Left of Boom: A Strategy to Disrupt the Bomb Chain for Safety IEDs - Martin Supply

Left of Boom: A Strategy to Disrupt the Bomb Chain for Safety IEDs

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Left of Boom: A Strategy to Disrupt the Bomb Chain for Safety IEDs

By Charles Hall, CSP, CRSP

It was early yet, the heat already building in the dusty environs of Forward Operating Base (FOB) Victory. Three supply trucks protected by an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected military vehicle) and two Humvees up front with another bringing up the rear made up the supply train for weapons resupply at Combat Outpost (COP) Wilson where patrol ops initiated daily. Specialist Thomas (T.J.) Ridell was driver in the MRAP. Tank Command, Master Sergeant Jack Linville, rode right seat in the second Humvee.

The mission took them off Highway One, Afghanistan’s bloodiest route, onto an arterial road, mostly dirt and gravel, for twenty klicks. Every pile of roadside trash, every broken chunk of concrete, every dead dog they passed was a threat of an IED emplacement set by insurgent enemy operators. Ridell released a tension-filled breath each time the convoy passed another potential IED concealment site.

Tank Specialist Michael (Mickey) Halloran, gunner on the MRAP, suddenly threw up a hand signal for ALL STOP as he yelled the command into the radio. Instincts honed over two deployments showed Halloran a mound of dirt on the left shoulder that just didn’t fit the expected look of the roadbed. Ridell, the driver, couldn’t force the heavily armored MRAP to a sudden enough stop and hit a hidden trip wire, setting off linked IED’s that took out the two lead vehicles.

Sgt. Linville watched as the MRAP and the first Humvee were flipped like toys under the thunderous force of an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) made from fertilizer and diesel fuel, materials easily accessed by the enemy. Linville prayed the troops in those vehicles would survive. A single thought penetrated his mind like a steel pointed spear:

How did we get to BOOM?

We’ve seen the movie, few among us have lived it:  A convoy of supply vehicles grinding its way along a dusty, rocky road when suddenly the earth opens up and vehicles and troops are lost to IED’s emplaced by insurgents in the Afghanistan/Iraq theaters.

To deal more effectively with the IED issue, the US military created the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO in military “shorthand”) whose job it was to find ways to reduce troop losses by IED’s. Thinking in a right-to-left logistical stream, JIEDDO created terms where all activity, preventive and otherwise, leading up to the boom of an IED explosion was termed “left of boom”.  Activity following the boom, such as investigations, forensics, engineered solutions for heavier armor and other corrective activities were labeled “right of boom”.  But this just led to a point/counterpoint situation where every right of boom improvement was met with more aggressive IED’s by the enemy.  It became clear that a move to left of boom thinking could save troops lives and effect change in the military theater.

Left of Boom military strategy included:

  • Attack the network – find the insurgents who supplied materials, find the bomb makers, find the support groups for these individuals, neutralize them all.  Make it impossible for insurgents to emplace IED’s.  (This equates to “root cause analysis” in safety work.)
  • Locate and defeat devices – analyze the mechanics, defuse/destroy
  • Train the troops, increase each soldier’s situational awareness using current information for location, identification, defusing the threat, including topographical imagery, social observation – looking for anything that “doesn’t fit” what he ought to be seeing.

Right of Boom military strategy included:

  • Immediate and acute incident investigations
  • Armoring up for improved protection
  • Use of constant helicopter gunship patrols to take out any potential emplacement threat.

Right of Boom strategy is resources and time consumptive.  One general said, “You can’t armor your way out of this.”  He was right, a turn to Left of Boom activities reduced the IED death rate by more than half in Afghanistan.

September 2014 was a pivotal month for the paper mill in Tennessee.  Lanny Travers, a senior mechanical engineer sitting on the EHS safety team, asked a well-known safety professional to visit the plant, “witness” a fabric change on Tissue Machine #16 and provide a consulting report on observations that might lead to an improved fall protection safety program.  The visit was made, many observations with photos of unsafe work practice were detailed in a report written and submitted, including a predictive analysis indicating when the plant might expect to see a fall with injury and, in time, a fatality.  Three months went by…nothing happened.  Then BOOM happened. – a fall with injury terminating Keith Langley’s working career.

Five Left of Boom Steps to Disrupt Safety IED’s in the Client Workplace

In the same way the US military attacked the IED issue in Afghanistan and Iraq, we safety professionals can use left of boom thinking to identify, locate, neutralize, and train against Safety IED’s in the workplace.  On your next trip into a client’s plant or construction site, as you walk through, look for these Safety IED examples of obvious substandard equipment or practices:

  • Open electrical boxes
  • Coverless box on electrical junction or outlets
  • Improper or no PPE in jobs that require safety glasses, gloves, aprons, work boots
  • Intentional bypass of limit switches or other limiting devices
  • Horseplay
  • Oil or other liquids on the floor
  • How clean and organized is the workplace?  Five S Program?
  • Workers with lowered situational awareness from monotony or distractions

Use Your Ears

Close your eyes for a moment.  Imagine yourself.  You are standing on a large manufacturing plant floor.  What do you hear?  Often, through sound, we can sense the source of a hazard long before you see a safety IED.

