Getting back to basics can save lives

  • Published
  • By Bill Parsons
  • Air Force Chief of Ground Safety
In the stressed, overworked and strained ops tempo environment of today's Air Force, safety sometimes ends up pushed to the back burner. While this is one solution to our over-filled plates, it is the most dangerous, with literally, life-threatening consequences. However, there is another option that can be lifesaving, and it has to do with our safety professionals getting back to the basics of our jobs, although I suspect many will not be happy with this solution.

We must reset our safety priorities because, frankly, things aren't going very well when it comes to on-duty fatalities. In my not-so-humble opinion, four on-the-job fatalities in the Air Force so far this fiscal year--more than all of last fiscal year--is four too many. On-duty fatalities occur in a controlled environment and are preventable. Therefore, each of the four fatalities we've experienced this year was preventable.

The U.S. Air Force has the very best safety and health professionals and the most well-developed and managed occupational safety and health program in the world. We have more than 650,000 Air Force military and civilian personnel working worldwide. These men and women receive the very best of occupational safety and health training. A single fatality is an indicator of a weak link in our program. What is the link?

Every injury or death is a failure; likely the failure of one or more of these groups: the commanders, the supervisors or the safety professionals. This trio must work to protect our Airmen from hazardous exposure, hazardous environments and/or poor decision making. One of the roles of the safety professional is the "boots on the ground" function; this could be our weak link. That function is a basic part of our job where we are out in the field making sure everyone is doing their part in protecting our Airmen. Our safety program must make spot inspections, workplace visits and AFI enforcement a priority. Out of those inspections and visits come priceless educational opportunities for skilled safety professionals to ensure every Airman has the necessary knowledge to create and maintain the safest possible work environments.

When safety professionals put their "boots on the ground" as often as possible, relationships develop that foster an environment focused on protecting Airmen and, by extension, preserving all combat capabilities. And let's not lose sight of the vital importance each on-site visit provides as the perfect educational tool for use by all participants in the visit. Airmen will learn instantly if there is something that needs attention, while safety professionals hone their skills in being able to apply safety concepts as well as AFI requirements.

The only bad part of our job as safety professionals is that we seldom know when we're successful, but we always know when we fail. Failure is not an option. I encourage all safety professionals to work diligently with commanders and supervisors toward our goal of zero on-duty fatalities. No one group can do it alone. Remember: commanders, supervisors and good safety professionals, do what it takes to keep all our military and civilian personnel safe.