With a force of only five people, the industrial hygiene team, located at suite 130 at the General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital, monitors workplace health and safety for every employee and Soldier on the installation.
According to Ralph Armistead, program manager, their job requires a wide breadth of specializations, such as medicine, noise reduction, chemistry and even engineering.
“A lot of people don’t know what our organization does,” he said. “Withstanding things like colds, flus, and heat injuries, industrial hygiene is kind of the eyes and ears of preventative medicine on the installation.”
The team works to identify possible health risks, from something seemingly innocuous such as improper office lighting to more severe threats, such as chemical exposure.
“We look at health hazards in the workplace — anything that may impact the worker,” said Barbara Briner, industrial hygienist. “It could be anything from chemical exposure to ventilation issues, ergonomic issues, indoor air quality issues, noise hazards.”
Hygienists’ process requires multiple scientific steps, Briner said.
“When we go out and do our initial surveys, we determine if we need to follow up with any additional sampling,” she said. “We may decide that they’re using a bunch of solvents, so we look at the safety data sheets, and then we determine if we need to sample for (chemicals), and if so, then we set up some air sampling pumps.”
After obtaining samples, they are sent to a laboratory for analysis, and results are sent back. If a problematic presence is detected, she said, administrative controls, engineering controls or personal protective equipment is put in place.
He encouraged supervisors and brigade commanders to reach out to his team to prevent any future health effects which could decrease readiness. Armistead assured anyone nervous about inspection that his goal is not punitive.
“We don’t go out there to the workplace with a check sheet and say, ‘you’re in violation,’” he said. “We work with them side-by-side to make sure that worker is healthy, that the Soldier is healthy.”
Industrial Hygiene Technician Daniel Carroll, who is also a trained first responder, echoed Armistead’s perception.
“Once (people) know and understand what we do and why we’re there, they start to (open up) — and it takes a while sometimes, because they (may think) ‘oh, safety is going to come in and have us do this, or shut down this, they’re going to interrupt our operations,’” he said. “(My team) is about ‘how do we help you continue operations?’”
The industrial hygiene team also inspects training grounds and ranges.
Glen Werner, an industrial hygienist with a background in chemistry and a long history at Fort Leonard Wood, recalled a specific instance when his team’s work improved the quality of training and possibly saved lives.
“During the Bosnia conflict, Fort Leonard Wood was training all kinds of Soldiers from many bases on how to demine — how to deactivate mines,” he said. “Instead of using sand or soil, from WWII on, they had been using sawdust.”
“Sawdust is nonabrasive, it would not wear down the threads (on vehicles), (and) it was lighter than soil, so it made it easier,” he said. “One of the instructors was having asthma attacks and we finally figured out it was caused by sawdust.”
According to Al Petru, industrial hygienist, the team has monitored and surveyed the Chemical Defense Training Facility since it first arrived at Fort Leonard Wood.
In addition to verifying proper lighting conditions, “we make sure that the engineering controls are working so when (CDTF) does their thing, nobody gets a breath of that stuff,” Armistead said.
All employees of the industrial hygiene staff are hazmat trained and even assist the fire department in hazard reduction, he said.
Armistead and his staff encouraged any installation employee, supervisor, Soldier or commander to contact them about safety concerns in their workplace at 573.596.9255.