ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait --
What do aircraft maintainers, dining facility staff, security forces, civil engineers and all other military personnel have in common? If you guessed that their contribution toward mission success depends on the safety measures they apply to their jobs, give yourself 10 points.
Although that question may sound like the start of a bad joke, the truth is safety is no laughing matter. At a deployed location, such as Ali Al Salem, the stakes are even higher and one mishap could result in damaged equipment, or even worse, death.
“The mission of the safety office is to preserve combat resources,” said Staff Sgt. Courtney Muhl, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing occupational safety NCO-in-charge, deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. “We preserve those resources, including Airmen, by conducting annual facility inspections and program management making sure everybody is doing their job as safely and effectively as possible.”
To understand the importance of safety, consider safety guidelines included in various technical orders, operational manuals, standards of practices and equipment instructions as responses toward past mishaps that resulted from human error or carelessness. Lessons learned are drawn from those experiences in hopes of preventing similar incidences from reoccurring. For example, when the ginormous propellers on the engines of a C-130 Hercules are spinning in preparation for takeoff, Airmen familiar with safety protocol know to not walk directly in front of or behind the rotating blades to avoid becoming a bloody, headless mess. If an Airman were to ignore those precautions and get sucked into the engine, a chain of events would occur: a dead Airman, emotional trauma to witnesses, a costly investigation, reexamination of flight line operations and potentially repairing any possible damage to that $30 million aircraft.
With that scenario in mind, Muhl said there’s an approach she learned from different leaders that anyone can use.
“I’ve known a variety of commanders who go by the three D’s – if it’s dumb, different than what you normally do and not in the technical order, or blatantly dangerous, don’t do it,” she said. “If it’s not common sense and it’s not safe, don’t do it.”
Out of four safety disciplines, there are three areas the safety office focuses on here at AASAB – flight, weapons, and occupational, or ground safety. As each name implies, every safety discipline zeroes in on a specific area of operation. Where flight safety focuses on flight line operations, aircraft maintenance and everything in between, weapons safety includes oversight on explosive safety standards, hazard classification and more. Equally important is occupational safety, which isn’t specific to any particular area of expertise and generally applies to every Airmen regardless of their career field.
According to Lt. Col. Amilcar Cruz-Melendez, 386th AEW chief of safety, mishaps at AASAB are currently down by 43 percent compared to the first half of the year. This decline can be attributed to the safety office’s revitalization of safety programs and initiatives.
“I look at everything from the perspective of safety,” said Cruz-Melendez, deployed from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina. “It helps you to be a little more detailed and proactive in everything you do … I think everything comes from cultural safety and that includes being deliberate and specific on procedures and processes.”
Part of the job in occupational safety includes inspecting work spaces for potential environmental safety hazards, among other checklist and non-checklist items. Safety items particular to AASAB include daisy chaining electrical power strips, and sports and recreational injuries.
In addition to fire hazards and physical injuries, occupational safety applies to the environment Airmen work in. For example, Muhl described an issue with one of the aircraft hangars following safety inspections. It was potentially deemed unsafe and carried potential health risks, but closing it down was not an option. She presented her findings to leadership and they used that information to bring different units together to determine a solution. Mitigating actions were performed to bring the risk factors to the lowest level possible. Getting traction on this hangar issue and keeping it functional until a permanent solution is put into place was one of her biggest accomplishments, Muhl said.
For Muhl, safety is important because it prevents the unintentional loss of manpower and resources.
“We’re not here to get you in trouble, we’re here to help,” Muhl said. “We must promote a safe culture. I’m not trying to make your job harder or put any more requirements on you that aren’t already there. I just want you to use risk management and really think about what you’re doing and whether it’s the safest approach.”