SHOCKING: How the Military Combats the Dangers of Static Electricity

By Raeanna Morgan
Crane Army Ammunition Activity

In the lower left hand corner is an example of grounding in a countermeasure facility. Grounding is one way CAAA protects employees against the dangers of static electricity. The cable is connected from the table to the “ammunition case” in order to eliminate any static present on the case.

Conductive shoes are an essential element of an operator’s personal protective equipment. Coupled with the conductive flooring in the building, this measure is extremely effective in dissipating static near the operation.

Ask explosives operators at Crane Army Ammunition Activity about handling energetics and it won’t be long until they are explaining how it is an inherently dangerous job. Safety procedures must be respected at all times to ensure every employee is protected should even the smallest spark cause a great catastrophe.

Although all buildings have safety measures in place and are tested and checked to make sure they are working properly, buildings that are designated for countermeasure flare operations have even more protection. This is due to the specific chemicals that are used during the production process and how they react to static electricity.

“We produce decoy flares in our building and the base material, or the energetic, is a magnesium Teflon with a Viton binder. The material itself is very electrostatic sensitive,” Crane Army Countermeasure Flare Commodity Manager Mark Benstin said. “It is most sensitive when we’re manufacturing, which is where we use solvents. In our mixing process one of the solvents is at a lower explosive limit vapor concentration.” Benston also pointed out that it takes about 300 times less static electricity to ignite the material in a countermeasure flare production building than it takes to shock your hand on a door knob.

“If the material were to ignite, those operators—and possibly anyone else in the building—would be in danger, so we have to mitigate how we control static,” Benstin said. “We do that through five layers of redundant systems, so if one system were to fail, there are backup systems that will continue to control the static.”

In order to best protect employees, the preventative layering system begins with the building itself. Outside of the building, there is a lightning protection system in place to guard against static electricity created in the event of a storm. Inside the building, a high-speed deluge sprinkler system is in place over the areas where operators are working in case material should ignite and cause a fire.

“These deluges can detect UV and IR light,” CAAA Supervisory Safety Engineer Bob Gillis said. “They are very responsive and will discharge in less than 50 milliseconds. To put it in perspective, you blink in 250 milliseconds. So before you even blink, there is water dumping and you don’t even realize what’s happening. This is primarily in place for worker protection; it’s to give people a chance to get out.”

Another protective measure built into the building is the conductive flooring found in the countermeasure facilities. The special type of flooring aids in dissipating any static on an operator’s body.

“Any static electricity that builds up on your body will dissipate down through your shoes, onto the floor, and into the ground,” Benstin said. “Our operators also have another level of protection—clothing,” Benstin said. “We require workers to wear all cotton, so every article of clothing, including undergarments. On top of that, coveralls are required as well as gloves and special conductive shoes.”

As a final measure of protection concerning PPE, operators use a spray called staticide. This spray works similarly to a dryer sheet, except it is in a liquid form. Staticide is sprayed on gloves and coveralls, as well as any tool being used during the operations.

A small, but just as important layer of protection, is called an air ionizer.

“The ionizers blow air through a cylinder that creates a cone with about a three foot distance,” Gillis said. “As long as the ionizer is positioned right in a workspace, it is nearly impossible to have a static discharge.”

The final layer of protection is temperature and humidity control of the building. This is the most efficient way to control the amount of static electricity in the facility and the levels are constantly and consistently monitored by building supervisors to make sure they stay within the appropriate range.

The current process in place has kept employees safe and the product working well for over a decade.

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