FORT DRUM, New York – While many professionals, such as nurses, doctors, pharmacists, and others, are on the front lines of the COVID-19 fight, others are working behind the scenes to ensure communities remain safe throughout the crisis.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic began, industrial hygienists with the Fort Drum Medical Activity (MEDDAC) have ensured the safety of Soldiers and civilian employees on the installation by investigating and controlling hazards in the workplace.
“We’re a customer service organization - a support organization,” said Bart Bushen, the supervisory industrial hygienist with the MEDDAC and a native of Apalachin, New York. “We make sure the hazards on the installation are identified and the Soldiers and civilians are safe from those hazards. We make sure those hazards are controlled through engineering controls, administrative controls, or through personal protective equipment.”
On Fort Drum, the industrial hygienists provide a multitude of services to the installation, including ventilation systems evaluations, noise level and noise hazard surveys, hazardous material spill response, atmospheric monitoring, lead and asbestos monitoring, indoor air quality surveys, and respiratory protection support to name a few.
“The industrial hygiene team’s professionalism is unmatched,” said Col. Rob Heath, the MEDDAC commander. “They are the epitome of quiet professionals as they perform their subject matter expert duties.”
As part of COVID-19 mitigation measures, the Fort Drum industrial hygiene team has stepped up their respiratory protection program, fit testing more than 400 employees on the installation for respirators.
“You do a fit test to make sure the respirator fits correctly and it ensures there’s a seal formed between the respirator and the person’s face,” Bushen said.
The process of being fit tested for a respirator, such as an N-95 mask, takes less than 30 minutes per person. Once a fit test is complete, an individual can wear the same type of respirator for up to a year without needing another test, provided they continue to use products from the same manufacturer and with the same model number.
However, Bushen warns against using the same mask for more than a day.
“If you use it a lot in a day, you’re going to have a lot of moisture in it,” he said. “You’re going to have a lot of contaminants trapped on the filter. So, for sanitary reasons, you don’t want to wear it more than a day.”
Additionally, “if the respirator gets dirty, damaged, or becomes difficult to breathe through, throw it away and get a new one,” Bushen added.
As part of COVID-19 mitigation and prevention measures, many organizations on Fort Drum closed their doors at the beginning of the pandemic. As the community begins to bring back services slowly, the Fort Drum industrial hygiene team has been there to ensure it’s safe for employees to return to work.
“Because a lot of people went to telework and such, some of the buildings were empty,” Bushen said. “So, what’s happening is they have us check the indoor air quality just to make sure the environment and the atmosphere is safe.”
As the community continues to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, the Fort Drum industrial hygiene department will continue to work through the health and safety challenges facing the Soldiers and civilian employees on the installation.