Chief of Safety (retired Oct. 1, 2010)
U.S. Air Force
The mission of the U.S. Air Force is to fly, fight and win ... in air, space and cyberspace. The U.S. Air Force, headquartered in Washington, has approximately 330,000 active-duty Airmen, nearly 200,000 civilian employees and 10,000 reservists.
Air Force Airmen, civilians and their families are the Air Force's most precious resource – without them our equipment, organizations and mission would grind to a halt. The safety of our entire team, on and off duty, is key to the accomplishment of our vital national security role. Air Force leadership at all levels must constantly strive to do everything possible to mitigate risk, save lives and preserve our precious combat capability – our Airmen – to fly, fight and win.
How do you instill a sense of safety on an ongoing basis?
Airmen are trained from their first day in uniform that the mission comes first but safety is always. Nobody on the team ever wants to – intentionally or otherwise – do the enemy's work and negatively impact our combat capability by not accounting for the risk they face every day. Hence, as an institution we committed ourselves to a "back to basics" approach that reinvigorated a culture of compliance and discipline inherent to military organizations. This attitude is coupled with an ongoing safety and mishap prevention and training program across the Air Force, in which Airmen are taught and refreshed on the importance of safety to the mission every day.
The biggest obstacle to safety in the Air Force is complacency. Our Airmen deal with high-risk activities in the air, in battle zones, on flight lines and in ammunition storage areas every day. And they do an outstanding job of identifying and mitigating hazards and minimizing on-the-job mishaps. When they drive off base after being immersed in a proactive risk management culture all day, they can become complacent and drop their guard during the most dangerous part of their job – the journey to and from work on America's highways.
Safety is all about communication and leadership. Thus, we mounted a huge strategic communication effort to involve our leaders at every level and ensure everyone was aware complacency while driving off duty was the biggest killer of Airmen on and off duty.
Between 2000 and 2009, the Air Force lost 788 Airmen and suffered $8.8 billion in loss and damages due to safety mishaps. Because our Airmen are precious, our resources are dwindling, and because we must be good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, this magnitude of loss had to stop. Due to great leadership at all levels, this issue has been addressed and the numbers are improving steadily. In fact, 2009 and 2010 were the safest years in the skies ever in the Service's 63-year history.
We measure safety in two main categories: on duty and off duty. When we look at on-duty mishaps, we see a workforce that is relatively safe. One sees quality supervision, sound judgment and effective use of risk management. In fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the Air Force only had six and five fatal on-duty fatal accidents, respectively.
However, we experienced considerably more off-duty fatal accidents, and the majority of these were automobile accidents – what we categorize as private motor vehicle accidents. In fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the Air Force had 44 and 54 off-duty fatal private motor vehicle accidents, with 29 and 47, respectively, occurring in automobiles. As the U.S. Air Force Chief of Safety and Chair of a Department of Defense Private Motor Vehicle Accident Reduction Task Force, I focused our efforts on these fatalities. We zeroed in on motorcycle riders because approximately 40 percent of our private motor vehicle fatalities occurred on motorcycles, but roughly 10 percent of the force rides a motorcycle.
In our efforts to reduce motorcycle fatalities, I adopted the mantra "respect the rider." By providing increased levels of quality training and clear and concise guidance, we created a safer environment for our riders. In fiscal year 2010, the U.S. Air Force reduced its motorcycle fatalities by 40 percent and the overall Department of Defense fatality numbers decreased by 8 percent over the previous year. The Air Force also reduced four-wheeled private motor vehicle fatal accidents by 40 percent over the previous year. Notably, from Thanksgiving 2009 to New Year’s 2010, the U.S. Air Force had the lowest number of private motor vehicle fatalities and the lowest number of four-wheeled private motor vehicle fatalities on record (zero).
But we still have room to improve in this area. The Secretary of Defense established a 75 percent reduction goal for accidents by 2012 (based on 2002 numbers as a baseline). In fiscal year 2010, the goal was no more than eight fatal motorcycle mishaps. Therefore, with 12 fatal motorcycle mishaps in fiscal year 2010, the U.S. Air Force still has room for improvement. Additionally, the U.S. Air Force should work to reduce the number of fatal private motor vehicle accidents caused by not wearing safety belts, alcohol, fatigue and excessive speed. For example, from fiscal year 2006 to 2009, 39 percent of Air Force automobile fatalities were not wearing a safety belt, 28 percent were alcohol-related, 31 percent were fatigue-related and 80 percent were speed-related. The DoD percentages are similar to these U.S. Air Force numbers, and we must continue our efforts to reduce automobile accidents from these causal factors. In short, we must drive SAFE (wear Safety Belts, no Alcohol, no Fatigue, and no Excessive Speed).
The U.S. Air Force, naturally, also measures the safety of aviation accidents, and we have been extremely successful. Fiscal year 2009 was the safest year ever for the U.S. Air Force, with 0.90 Class A Aviation mishaps per 100,000 flying hours. That was until fiscal year 2010, when the U.S. Air Force only suffered 0.71 Class A Aviation mishaps per 100,000 flying hours. The men and women fixing and flying the U.S. Air Force’s aviation fleet deserve huge accolades for this accomplishment.
Off-the-job safety is extremely important in the U.S. Air Force's overall safety program because this is where we lose a majority of our Airmen. Specifically, a majority of the off-the-job fatalities occur in private motor vehicle accidents. Nearly 70 percent of private motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. Air Force are in the rank of Staff Sergeant (E-5) and below. Because of this, I organized the "Airmen-to-Airmen Council," a group of young Airmen who had experienced vehicle accidents or encounters with law enforcement and who could, based on their commander’s assessment, become effective leaders in the Air Force. These 10 Airmen provided feedback on current safety programs, opinions on effective communication with young Airmen and videotaped their story to educate their peers. Additionally, I sought the assistance of spouses and family members to communicate the tragic numbers and causes of vehicle accidents to our Airmen. I held spouse focus groups, instituted a "speak up" campaign for family members and a media campaign using family members to communicate the message through videos and public service announcements. I also provided commanders with the ability to assess the driving culture within their organization through the use of the Air Force Climate Assessment Safety Tool. AFCAST provides unit-specific feedback and recommendations to commanders. Finally, I solicited U.S. Air Force leadership engagement at all levels in private motor vehicle accident prevention. The Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Michael R. Donley, and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, signed a memo to all Airmen highlighting the importance of understanding that failure to take personal responsibility for vehicle operation would result in their being held accountable, and commanders were tasked to ensure personnel were aware of requirements related to vehicle operation and enforce compliance.
As Chair of the Department of Defense Private Motor Vehicle Accident Reduction Task Force, I coordinated the largest respective study of private motor vehicle accidents, an in-depth epidemiological analysis of DoD active duty private motor vehicle fatalities from fiscal year 2006 to 2009. The analysis highlighted human factors present in the mishaps and provided solid recommendations to prevent future mishaps. I also conducted a motorcycle rider focus groups with military rider from all Services.
This data is being integrated into targeted media efforts for DoD and enhancing motorcycle training within the Services. Additionally, the data is being used to guide the task force's strategic plan as we look for effective ways to employ education, engineering and enforcement to prevent private motor vehicle accidents.