ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE — The 97th Air Mobility Wing Aerospace Ground Equipment or AGE shop exceeded 1,000 days without a safety incident June 2.
AGE personnel are tasked with maintaining support equipment. This covers a vast array of equipment, including but not limited to heaters, air conditioners, hydraulics, and electrics.
“We are a jack of all trades. Aircraft maintainers work on aircraft, vehicle maintainers work on vehicles and AGE members work on everything else,” said Lonnie Taylor, 97th Maintenance Directorate production superintendent for AGE maintenance and inspection. “We work so many different trades that we have to be well rounded. We’re not just going to learn electrics, hydraulics or pneumatics. We’re going to learn all of that, and that may be just for one piece of equipment.”
With such a diverse list of responsibilities comes a greater potential for safety mishaps. Lifting heavy equipment has the potential to cause injury to the back or knees, and there’s a potential for electrocution when dealing with high voltage equipment. Moving parts pose a threat of crushing injuries and some jobs even come with the risk of chemical injuries.
“There are probably about a million ways an AGE member can be hurt on the job on a daily basis,” Taylor said. “We work with chemicals, high voltage equipment, heavy equipment, pressurized equipment, you name it. There’s a number of things that could go wrong even by doing all the right things.”
Taylor recounted an injury he sustained as an airman while working with a particular pressurized piece of equipment. During this task, Taylor attempted to release the internal pressure of the equipment when the pressure gauge he was using to test it failed, causing a false pressure reading of zero. With 1,500 pounds of pressure still inside, Taylor began disassembling the part. The 1,500 pounds of pressure sent a piston flying into his hand, causing him to break his wrist, three of his fingers and temporarily lose his hearing.
“We try to make sure by inspections that those sorts of things don’t happen, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Accidents are called accidents for a reason,” said Taylor. “I’m sure everyone here has a horror story of some incident or another. Back injuries, knee injuries, cuts, bumps, bruises, broken bones and crushed fingers are all fairly common, to name a few.”
To avoid future incidents, the AGE crew implemented numerous safety precautions over the years, such as the Voluntary Protection Program or FPP which began in 2007.
“VPP is a great program that allows the employees to bring their ideas forward about things they see wrong in the workplace,” Taylor said. “If anyone sees something that’s wrong or unsafe, they bring it to their supervisor’s attention.”
As part of the VPP, the AGE shop utilizes a “Time Out” and “Knock-it-Off” system.
A Time Out may be called by any member of the shop if there is a possibly unsafe situation present. Once a Time Out is called, all personnel involved immediately stop what they’re doing to reassess the situation. If the process is corrected, they may resume working. If they are unable to resolve the issue, a Knock it Off is called and supervisory personnel are called in to reconcile the issue.
“The people in our shop are very professional, knowledgeable, careful, experienced and they look out for each other,” Taylor said. “All my folks know I have an open-door policy. Safety is too important not to listen.”
On top of the VPP, the shop has also acquired some support equipment of its own to help mitigate injuries, one of which is a wheeled dolly to help transport heavy or unwieldy equipment.
The last injury the shop experienced was when a member twisted an ankle on the flight line in September 2013. The individual was on light duty for roughly eight weeks.
“When even one person is injured and can’t perform their regular duties, it puts more of a load on everyone else,” Taylor said. “That additional work alone could be enough to cause another accident.”
Before this safety milestone, the trend AGE saw was typically about one injury a year.
“Before VPP our organization was at the top of the list for Department of Defense injuries and workers’ compensation issues,” Taylor said. “Since the institution of additional safety measures and the emphasis put on safely accomplishing the mission, we have reversed that trend. We are no longer at the top of the injury list.”