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Making Safe Choices

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col Mark Jernigan
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Chief of Safety
What is so hard about doing things safely? After a year as the Chief of Safety at Pope, I've run into many situations that make me scratch my head and ponder this question. After all, it takes only a few extra seconds to buckle up, put on the appropriate protective equipment, or slow down to the posted speed limit. Almost every week, my phone rings about an accident involving a safety-related incident. It seems that recently, incidents occur more than once or twice a week, and that certainly causes significant concern. My staff has investigated no less than eight on-duty vehicle accidents and nine personal injury incidents in the past few weeks. In almost every case, we found careless behavior, such as lack of attention to detail, as a primary factor. 

We're now entering week 12 of the "101 Critical Days of Summer" safety campaign, and as of writing this article, 12 of our fellow Airmen have lost their lives due to safety-related accidents this summer. I recently reviewed statistics from the Air Force Safety Center that show we're certainly not inventing new ways to kill or injure ourselves. Careless behavior is a common theme in many recent accidents. Since 2005, 81 Airmen have died in motorcycle accidents (60 of them while engaging in reckless behavior); 11 were not wearing helmets; and 66 of them were riding a sports bike. Taking a look at automobile fatalities, I found that 120 Airmen died behind the wheel in that same period. Eighty-three of them were engaging in reckless behavior, 42 were not wearing seat belts and 37 had been drinking. 

I recently stopped one young man who was riding a sports bike on base without a required piece of gear. He knew he needed it but left it in his shop. As I talked to him, I discovered he had not taken a required motorcycle training course. Despite having his bike for approximately two years, he had chosen to avoid taking a skills and safety course that could someday save his life. In two years, did he just not have the time to take the course? He should have wanted to take the class, not because it was required by regulation, but because his personal safety and maybe his life were at stake. One would think he had a vested interest in improving his ability to survive. 

We have been very fortunate at Pope to avoid any fatal accidents so far this summer. At least three of our local incidents could easily have been fatal. My staff often observes individuals on Pope who knowingly do not comply with safety requirements. Why is that? Is it just too hard to do? I believe it's not too difficult, and if we look at each task from a perspective that our personal safety and the safety of others depends on doing things the right way, we'll dramatically reduce the accident trend. We'll all do a better job and we'll be safer at it. 

None of us are invincible! None of us know what lurks around the next bend in life. All we can really do is prepare to the best of our ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead. That starts with doing things the right way, simply because it's the right way to do things. Safety is all about individual attitude and actions. We can choose to take shortcuts and put ourselves at increased risk, or we can choose to use common sense, follow the guidelines and do things safely with reduced risk. I hope we all chose to do things the right way in our future endeavors. Many of us make the right choices on a daily basis, and my thanks to each of you for making safety a part of your job.

NOTE: The Pope Safety Center is available to assist with safety needs and can be reached at (910)394-8389.