By Jane Gervasoni, U.S. Army Public Health CommandDecember 21, 2012
Being a Soldier is inherently dangerous. The U.S. Army Public Health Command is in the business of protecting Soldiers by making them and their leaders aware of hazards that can be avoided and helping to mitigate unavoidable hazards.
Soldiers conduct live-fire weapons and tactics training in buildings called shoot houses. These buildings are constructed to stop ammunition by impact in bullet traps or ballistic walls, but there is another danger to Soldiers in these buildings.
The danger of exposure to lead while working or training in shoot houses has long been recognized. Emphasis for action was recently added by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, G-4, which issued an operations order to all installations reiterating the Army's requirement to follow the Occupational Safety and Health Administration' s lead regulations. Industrial hygienists from the USAPHC were tasked to inventory Army shoot houses at active duty Army installations.
From 2001 to 2011, USAPHC personnel conducted surveys at shoot houses and found many opportunities for reducing lead exposures including control measures and other programmatic elements. Installation industrial hygienists have also evaluated local shoot houses.
"In the fall of 2011, an issue regarding employees with elevated blood leads came to the attention of the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army, G-4," explained Alice Weber, USAPHC industrial hygienist. "We were tasked to conduct a broad scope survey of shoot houses in the Army inventory to identify the current state of health hazard evaluations and controls in shoot houses."
Lt. Col. Craig Gehrels, program manager for the Industrial Hygiene Field Services Program at the USAPHC, added, "The emphasis added to the efforts to control lead by the Army G-4 now gives us the opportunity to compile information for the first corporate view Army shoot houses."
"We developed a questionnaire to obtain information on elements including air monitoring, ventilation systems, hygiene measures, use of personal protective equipment, and availability of protection and surveillance programs," explained Geoffrey Braybrooke, a USAPHC industrial hygienist who worked on the survey team.
The fact-finding checklists were distributed to regional medical commands via a tasker through the Office of the Surgeon General. Responses were received from approximately 28 installations on 95 active Army shoot houses located around the world.
According to Weber, responses were compiled by personnel in the USAPHC Industrial Hygiene Field Services Program to develop a corporate picture so that targeted assistance could be provided.
"There were several concerns brought to light by the questionnaires," said Weber. "Many facilities had not done air monitoring to determine the extent of possible problems. Other facilities were unsure if hazard communications training was being completed on lead hazards.
"We have been working to provide installation industrial hygienists guidance on conducting shoot house exposure assessments and encouraging communication with their installation medical personnel, and we have developed some model lead compliance programs that can be used by range safety personnel who oversee the shoot houses," she continued.
Good first steps to help reduce exposures include improving personal hygiene by using hand washing products made specifically to remove lead prior to eating and upon leaving the shoot house training area, avoiding dry sweeping when cleaning shoot houses, and laundering uniforms at work or separately from all other clothing.
USAPHC industrial hygienists Braybrooke and Weber will continue to work with Installation Management Command (range safety) and regional and installation industrial hygienists and their medical counterparts to implement and monitor improvements to an overall lead management program for shoot houses and to raise and maintain awareness of this important hazard to Soldier health.