JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
Trainees stand shaking with anticipation, not looking forward to what’s happening next. After all, they’ve only heard stories and have never experienced this before. Suddenly, the green light is lit and the next group is up. As Airmen walk into a room, an instructor pops a canister. Gas starts to fill the room, and trainees are instructed to do jumping jacks to get the heart rate up. The gas mask that is stopping toxic chemicals from entering the lungs is about to come off. Who makes sure we have these useful tools?
Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Shannon, NCOIC of environmental health for the 628th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, said bioenvironmental engineering specialists make sure that Airmen have the proper personal protective equipment needed and more to ensure the safety of all Airmen.
“Basically it’s a lot like OSHA (The Occupational Safety and Health Administration),” said Shannon. “We do a lot of occupational health surveys out at the shops. We do environmental health so we’re out doing water sampling throughout the joint base, naval weapons station and here. We also have the radiation portion. We’re out there checking radiation workers, making sure they are not over exposed to the radiation that they work with. The readiness section is there, so if there is a suspicious package somewhere on base. We will go out there to determine what it is. Sometimes we will respond to aircraft crashes to recommend personal protective equipment, respirators, gloves, hazardous material suits [and] those kinds of things to responders.”
He added that there are many different aspects about bioenvironmental engineering and what they have to do with occupational health.
“Our main day-to-day function is all centered around occupational health,” said Shannon. “Everything that we do is centered on a health risk assessment. A health risk assessment is a risk based on how it’s going to effect the health of active duty members in the work force or members of the shops in general.”
According to Shannon, bioenvironmental engineering assesses all the health risks that Airman are around and bring them to the attention of commanders with solutions to fix the problems, such as using different materials to ensuring the proper PPE is used to make sure that the risk of negative health effects are minimized as much as possible.
Like all jobs, bioenvironmental engineering also faces many challenges.
“One of the challenges is timing, ensuring everyone is trained, making sure that people know why they are doing what they need to be doing.” said 1st Lt. Owen Cameron, bioenvironmental flight operations chief for the 628th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron.
Cameron said it’s crucial to handle what needs to be done with the amount of leave, temporary duty and deployments, as well as permanent changes of station in and out, and alternate duties. They encourage people to know how to do one another’s job, to best meet the needs of our Airmen.
Shannon highlighted some of Joint Base Charleston’s unique bioenvironmental engineering operations.
“We have the TIS, which is the transport isolation unit that we use to transport patience that might have infectious diseases, Ebola specifically,” said Shannon. “So we are constantly doing training on that. We actually load the TIS on the aircraft and we fly from different spots doing training, so that is pretty unique.”
Cameron also noted the large port at JB Charleston as unique.
“We have a lot of C-17s so we get a lot of shipments in and leaving the installations, but we also have a lot of C-17s that can fly out to all parts of the world for whatever the mission needs are,” Said Cameron. “We're kind of a link for a lot of imports and we can export items throughout the world. That’s why we have a lot of C-17s out here. That’s why we have a lot of the ports that they track and a lot of the shipments that come on in.”
Any Hazardous work environment Airmen work in, bioenvironmental engineering is there to make sure risks are reduced as best as possible.
“We are in the shops doing surveys,” said Shannon. “We’re assessing the hazards and recommending the controls. Our goal is to prevent any adverse health effects going forward. We are the preventative medicine side, so we‘re trying to prevent having health issues.”