By T.W. LymanSeptember 8, 2013
Afghan safety professionals are taking what they learn from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers into their homes and communities. In addition to capacity building in Afghanistan, USACE may also be responsible for a safety renaissance.
The mission of Transatlantic Afghanistan District's (TAA) Safety Office is to provide policy, programs, technical services, oversight and outreach related to safety and occupational health matters in support of USACE missions throughout Afghanistan.
Safety training is a major tool to ensure mission accomplishment. Ed McNamara, safety manager, explained, "We observed work practices that we found unacceptable, so we made this training mandatory for all workers at Engineer Village -- office workers, warehouse workers and janitorial workers. For example, we had industrial safety classes for our warehouse workers, and in the afternoon we had fire prevention safety for all."
One TAA employee took the training to heart. Hamid, a 36-year-old housekeeping worker who spent time as a security guard with coalition forces, observed areas at his home that needed attention.
"The electrical safety and fire extinguisher use and maintenance training were very helpful and I was able to apply it in my home," Hamid said. "I got home after the training and checked to see if our extinguisher was accessible and in working condition. I saw immediately that our extinguisher needed servicing, and I got it fixed. Next I looked at the extension cords in our house to see if they had the UL or CE labels."
For more than a century, Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent, non-profit organization has tested and certified products for safety. The European Commission (CE) certifies that products have met EU health, safety and environmental requirements that ensure consumer and workplace safety.
"I also checked to see if they were overloaded or if I had any daisy chains," Hamid continued. "When I saw the pictures in training of what happened when infractions occur and saw what we had at home, I removed the television, refrigerator and others from the same cord. I explained to my family the dangers of putting so many items on one cord and they understood. I did not only tell my family, but my relatives, too. I explained to my brothers, sisters and told them what could happen."
Other Afghan workers took the same lessons to heart.
Omid, 24 years old from Kabul, assists with administration and interpretation. "Actually I learned a lot" in the safety training, he said. "I was new at that time and felt the same way. It was good training that I could also apply outside of work."
Asif, 26, recalled an incident from his childhood, and what he learned from USACE gave him the insight and confidence to speak out.
"I had an incident where my sister was carrying a metal container of water and brushed against a receptacle with a broken cover," Asif said. "She was shocked and knocked down. For five minutes she was incapacitated. I thought she was dead. It is obvious to me now that there was no grounding wire.
"Just recently a relative of mine closed himself into a shed where the family had placed a running generator," Asif continued. "It was raining and the family wanted to prevent the generator from being damaged. The young man passed out and died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Asif carried those lessons into the present. "I saw a frayed extension cord at home and my father wanted to repair it. I told him that for the $10 it costs to replace it to make sure it was safe, we can save a life or the cost of replacing property. When I explained it to my father, he understood and agreed. Our main goal is to learn, and we've learned a lot. We hope to change ideas of the public."
Patrick Freedman is an industrial hygienist from Philadelphia District who is the program manager for the Afghan safety team. He has seen Afghanistan's safety awareness improve from non-existent to good. Freedman's training program has improved the abilities of Afghan teammates.
"I am encouraged seeing trained Afghan safety personnel take action not only on building sites but also with their homes and families," he said.
Alim, a 28-year-old safety team leader expressed the history of safety here. "Before the U.S. came to Afghanistan, there was no safety to protect property and personnel. A friend I know was going to build a roof. He was a professional engineer. He used personal protective equipment and when he wore that, everyone teased him, calling him a municipal employee. There were no education centers or laws to enforce. To Afghans it was something new, unique to everyone."
Alim is committed to changing those perspectives. "We want to implement a safety culture to the nation. We've found many safety incidents -- breaker problems, machinery accidents on bases and with our families. We are a few who have been trained. We can adopt safety measures to have a safe Afghanistan for now and for the future."