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NAVAL STATION ROTA, Spain — Working at the base power plant has been a noisy and hazardous job for years.

Between 50 and 70 employees — some of them retired now — have been diagnosed with noise-induced hearing loss.

Since the naval station’s tight budget can’t pay for the expensive, noise-reducing fixes, a little-known Navy program will.

The Navy’s Mishap Prevention and Hazard Abatement Program will spend $470,000 to reduce the noise at the plant and fix several other safety hazards at the base in southern Spain.

The program spends about $12 million at Navy bases worldwide to minimize safety hazards that money-strapped commanders often do not have the funds to repair.

The program will dish out about $1 million to Navy bases in Europe, according to Lance Laughmiller, the Navy’s Hazard Abatement program manager. The money will be spent on such things as an insulated roof to better control shop temperatures and ergonomically designed mop buckets for custodians.

The money comes at a time when many base commanders are dealing with smaller budgets because of war costs and plans to modernize the fleet.

In Rota, Dave Hiipakka, Kevin Dyrdahl and Miguel Garcia with the hospital’s Industrial Hygiene Department have pushed to get money from the Naval Facilities Command, which oversees the hazard abatement program.

They helped get the approval for a $275,000 computerized system that will allow power plant workers to check gauges for electrical generators, converters, steam boilers and pump stations from a terminal in a quieter room.

“It’s a pretty extreme work environment down there,” Hiipakka said.

The money spent on the new system not only improves safety, but also it is expected to save money in the long run. The Navy has spent $1.5 million in compensation to plant employees, according to a request for the project.

Other projects approved:

A new, $85,000 centralized compressed air system that will reduce interior noise.A $100,000 roof that will replace deteriorated asbestos tiles.An additional $10,000 for ergonomically designed mop buckets, mop handles and equipment carts to reduce custodians’ back injuries.In the past decade, the hospital’s Industrial Hygiene Department has brought $1.2 million to the base to improve safety shortfalls. The department routinely reviews working conditions and suggests ways commands can improve.

“Nobody is really against making the workplace safer, but if they’ve undergone the budget cuts we’ve seen just this year, where they’ve cut [Morale, Welfare and Recreation] pretty good, they simply can’t do it,” Hiipakka said.


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