By Summer BarkleyJune 13, 2014
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- An effective safety program is the responsibility of more than just the safety officer -- it requires daily attention to safe practices starting with the battalion commander and filtering down to the entire workforce. It's said that safety is everyone's job and that is certainly true when the job is in a combat zone and involves working around heavy machinery and equipment and hazardous materials.
An annual safety inspection of the 3-401st Army Field Support Battalion-Bagram Airfield was conducted recently by its higher headquarters, the 401st Army Field Support Brigade and battalion safety personne,l to provide the battalion commander a report card on the status of his safety program.
The inspection was conducted in phases and covered the battalion operations area.
The first phase was a checklist completed in April by Patrick LeBlanc, battalion safety officer, by visiting shops and work spaces in the battalion at Bagram Airfield, Camp John Pratt, Camp Phoenix and Forward Operating Base Shank.
In May, Brett Blunt, 401st AFSB safety director, used the same checklist to conduct the brigade inspection. Blount briefed Lt. Col. Marvin L. Walker, 3-401st AFSBn commander, on the results of June 5.
LeBlanc said doing well on the inspection, but more importantly maintaining a good safety record, is a partnership between the battalion Soldiers, civilians and the contractor work force. He pointed out that the largely contractor workforce has only had a couple of very minor mishaps while working 11-hour days with heavy equipment, petroleum, solvents and hazardous waste.
"We have an excellent partnering strategy that is staffed by competent professionals who are team-oriented, mission-focused and truly care for the workforce," said LeBlanc. "It can't be perfect and that's what keeps safety specialists up at night."
LeBlanc said he was proud of how the battalion team did in two areas -- hazardous materials communications and bringing a former Russian hangar into compliance.
LeBlanc explained that the contractor workforce comes from many countries speaking many languages. In order to ensure a common level of understanding, the battalion has adopted the Global Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals or GHS that was created by the United Nations.
GHS uses consistent criteria for classification and labeling using easily understood pictograms to communicate hazard information and protective measures.
"We are way ahead on GHS," LeBlanc said. "We have a 'tower of Babel' with all the different nationalities in the battalion."
The battalion acquired the Russian hangar in 2013 for use as a final wash rack operation before vehicles are loaded onto aircraft for transport. As its name suggests, the building was a hangar built by Russian forces prior to their departure from Afghanistan in February 1989.
LeBlanc said it was vacant for more than 20 years and was not up to code when the battalion received it. He ticked off stairs, holes, wiring and other deficiencies that had to be corrected. The building is near the flight line where the battalion can conduct 24-hour wash rack operations in an indoor facility to ensure vehicles and equipment are cleaned to strict requirements before being loaded onto aircraft for transport according to U.S. Army directives.
While pleased with the results of the annual inspection, LeBlanc continues to look for ways to improve the battalion program. He is enlisting the assistance of quality assurance inspectors and others who access the various work areas to continually be on the lookout for potential safety issues.