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ORM ... not just a CBT on your 593.

Every year it is the same thing. You have a whole list of things you have to take care of for ancillary training, everything from CPR, to LOAC, to Anti-Terrorism. Sometimes, especially if you have done them almost 20 times, they become monotonous. Sometimes, it is at that time you wish they didn't.

Each year we all, as Air Force personnel, accomplish what is known as ORM or Operational Risk Management training. This is a course designed to use as a tool and template to assess risks and make good judgment calls when performing duties that have some type of risk involved. In most cases everyone has done that with their job, and with seamless perfection their day goes by injury and incident free.

Enter in my ECM pod shop. Here we work with High Power Radar jammers; items with enough RF power to cook a turkey and still blackout the O'Hare Airport on a whim. We use safety devices with these pods so we can transmit indoors and work on the pods during routine maintenance. We have T.O.s that remind us to test the pods for leaks if we change out RF components. We have manual RF detectors we use to "sniff-out" the pod for RF prior to letting the pod stay in transmit for long periods of time with technicians standing directly next to it. All in all the procedures used to ensure safe transmission and zero mishaps are extremely safe.

Now throw in some curve balls. Perform a facility HVAC overhaul, requiring you to move all of your test stations back and forth across your facility, thus creating a semi-permanent area of chaos, awaiting job completion to be able to properly put your shop back together. Next, acquire new pods because of Base Realignment and Closure and perform acceptance tests. Start this out with different pod workbooks that you transfer to your own format. Then, you have a pod requiring a part that goes AWP (awaiting parts), so you move that pod to the side while you wait a few weeks for supply to get you that part. Now, imagine the part comes in but the mock-up space is taken so you install the part and await test station availability. You cannot test the pod until this happens. So, 3 weeks pass until you get the pod on to the mock-up and return to testing status. Of course, you do this after you move your mock-ups once again, but at least this will be the last time because the front of your building is completed.

This is where the ORM process should have kicked in. Knowing that there were many variables added into the standard equation of pod in-pod out theory, we should have re-evaluated our safety measures for accountability. We did not and we had a safety incident. The part that we installed had a gasket slip. This caused a paper thin gap between two waveguides; big enough for RF transmission into open air space to occur. Because we had done the RF check at the beginning of the testing, we didn't know about the leak. Since we couldn't test immediately upon completion, the technicians that worked the pod next did not know it needed an RF leak test performed.

The pod maintenance worksheet from the previous base had been shredded and a new local pod maintenance sheet had been started. The current RF detectors are manual and are not in continuous monitor mode. Therefore, if an RF leak happens and your hand-held monitors are not in use, you won't know about it.

The pod was put onto the mock-up and ran. Small amounts of RF were able to escape the waveguide and transmit into open space. It wasn't until a few days later when another technician working a pod realized by the reaction of his pod automatically transmitting, that another RF source must be emitting into the room. He had the leaking pod shut down until it was determined that, in fact, it had a gap in a waveguide and was the source of the RF transmission.

All the technicians who had been working that pod were seen at the base hospital. Fortunately, no one suffered any RF sickness or burns. Everyone did a self check and realized that however small, each person had added to or could have prevented the increase risk of RF exposure. No one realized that the change in the work environment had evolved so much to almost eradicate the standing safety measures.

So the shop reevaluated and came up with a plan to ensure a safer environment from RF exposure. First we entered an AFTO 22 to add the wording of performing RF leak checks at each step involving the installation of an RF component. We also entered a Safety Supplement Addition to add standing/continuous RF testers to each mock-up. We also added a section to our maintenance sheets for RF part removal/installation and RF leak check sign off by a 7 level. This is to be accomplished after the installation of an RF transmitting part for the pod.

The RF detectors came in from supply in just over a week. They were tested out and work as advertised. The Safety Supplements have gone to ACC as well as the AFTO 22. The maintenance sheets were changed the very next day after the incident. I myself am extremely confident these additional efforts will eliminate this from happening again. Had we used our ORM training these measures could have been taken, but without a mishap and RF exposure.

by MSgt Edward M. Palasthy, Eglin AFB, Fla.
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Title Annotation:operational risk management; compulsory basic training
Author:Palasthy, Edward M.
Publication:Combat Edge
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:939
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