Keeping people safe -- even when their actions defy logic

Maj. Kyle Boeckman, 71st Flying Training Wing acting Chief of Safety

Maj. Kyle Boeckman, 71st Flying Training Wing acting Chief of Safety

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- You can't fix stupid... or can you?

In the safety business, I am constantly exposed to mishap reports that describe how people become involved in accidents. In some cases the individual does something that defies all logic and clearly does not pass the common sense test.

Unfortunately, as French philosopher Voltaire said, "Common sense is not so common." In these situations, people echo comedian Ron White's comment that the accident was unpreventable because "you can't fix stupid."

Is it true you can't fix stupid? After all, the whole point of a safety program is prevention. I contend that though we may not be able to actually fix stupid, we can, in all but extremely rare cases, keep people from making stupid decisions.

Our Air Force is home to some of the brightest people in the world and none of them are stupid. However, we are all susceptible to making bad decisions. Some people who make good decisions in one area of life habitually make bad decisions in others. Rather than calling people stupid, let's define them as bad decision makers.

How do we stop bad decision makers from endangering their life and the lives of others? HERE'S how. The acronym, HERE'S, provides a reference for supervisors to determine what actions to take to keep their people from making bad decisions. It starts with time-intensive measures and moves toward actions that take less effort but are more restrictive.

H - "Hold their hand." This refers to nearly full-time monitoring to make sure subordinates don't make bad decisions. Sometimes this close monitoring can be delegated to a peer who can act as a true Wingman for the bad decision maker.

E - "Educate." Safety briefings are one way to educate bad decision makers but they probably aren't the best way. The best way is through training or coaching by a more experienced member who has "been there, done that." The motorcycle mentorship program is a good example.

R - "Regulate." Regulation places restrictions on activities to ensure the unsafe aspects can be eliminated or at least reduced. Restricting teenagers from driving at night is an example of regulation.

E - "Eliminate." Elimination removes bad decision makers from the threat altogether by preventing their participation in the hazardous activity. If a member has a high risk factor or has not responded to the first three steps, this may be the only way to keep them safe.

S - "Stop." This can be confused with "eliminate," but refers to stopping an activity not just for the bad decision maker but for everyone. This is the most restrictive but it may be required for activities that are high-risk for everyone.

With HERE'S as a guide, the question is which measure to take. A decision making tool most people use, whether they recognize it or not, is Risk Management. Risk Management is not a new thing. Your parents probably used it when they raised you. I know mine did.

When I was 14 my parents let me buy a motorcycle to drive to work since they knew I was relatively cautious. My younger brother, however, had little regard for his own safety. They chose to not let him ride a motorcycle.

They didn't know it but they were using Risk Management. Is it fair to restrict our troops like this? Absolutely. As supervisors, we are called on to care for our people like they are our family. Would you let a member of your family participate in an activity you knew to be dangerous for them?

Whether we follow the Risk Management model or not, we have a responsibility to assess risk for our family, our subordinates and co-workers and do what is required to ensure they don't make bad decisions that put their life in danger.

We may not be able to fix stupid, but we can assess risk and use the HERE'S acronym to ensure our bad decision makers don't become bad mishap statistics.