GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- On a quiet day, Victor Hernandez can briefly let his mind wander off to a cool lake and a warm, relaxing summer day of fishing.
Today is not one of those days.
It's early spring at Recruit Training Command and winter is slowly yielding its extended chokehold, revealing new risks and hazards caused by its icy grip. A weekend's worth of reports and emails demand Hernandez's attention and a Navy Occupational Safety and Health inspection team is at the midpoint of its two-week visit.
Today, Hernandez's full focus is on safety issues, much as they have been during his 10 years with the RTC Safety Department, including the last eight years as safety officer. Hernandez, a retired senior chief who served 26 years in the Navy, has received extensive training from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Department of the Navy Safety Center.
He leads a three-person RTC Safety Department that provides training for more than 1,800 staff members and about 38,000 to 40,000 recruits who graduate each year. Additionally, the safety staff monitors, documents and ensures safety standards are met in 34 buildings.
Those standards are established using OPNAV instructions, OSHA policy and recommendations from the chain of command. Safety Department goals support and are aligned with the RTC mission.
"We want to provide a safe training environment in order to facilitate the transformation of recruit trainees into enlisted apprentice Sailors by preventing mishaps and saving lives," Hernandez said. "Our goal is a mishap-free environment at RTC, ensuring our Sailors graduate fully capable and eager to meet the challenges of the 21st century Navy."
Each year, the Safety Department oversees three to four outside agency inspections of RTC facilities, including a High Risk Trainer review by the Naval Education and Training Command later this year.
Safety staff members safeguard that a safe working and training environment is maintained on a daily basis.
"We hope our safety plan helps keep the staff safe and helps keep them ready to lend a hand if someone was to have a medical emergency," Hernandez said.
Monitoring and documentation are done through the Enterprise Safety Applications Management System (ESAMS).
Shannon Hicks has been a member of the Safety Department for the past two of her seven years at RTC. She communicates and works with Recruit Division Commanders and ship safety liaisons to update information and process mishap and hazard reports.
"I enjoy the interaction I have with all the different staff members and getting out to the different buildings and providing any guidance I can to ensure they are up to code and inspection ready," said Hicks. "I also enjoy providing training to the different safety reps to help them keep their records up to date."
Asked to describe a perfect work day, Hernandez and Hicks agreed it would be free of safety mishaps and injury reports.
"People, at times, believe we want to make their job harder," Hernandez said. "We just want to ensure they are safe in all they do."
With prevention as their top priority, safety staff conducts spot checks, regularly meets with divisional safety reps and encourages the reporting of safety concerns.
"Many times I hear, after the fact, that a sidewalk has been a problem for months, just to find out that no one had submitted a trouble call to fix the problem," Hernandez said. "People seem to think that others will let someone know. I tell everyone, please let your chain of command know if we have a danger area on base, or call the safety office, so we can submit that trouble call and mark the area off so no one gets hurt. It is always better to prevent an injury if we can help it."
Another prevention strategy Hernandez employs is emailing safety reminders to the command, especially before extended holiday weekends. Twice a year, the Safety Department conducts a safety stand-down, a mandatory event for all-hands that covers a number of safety precautionary topics pertaining to the current season.
"In our busy work environment, it just makes sense to stop twice a year and remind ourselves and go over what they have heard in the past to increase safety awareness," Hernandez said.
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline.
About 38,000 to 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.