ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration formed a safety alliance with Robins and its two unions Friday that officials say is the first of its kind.
Representatives of each group signed the agreement in Building 169, which four years ago was the focal point of a massive OSHA investigation that led to 39 citations against the base.
Officials said its the first time a Department of Defense agency and its unions have formed such an agreement with OSHA. It’s aimed to promote better safety training, improve communication and make sure employees are able to report safety issues.
“This partnership represents not only how far we’ve come but how far we need to go,” said Col. Chris Hill, the installation commander. “This is not a finish line but another step in a long journey.”
William Fulcher, director of OSHA’s Atlanta-East office, took his job at about the time the investigation at Robins began. He said about 25 percent of his workforce was at Robins during that time.
“This alliance is an agreement that we are going to work with the base to improve safety and health education,” he said.
He said the effort won’t just target the base but the surrounding community to create a culture of safety in the area.
The signing came on the last full workday of Brig. Gen. Cedric George, commander of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, of which Building 169 is a part. George is relinquishing command in a ceremony Monday. He said he was glad to see the agreement get done before he leaves.
“This alliance codifies that we are not going to focus on firefighting, we are going to focus on fire prevention,” he said.
After the ceremony, George said the idea for the alliance first came up in 2011, but the election of new union leadership last year was a big part of the reason it was able to get done now.
Robert Tidwell, the new union president, was the person who originally reported the OSHA violations when he was working in Building 169 as a sheet metal mechanic. The violations largely centered around the control of contaminated dust from grinding paint off aircraft parts.
Tidwell became part of an effort that led to many improvements in equipment and protective gear for those who work in the building, which is called the Metal Bond Shop. He said he was motivated by the fact that his mother, who worked in an aircraft plant, and several of her co-workers died of cancer. He believed it was because of safety issues in their workplace.
“The union wasn’t listening to me, management wasn’t listening to me, so I had to do what was the right thing to do,” Tidwell said before signing the agreement.
He told workers in the shop that they are now looked to throughout the military as a standard of good safety practices.
Tidwell is president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 987, which represents workers in the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex and other areas on base. Also signing the agreement was Todd Surfer, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F-107, which represents the firefighters at Robins.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.