11 March 2010

DRASH-talking about Safety

My fellow TOC-rats and I are learning how to set up, tear down, heat and cool, install lights and wire for sound our spiffy new tent system. I still haven't found a price tag on the equipment, but we all assume it's in the hundreds of thousands per tent. Each tent comes with its own electrical power generator and Environmental Control Unit (E.C.U.).

The tents are "DRASH" brand. The company's website boasts that its products are "used in the harshest environments by the toughest warfighters." One of my buddies in supply says, however, "You realize, we'll never use this stuff downrange. It's just a big circus tent for an infantry fashion show."

Spring is coming, but before the gardens, must come the fighting--and the hook-and-loop fastener strips. We're working in a sandy, relatively flat motorpool area, and the saturated ground is both the color and consistency of gritty nougat, so tent stakes and grounding rods are easy to sink. The tents expand and contract like those toy Hoberman Spheres.

Unfortunately, in just three rainy, cold, and miserable days, I've pretty much been able to completely alienate three contract instructors--as well as a couple of my classmates. Not by questioning the DRASH product, but by trying to understand the trainers' creative approach to safety.

My first clue should've been when early in the class, when one instructor said something like, "Of course, all these metal tent stakes are new and painted, so they'll probably be flaking off a lot when you hammer them. Everybody brought eye-protection, right?" No one responded affirmatively. "Well, I guess the guys who already wear glasses can use the sledgehammers."

On behalf of tough-but-myopic "warfighters" everywhere ... wrong answer.

I used to sell lawn mowers in high school. Every year, we'd read between the lines of the owner's manuals, to figure out who had gotten sued for customers' acts of stupidity. One of my personal favorites? "Warning: Do not pick up lawnmower for use as a hedge trimmer." Back when automatic engine-shutoffs were coming into the lawnmower market, salespeople got in trouble for even suggesting to customers how to override the safety features.

I learned my lesson: Never, ever, ever tell the customer NOT to follow the manual. That gets people hurt. And sued.

Needless to say, I'm already ears-up after the casual "I just said that you should use eye-protection, but now I'm going to look the other way" moment. That's when another instructor is going through the "standard warning labels" and what they mean: "Danger," "Warning," "Caution" and "Note" all have defined levels of urgency. Who knew?

Somehow, the subject of hearing-protection comes up, and I hear another instructor interrupt the one giving the class. He says something like, "These warnings are standard, but they really don't apply to the equipment you'll be using." So, I ask the question: The labels and the manuals that you've just given us are wrong? Yes, he says, and we're going to request a change to the manual, but the government never listens to us. The hearing-protection requirement, he says, is only for people who are going to be around the equipment for extended periods of time.

From about that point forward, I go into active-pinging mode as "Sergeant Safety." Something is rotten in DRASH-land. The instructors label me as a problem child, and single me out from the herd.

The generators used with the system are Tactical Quiet Generators (T.Q.G.). That means they've been sound-proofed down to 70 decibel. When the panels are all closed, you can actually hear someone else talk to you over the sound of the generator. They're great stuff, but they still require hearing protection to be used--particularly when you're opening and closing the sound-proofed doors.

The manuals we've been issued for the tent class even say:
WARNING: To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, always wear hearing protection when within 10 feet of the TMSS control panel while the generator is running.
That's "always," Tex. Not "only when you're going to be around the generator for extended periods of time." Oh, and don't try to tell me that I don't understand TQGs, that they're "new." They've been around in the Army since 1989. My old Iowa Army National Guard unit first fielded them in 1995.

Later, I notice two signs on the generators themselves:
CAUTION: While performing maintenances with engine running wear approved hearing protection.

WARNING: Do not remove [panels] during operation.
Just prior to the practical exercise, all the soundproofed panels are removed from each of the generators, in order to show off their inner workings. Then, during the "test" itself, two student-groups out of three (or four) actually start their generators up, with instructor assistance and supervision.

No one is wearing hearing protection. (Not even the instructors, so at least they practice what they unwisely teach.) Without the panels in place, the generator is a lot louder than 70 decibels.

Can they hear me now?


  1. I’m a lazy fucker. I admit it. Not particularly proud of it, but I am. And if I have work to do and I can get a machine to do it from me, consider it done. But in my wildest, laziest imagination have I ever considered picking up a running lawnmower and use it to trim bushes. I’ll burn the damn things down before I would do something like that.

    I am a believer in using the manual and instruction guides when putting things together. But my favorite true story is one Christmas me and my neighbor was going to put together a huge doll house for my daughter. There were a thousand parts , mostly little wooden pegs. The problem? Round pegs for square holes. The topper…the doll house was made in Poland.

  2. When we get a new piece of equipment at work, we have a standing bet about how long it will take the boss to void the warranty by overriding the safeties. Usually, it's within a day at most. It's a good thing the hospital is only two blocks away.

  3. @ Coffeypot: Classic Christmas story! Sorry that some late-night blog-maintenance earlier this week deleted your "looks like rich-guy camping" comment. I (ahem) borrowed that line a couple of times during training today.

    @ Hell: Our trainers expressed surprise that we'd all "calibrated our sledgehammers" before staking in our tents. Apparently, it's common for people to put holes in their DRASH tents practically right off the trailer. I assume this practice also voids the warranty ...


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