucose, and blood pressure, as well as provided information on proper eating habits," Schiller said. "The wellbeing of my workforce is so important to our success that we are now working on a program that will help members of our team to quit smoking."

John Whipple, the arsenal's fire chief who was manning the blood pressure station, said that his firefighters truly enjoy supporting the safety stand-down day.

"We believe that there is great value in having a workforce who is trained to provide an immediate response to a threat to life or to property," Whipple said. "Just about everyone has a fire extinguisher at home, but few have read the directions or have trained themselves on how to use it."

When a fire can consume a building in about three minutes, having people properly trained to use a fire extinguisher may be the difference between life or death.

Although Schiller believes this week's training was an investment in the future, there were some immediate results coming from today's wellness program.

"It was good that we worked with the health clinic and the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation team because we discovered during our health checks that several individuals had glucose or blood pressure levels that were too high," Whipple said. "We ask them to check with their doctor at their first opportunity."

Having a day set aside as a Safety-Stand Down Day may be a misnomer, because safety is preached and practiced every day at Watervliet.

"This is an inherently dangerous business," Schiller said. "We cannot afford to think about safety just once a year, and we don't as evidenced by the awards for safety that we have won in recent years."

The arsenal received earlier this year the Secretary of the Army and Army Chief of Staff Safety Award for Industrial Operations. This was the third time in four years, and two years in a row, the Arsenal had been recognized by the Army's senior leaders for its exceptional safety program and record.

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The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility and is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States having begun operations during the War of 1812. It celebrated its 200th anniversary in July 2013.

Today's arsenal is relied upon by U.S. and foreign militaries to produce the most advanced, high-tech, high-powered weaponry for cannon, howitzer, and mortar systems. This National Historic Registered Landmark has an annual economic benefit to the local community in excess of $100 million.

Page last updated Thu June 5th, 2014 at 07:43