It wasn't an accident, it was carelessness

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col David Clinton
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Chief of Safety
It wasn't an accident, it was carelessness

How many of you remember when you were a kid telling your parents "sorry it was an accident?" They probably replied "no it wasn't, it was carelessness" and you may have had the same comment for your children.

Welcome to the world of the safety office and risk management. Eliminating preventable mishaps is the primary goal of the safety office.

Carelessness and poor decision making do not cause accidents they cause preventable mishaps. One of the best known programs we have for mishap prevention is the "101 Critical Days of Summer" and its associated statistics.

This year, 12 Air Force members lost their lives in off-duty incidents so far during the "101 Critical Days of Summer," and most of those losses would fall under the category of "preventable mishaps." I'll brief that number at a staff meeting, people will acknowledge the number, initially devote some minimal thought to it and then return to the business of the day with a vague memory that something was briefed about summer safety.

At a different base, a wing commander will be in a staff meeting briefing his folks on the immense impact of losing one of their Airmen--spouses, children, relatives, friends and co-workers all personally feeling the magnitude of the tragedy and trying to cope with the finality of the loss. Many will also look back in hindsight and wonder if there was something they could, or should, have done to break the chain of events that led to the mishap. To them, this is not a statistic, not another safety briefing; it was the preventable loss of a person who was invaluable and irreplaceable to them in their daily lives.

We at Vance have been fortunate and not found ourselves in that situation, but that doesn't mean we got here without a few mistakes. A case in point would be the recent DUI charge levied against a member of our wing. That type of decision making could have easily resulted in another Air Force fatality briefing statistic. So, while I honestly believe that we have been doing many things right, it's important to acknowledge that, in at least a couple of cases, we were just lucky. The Air Force as a whole, however, has not been so fortunate. So far in 2007 we are tracking about the same as we were in 2006 for week nine of "101 Critical Days of Summer" and slightly below the number for 2005. We, as an Air Force, have failed to achieve a drastic reduction in fatalities in the last several years. We still have people making poor decisions.

These poor decisions become evident with just a cursory glance at the details of this year's mishaps. Eleven of the 12 mishaps involved some type of motor vehicle, be it a boat, ATV, motorcycle or automobile. Seatbelt use, alcohol, fatigue, excessive speed, and lost control can, either individually or in combination, be found as a primary cause in each one of these fatalities. One NCO tested positive for alcohol and was not wearing his seatbelt when he lost control of his vehicle. Another, an E-7 who lost control of his ATV, tested positive for alcohol and was not wearing any personal protective equipment. Great examples for their troops, just not quite the positive example I'm sure they would have envisioned for themselves.

However, they were not alone. Seven of the 12 fatalities were NCOs or officers. Despite age and experience, this group is not immune to poor decision making and faulty judgment. One NCO found his way onto the list by simply taking his off-road dirt bike past the point of his ability to control it. All of us, regardless of rank and age, need to stop, think, use proper protective gear and use common sense before we put ourselves in a situation that demands more than our experience and ability can overcome.

Of the 12 deaths so far this summer, at least 11, probably all 12 were preventable. We need to learn from their mistakes and not let these individuals be just a statistic, regardless of what base they were stationed at. Unfortunately though, for most, the common tendency is to believe that it will always happen to someone else. I would wager that each and every person that became a fatality statistic this year thought that it would always happen to someone else. They never stopped to think that their death would affect hundreds of people, and that each decision they made would have such far reaching consequences. Those who were affected would probably tell you to pay attention to those around you and be ready and willing to stop someone from doing something that doesn't make sense because you might be the only one to have the opportunity to break the chain of events and stop a "preventable mishap."

As chief of wing safety, I would like to personally thank you for a relatively mishap-free summer to this point at Vance AFB. We have had only one off-duty reportable mishap and that was a sports injury to one of our deployed Airmen. Thank you for your diligence and support of our safety programs. Keeping our wing safe is a combination of leadership by example, knowing your peers' and subordinates' high risk activities, and having the courage to call a "Knock it Off" when you see something that doesn't pass the common sense test. In five weeks "101 Critical Days of Summer" will come to an end, our focus on safety and taking care of our people however, should not.