Research center partners with Army Health Clinic
March 21, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Traveling to Australia can feel like a time warp. Sixteen hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time can result in jet lag that causes the body's physiological responses to be out of sync with its normal circadian rhythms.
The Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction Business Unit of the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center has partnered with the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic to prepare personnel for the journey with safety measures to ensure optimal onsite working performance in environmental conditions halfway around the world.
"Each site that they go to, whether it is Australia, Albania or Washington, D.C., is a little bit different so sometimes there are special procedures for a particular operation," said Lauren Abbott, a certified physician assistant at APG's Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic. "With this particular operation in Melbourne, they are doing some work that requires scaffolding because the height of the rooms is so tall."
Abbott traveled to the Melbourne operation site in September with about 20 other CBARR personnel who will be supporting the Australian Department of Defence during an upcoming remediation mission. For two weeks, pre-operational set up and mock exercises were conducted by personnel who ran through several staged scenarios, including what would happen if someone had an emergency while on the scaffolding.
"What if somebody was exposed to something? Had chest pain or a heart attack? How would you get them down? We were able to run through that procedure several times and stage multiple scenarios. Safety is definitely one of the first things CBARR looks at in every type of operation," Abbott said.
Heat stress is likely to be the No. 1 safety issue posing a threat to workers who are encapsulated in personal protective equipment for hours at a time. Abbott estimated that the average worker would be able to work effectively for four or five hours on a day when it is 44 degrees outside. However, once temperatures climb closer to 100 degrees as in Australia, the time to be able to work safely becomes significantly less. CBARR does have a heat stress plan that incorporates a work/rest cycle that compares the outside, or ambient temperatures, with humidity levels to determine how long a person can work before needing to rest.
"Essentially, the biggest thing is going to be heat stress," Abbott said. "If they are physically fatigued, maybe they didn't get enough sleep or are dehydrated, that can really put stress on the body. With additional respiratory equipment and physical protection gear, it can really get you tired pretty quickly. The key is to stay well-rested and drink plenty of fluids."
Physical fitness also plays a role in how well a person can perform given tasks in challenging environments where heat stress is likely. Prior to traveling, personnel must pass a "step test" that requires stepping on a 10-inch step stool at a moderate pace for three-minute intervals. During the rest period, healthcare personnel like Abbott check their heart rates. Once cleared, this monitoring effort is replicated in the field where employees are required to wear heart rate monitors.
"That's one of the things that ECBC and CBARR use to monitor their employees for heat stress. While they're actually doing the operation, the workforce wears heart rate monitors so every 15-30 minutes an onsite safety officer can conduct a check to record heart rates. They can then determine if a person is getting fatigued or dehydrated and may need to sit for a few minutes or be pulled from the operation," Abbott said.
About 40 CBARR personnel will support the overseas effort, but must first be medically cleared with the appropriate vaccinations like Tetanus, which will protect against infection from cuts or punctures from sharp metal objects. Hepatitis A and B vaccinations must be up-to-date to prevent illness in case of exposure to blood-borne pathogens while working with pipes for waste disposal.
According to Abbott, different countries require different vaccinations prior to entry and the destination may determine the kinds of bacterial diseases or viruses that are present in a given location. Fortunately, the Melbourne cityscape does not pose any particular threats, she said. Asbestos, however, is likely to be present at the onsite location. The mineral fiber is found in rock and soil, and because of its strength and resistance to heat, has been used in building materials. Exposure typically occurs during demolition work or building repair, when the fibers may be disturbed and released into the air. Increased exposure to asbestos may cause harmful health effects and lead to lung disease; however, the Kirk U.S. Army Health Clinic conducts extra surveillance to keep an eye on personnel health over time.
Chest X-rays are conducted on a routine basis every five years to ensure there are no health changes inside the lungs. According to Abbott, the development of asbestos-related illnesses is unlikely due to the PPE CBARR is required to wear, including respirators, Tyvek suits and other appropriate gear that prevents the inhalation or exposure to such fibers.
Abbott has also coordinated healthcare efforts with the ADoD, and onsite medical teams will be available to treat work-related injuries in the event of an emergency. Additionally, local urgent care centers are available to workers who experience sinusitis cold-related symptoms or other acute illnesses.
The clinic provides healthcare services to different organizations on APG, but ECBC may be its biggest customer. The chemical surveillance preparation was a unique opportunity for CBARR to work side-by-side with medical personnel.
"It was really impressive. It was wonderful for me as a provider to see how well everyone worked together as a team, and how much they take care of and look out for each other to keep everybody safe. It was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to participate with CBARR," Abbott said.
CBARR's unique ability to be deployed at anytime, anywhere is made possible through the exceptional medical and chemical surveillance measures implemented by the organization to ensure the safety of its workforce and customers both home and abroad. The CBARR Business Unit performs global chemical and biological operations for customers worldwide and as a part of ECBC, serves the Research, Development and Engineering Command's mission to deliver innovative technology solutions.