Not Sweeping Problems Under Rug


Corporal Troy Russell gave a seemingly simple task when working with old carpet more thought and care than it otherwise might have attracted. His forward-thinking approach towards protecting personnel and the environment earned him an Air Force Safety Award.

The aircraft safety equipment maintainer received the award for identifying safety precautions and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements that were overlooked while repairing worn carpets in the P-8A Poseidon.

“We were throwing the old carpet on this huge bench, using them as stencils to replace the new carpets, and dust was flying everywhere,” Corporal Russell said.

“I remembered as part of our risk assessment when vacuuming in the aircraft that there are aircraft components that contain heavy metals, so when emptying the vacuum cleaner, PPE needed to be worn.”

Before joining the Air Force in 2018, Corporal Russell managed a recycling centre for seven years. He drew on his experience in safety and handling toxic substances.

“I took the handling of scrap metal seriously and treated all materials as potentially harmful while dismantling air conditioners, old car parts and other metal objects,” he said.

After witnessing multiple incidents before joining the Air Force, Corporal Russell changed his perspective on safety and knows first-hand how easily things can go wrong.

“In my civilian job, I witnessed people welding next to rags soaking in paint thinner which set a shed filled with oxy bottles on fire – they went ‘boom’ and launched across the road onto another business,” he said.

“I also saw forklifts roll with individuals inside, fortunately never hurt. I know how easily it can go awry by not paying attention, ignoring the mess, or thinking ‘She’ll be right, I don’t need to tidy that up’.”

On joining Air Force, he made safety his top priority. This change in mindset gave him the courage to question safety procedures during the deeper-level maintenance carpet repair.

Instead of just completing the task, Corporal Russell said he always looks for ways to improve it, streamline it, and make it safer and easier for others.

He submitted an amendment to maintenance procedures to include a warning about the risk of heavy metal contamination in the old carpet.

The use of PPE was also recommended to mitigate the risks to personnel and the environment.

Corporal Russell has made significant changes impacting not just the Air Force, but international forces such as the US Navy, which is also altering its procedures.

His diligence and attention to detail secured him an award for excellence in the Air Force Safety Awards for his individual contribution as a person not holding a formal safety appointment.

Corporal Russell, who is posted to Aeronautical Life Support Section at RAAF Base Edinburgh, was unaware that his previous supervisor and team had nominated him for the award.

According to Sergeant Daniel Charles, Corporal Russell’s current supervisor, he is a proponent of change and innovation.

“This award is well deserved and speaks volumes about Corporal Russell’s courage to speak up if he sees an issue and is willing to do what’s right to look after his workmates,” Sergeant Charles said.

Now, when worn carpets need replacing, new carpets are used as templates, ensuring personnel aren’t exposed to potential hazards.

“It was amazing to receive recognition, but honestly, I was just doing my job,” Corporal Russell said.

“I would rather ask questions and be cautious about heavy metals than take risks.”

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