STAFF SGT. KIRK JOHNSON
Kenner Army Health Clinic
Fort Lee, Virginia
How many times has a supervisor sent a young private into a confined space without first assessing the hazards? The aviation community has always been aware of the dangers of confined spaces when it comes to aviation fuel cells. But how many ground maintenance personnel are aware of the dangers that may exist in the water buffalo or fuel tanker even when they are empty?
Sometimes, we might think of a task as simple when, in fact, it’s not. Let’s say a private is sent into a fuel tank, discovers the atmosphere is compromised and collapses. What do you do — send someone in there to save him, only to have that person collapse too? Half the confined space deaths happen to would-be rescuers. Even more are reported by the employer as heart attacks or other medical issues.
I once took a college class on urban technical rescue. We were allowed to dangle from a rope from a power plant while four stories above the ground; however, we weren’t allowed to do any confined space work. The fire department and college system didn’t want to take responsibility for confined space training, even though they had a controlled trainer on hand to do the work. That’s how dangerous it can be.
To spread the message about confined space hazards, I held a class in my home state for the aviation community. The turnout was great, but I had to convince several of the shop chiefs that they also did confined space work. I finally persuaded them to send people to the class. However, they still do not consider going into a HEMTT or water buffalo to be confined space work. Are we failing to train shop chiefs about what is expected of them or their personnel?
As professionals, we need to look at everything that can injure or kill Soldiers. Do we? How often do we look at safety issues from outside of the box? We view our training and jobs as something we have to do to check the block. Why can’t we conduct training outside our comfort zones?
We have to view confined spaces as hazards. We have to repair systems — whether fuel or water, ground or aviation — and it requires training for all who are involved, including supervisors. There is confined space training available, and we must seek it out to perform the mission safely.
We, as leaders, need to know what is required of us. Sometimes we get so mission-focused that we fail to allow ourselves and our personnel to get the training we need. It’s easy to ignore safety when we don’t look at the hazards.