Safety … How are we really doing?



Commentary by Lt. Col. Geoffrey Gibbs
Chief of the 42nd Air Base Wing Safety Office


2/15/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Let's talk safety, I mean really talk bottom line safety.

As a whole, I think we talk a good talk, but are we truly effective? Do we really know whether we're having an impact or not? We know each one of us plays a role in ensuring our own safety and that of those around us, whether co-workers, family or friends.

However, safety tends to be one of those intangibles, where you may never truly know the impact you're having if you never have a significant mishap. If nothing ever happens, you have nothing to compare it to or have no basis from which to start.

You can easily be lulled into a false sense of security or possibly even take a lax perspective, thinking you're safe but not taking measures to ensure your safety. That's where statistics come in.

I know what many of you might be thinking, "But you can make statistics say anything you want!" True to some degree, particularly if there's a strong bias to do so. But looking at the numbers from a broader perspective can provide a better understanding of the underlying trends and predominant issues we need to be concerned about.

Take Maxwell for example. Last year we had the lowest number of reportable mishaps in more than two decades on record. Air Education and Training Command, as a major command, received the Col. Will Tubbs award for the best ground safety program in the Air Force.

That all sounds great, right? Even more so when compared to recent Air Force numbers that show the Air Force already had as many on-duty fatalities in the first fiscal quarter of this year than all of 2012 combined. Off-duty fatality statistics Air Force-wide aren't much better, especially where motorcycle mishaps are concerned.

So I suppose we're doing well, right?

Yes ... and no. We can be very thankful that we haven't had a mishap fatality in some time and that our non-fatal reportable mishaps have been on the decline. I'm confident that's a result of proactive measures and risk assessments we've all taken in some form or another to avoid tragic mishaps.

Those mishaps are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. What many don't see or hear are the lower-level mishaps or the "near misses," mishaps or incidents that could have been worse, but weren't.

Even with the lowest number of reportable mishaps on record in two decades, Maxwell's lower-level mishaps or "near misses" nearly doubled last year. Some of that increase has to do with more proactive reporting by those of you involved, and that's great. Yet the reality is that we have nearly three mishaps or "near misses" every day of the year, and most of them deal with individuals involved in physical fitness activities, on or off duty.

The causes? Predominantly they are due to inattention, overexertion and improper warm-ups. Which begs the question, are you looking for that uneven terrain or are you distracted by music or issues you're dealing with? Are you going through a challenging but manageable workout, or are you pushing yourself and others too hard? Are you taking time to limber up or are you rushing into your physical fitness?

Seems too simple, and it is, but are you honestly taking that extra moment to assess the risks involved in everything you do and actively attempt to minimize them?

In statistics, zero mishaps should be the goal. To effectively achieve it, we could conceivably stop doing everything, but that's hardly realistic. We've been doing well, but there's always room for improvement.

The reality is that we want to, no, need to live and enjoy life and that despite all our efforts, someone will likely get hurt, sometime, somewhere, somehow. The question is, does it have to be you? What are you doing to avoid becoming a statistic?