By Jacqueline BoucherSeptember 8, 2008
TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. - It's been more than 1,130 days since anyone working in one of Tobyhanna's heavy industrial areas has suffered a recordable injury.
The Finishing and Etching Branch's safety program keeps employees out of harm's way with a proactive plan that outlines operating procedures and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
The Plating and Photo Fabrication shops employ 38 people who work with chemicals and machinery, move heavy objects and risk slippery floors, splashing fluids, and loud noises on a daily basis. Employees prep up to 20,000 aluminum and steel items for painting a month, and create stickers, emblems and name plates for equipment repaired in depot shops.
Safety officials noted that this achievement reinforces the principle that it's the individual who makes the worksite safer by implementing safe work practices.
"While we have an outstanding safety record at the depot, it is quite impressive for a heavy industrial area to go so long without a recordable injury," said Russel Dunkelberger, Safety Division chief. "Each employee in the branch should be extremely proud of their accomplishment."
Generally, an injury or illness is considered recordable if it occurs in the workplace and results in: death, days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job, medical treatment beyond first aid, or loss of consciousness.
The branch complies with safety regulations and program requirements, has their own spill response team, and maintains a best-practice for locating material safety data sheets. Workers develop best practices, communicate regularly, share information and conduct training to keep work areas safe.
"Safety can't be stressed too much in an environment such as this; the shops support everyone on the depot," said Lou Bocci, branch chief. "At some point we touch all the work that goes through the depot." The Systems Integration and Support Directorate shops are located in the Industrial Operations Facility with the sandblasting and painting operations.
Employees work around buffing and grinding wheels, overhead cranes, copper wiring, and chemicals such as nickel, cadmium irridite, black oxide and tin. Bocci remarked that some employees also spend a considerable amount of time on their feet, often on one spot.
William Legg is an electroplater who works around acids and cleaners while plating metals to prevent corrosion. The plating process creates a filament over the steel and aluminum that protects items from rust and helps paint adhere to the metal. For him, education and awareness are keys to keeping everyone safe.
"I think our program is successful because we have a rotating safety star point to ensure everyone understands the importance of wearing PPE," Legg said, adding that safety is a topic of discussion during morning "huddle" meetings and at weekly home team meetings.
Shop bulletin boards and common areas are littered with documents, pamphlets and other items that reinforce safety standards such as the wear of PPE [goggles, rubber gloves, steel-toed shoes, and aprons] and procedures for working around machinery and immersion tanks. In addition, the branch chief performs a weekly and monthly walk around to ensure compliance with current guidance.
"I select an employee to join me when I do my walk-around," Bocci said. "That way they can see what I see and hopefully learn from it." Bocci added that new employees participate in a worksite safety orientation their first day of work.
All employees are required to complete PPE, hazardous material, and cadmium and lead training annually. There are a select few, based on their job description, that also have to attend respirator and confined-space training.
"We're constantly dipping work into the chemical baths, so we have to wear goggles in case of an accidental splash," said John Armitage, electroplater, adding that steel-toed shoes are a must and ear protection is beneficial in the noisy work environment.
"Employees are empowered to identify, correct and report hazards as they are identified," Bocci said. "Everyone is encouraged to bring issues to the table and recommend possible solutions."
To keep people from risking back injury lifting heavy items, Bocci had three floor lifts installed. The branch chief is currently working with ergonomics specialists to see if floor mats would be helpful to employees who stand at a workstation most of the day.
May 2005 was the last time anyone in the Finishing and Etching Branch had a recordable injury. Laura Wellman attributes the accomplishment to sustainment of existing safety practices. Wellman is an electroplater.
"We're a team working toward the same goal," she said, emphasizing that a safe work environment is the result of everyone doing the right thing.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.
About 5,900 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.
Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control, computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.