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NEWS | Nov. 13, 2009

Gunsmith shop reaches for elite status

By Mike Joseph 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

After reaching bronze level in a safety and health wellness program in August, the Air Force gunsmith shop on Lackland's Training Annex was honored again Nov. 4 for jumping up to silver status.

And they don't plan on stopping there; they're going for gold.

The only gunsmith shop in the Air Force has been participating since February in the Commander's Safe Site Challenge.

Sponsored by Warner Robins Air Logistics Center, Robins Air Force Base, Ga., the program uses a local approach to implement the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Program.

The shop, a tenant unit at Lackland, falls under the 575th Combat Sustainment Squadron, part of 782nd Combat Sustainment Group based at Robins. Col. David French, 542nd Combat Sustainment Wing vice commander, flew in from Robins AFB to make the presentation after the shop passed its silver site evaluation Nov. 3.

It really means providing a safe environment and a better product for the combat Airmen, said Richard Shelton, gunsmith shop supervisor. It's about instilling and applying good safety practices not only in the workplace but also at home, he added.

"It promotes safety, health and wellness, and it saves the Air Force money," said Lew Jarrell, a member of the site valuation team from the 542nd about the Safe Site Challenge.

Mr. Jarrell explained that at the bronze level, employees gain an understanding about safety and health management, getting involved and practicing safety. At the silver level, the workers implement the program not only at work but also at home.

All of the 16 shop employees have developed home evacuation plans, received CPR training and most are AED certified. All of those areas, in addition to increased signage and education, helped lift the shop to the silver level. The shop must remain at silver for six months before seeking gold.

Joe Kutach, who works for Frito-Lay in San Antonio, was also a member of the evaluation team. Frito-Lay has achieved star level recognition by OSHA for its safety and health management programs, the top level equivalent to the Safe Site challenge.

He told Mr. Jarrell after the inspection it wouldn't bother him to bring in OSHA right now. He added that there had been a 1,000 percent improvement in the shop since 2008 when VPP was first introduced.

Mr. Shelton, who assumed his role in June, says safety has played a big part in the shop's performance improvement.

"It's absolutely necessary," he said about the investment of time and resources along with safety into the shop. "We're not going to get more money or manpower so the only way to improve is to (work) smarter and that starts with safety. It ensures you're doing it right the first time."

By combining safety skills with organization, streamlining and equipment, production has improved an average of 40 percent while the standard failure rate has been reduced to 2 percent from a high of 10 percent.

"That's phenomenal," Mr. Shelton said.

He said one of the biggest challenges is using a 50-year-old building not designed to be an industrial manufacturing complex and warehouse facility. But the shop's employees use the space efficiently and safety has played a role in that optimization.

In the meantime, as the wheels keep turning at the shop, its employees will continue to get more safety training through the VPP program as it reaches for the gold.

"We feel we could probably reach gold within a year," said Mr. Shelton.

With all the recent progress, that's no stretch for the shop.