Consider the energy principle of safety:  Risk, measured as accident potential (frequency/severity), rises exponentially with the level of energy being released in a work environment.

Compare via sound/vibration energy, the observable risk in a typical warehouse area versus that of a stamping plant.  A warehouse has little sound and vibration energy, while a one hundred twenty-ton stamping press emits loud sound and an observable vibration force.   Recall the Hopalong Cassidy cap pistol you got for your fifth birthday versus the Browning 12-gauge full choke shotgun your Dad gave you when you turned sixteen.  Hear the low energy release of the cap pistol/the thunderous release of energy from the Browning with a 12-gauge 00 shell.  The safety risk from the cap gun is a burn on the finger while the shotgun risk for injury is catastrophic.  Sound matters.

Use Your Nose

As with sound and vibration, odors can provide a distant early warning of hazard in a manufacturing plant or construction site.  Hydrogen sulfide around a confined space or backed up sewer line is detectable by smell as you approach.  Many volatile organic compounds (VOC’s) can be olfactory sensed before you see a safety IED created by a spilled drum in a storage area, a leaking chlorine valve, diesel fuel from a truck fill over-run.  Be aware!  Situational awareness on site saves lives.  When you smell something that rings that little bell in your brain, ask the questions.  Raise awareness.

Use Your Hands

Extremes of temperature can be readily sensed on the skin of your hands or face.  Recognize this:  In an aluminum diecast plant, forklift trucks trundling open-top crucibles of molten metal over rough concrete floors, passing near workers and you as the heat radiates against your open palm and you can feel it on your face, only ten feet from the crucible.  One wrong bump or a piece of equipment or trash left on the floor and a catastrophic splash contact can be made with workers.   Imagine this scenario in your mind, predict the potential outcome, and…ask the questions!  You have discovered a potential safety IED.  Remember: Identify, Locate, Neutralize, Train.  These activities disrupt the bomb/accident chain.

Use Your Eyes

The concrete truck idles by a poured foundation of a house, the drum turning slowly so the bearings and track don’t wear a flat space.  The operator hoses out the chute, having already placed his load.  A construction worker nearby calls out to the operator, distracting him from the idling truck and the driver turns to respond.  In your walk across the site with the superintendent, you think you see the wheels on the truck move slightly. Has the operator failed to set the brake?  Trust your eyes.  Ask the question.

In a machining facility, your tour takes you by several stations.  You note the gaylords at one of the stations are precariously placed where a possible slip of a corner off the platform could force a contact with the machinist, maybe causing a serious leg injury.  Stop the tour, draw attention to what you see.  Trust your predictive instincts.  Ask the question.

Look for what feels “out of place”.  Like Specialist Halloran in our opening story spotting a mound of dirt that shouldn’t be there, look for the out of place transfer can of volatile material, the tool left laying on the catwalk, the electrical cord with no protective cover as it lays across the walkway, the pair of workers bumping each other in a game, the overflowing trash barrel – a sign of poor housekeeping.  These indicators are predictors of safety IED’s.  Keep looking.  It’s almost inevitable you will locate a safety IED.  Trust your eyes.  Ask the question.

Use Your Brain

The US miliary in Afghanistan and Iraq focused on stopping IED’s permanently by working leftward along the event timeline: Originating sponsor/financer ß bomb materials supplier and supporters ß Bomb maker ß identification of exploded bomb materials ß Analysis of equipment and training failures ß Search for human errors ß acute incident investigation ß BOOM. 

Always, analysts moved to the left in the timeline.  Concurrently there would be right of boom corrections in armament, deployments, security, air strikes and other resource consumptive measures.  Right of boom thinking treats symptoms, left of boom thinking attacks the root cause of a safety incident and informs corrections.  Think Left of Boom.

When on site at a client facility, maintain a high state of situational awareness.  Eyes, ears, nose hands, brain – observe those things that don’t seem to fit.  Speak up – Ask the question.

Talk with your client about safety programs that make a difference, like a robust Near-Miss Reporting Program.  Improve your own knowledge.  Research near-misses and read articles like this one by Origami Risk.  Be prepared to discuss left of boom strategic thinking, from articles like this in the US Marine Corp IED Training Manual and this best practices for Left of Boom implementation by Labor Relations Institute, Inc.  Talk about the similarities between military IED’s and potential safety incidents caused by unseen and unforeseen hazards.

Industry has learned much from our US military.  The single best weapon we have against safety incidents in the workplace is staying on high alert: Situational Awareness, which requires focus and effort on every plant or construction site visit. Couple observational intensity with root cause/left of boom thinking and we have an opportunity to be of service of the highest order to our clients and employees. And in the doing of it, save lives and suffering.

Stay Left of Boom.

Charlie Hall, CSP, CRSP has been in the safety industry for over 30 years and specializes in Work-At-Heights Fall Protection, Confined Space Entry with Rescue, Gas Detection and Monitoring Procedures, Safety Audits, Lockout/Tagout/Verify Tasks and Assistance with Written Company Safety Plans. 

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