Safety in the AOR: 8th EAMS's safety initiatives decrease mishaps

  • Published
  • By Capt. Ronnie Thrash and Tech. Sgt. Harold Morris
  • 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron
After 24 years of continuous combat operations in the U.S. Central Command Area of Operations, Airmen have become accustomed to the stressors of deployed environments. We are experts at meeting mission requirements even through the challenges of increased ops tempo, lack of resources, and less than ideal work environments.  In the drive to "just get the job done" or "make it happen," most of us have at some point narrowly avoided an accident.  How do we ensure we are focused on safe mission accomplishment, recognizing that compromising safety leads to failing to execute the mission?  We must ensure a safe and healthy work environment.  You can't make the mission happen without our single greatest resource, our Airmen.

Airmen should demand the same safety standards while deployed as at their home station.  A lower standard or relaxed mentality can have a devastating effect on down range units.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration may not be knocking on the door, but supervisors should strive to create a safety minded work environment.  Starting from the top down, deployed units need to assess their environment and apply sound decision making through risk management.

In August, the 8th Expeditionary Air Mobility Squadron avoided a potentially fatal situation and the loss of a $200,000 structure thanks to proper training, situational awareness, and quick reactions.  An air conditioning unit malfunctioned and began to overheat.  Personnel in the facility that housed the unit smelled smoke, quickly investigated, and found parts of the unit smoking and glowing red hot.  Members immediately responded by evacuating the structure, calling the fire department, and notifying the Air Terminal Operations Center.  Once outside, the supervisors performed a head count to ensure the accountability and safety of the 22 personnel who worked inside the structure, and marshaled the first responders to the scene.  If this situation were not handled properly, it could have easily ended with a loss of life.  An important fact about this event is that the initial incident identification and evacuation actions were initiated by junior members of the squadron.

Leaders should empower all Airmen to be an active part of the safety effort.  As a risk management tool, safety isn't simply a program run from the commander's office. The program is a method of appraising your environment.  Every year thousands of Airmen are injured, and some are even killed in situations that could have easily been prevented.  We must look for mishap trends, trouble areas, and unnecessary safety risks that can be corrected.  We must be invested and get involved to make a difference.  Airmen at all levels should be encouraged to speak up and make it known when they identify an unsafe situation or process.

In order to promote a safer work environment, the 8th EAMS safety office has created two unique ideas to promote safety.  The first is a spot inspection program where our members conduct random weekly safety inspections in their sections.  Airmen who submit successful and valid inspections are eligible to participate in a contest where the winner is awarded an official day off.  The second is Ocho Bingo, each week that there are no reportable mishaps, two numbers are drawn.  There are different types of awards and multiple ways to win.

Is it working?  Nothing speaks louder than results.  During the hottest part of the summer and with a high ops tempo, we recently broke a long standing squadron safety record by having 47 days without a reportable mishap.  By making safety a priority and promoting safe work practices, we also reduced reportable incidents by 31% from last year.

Some questions that Airmen at all levels should ask:  What is the biggest safety issue for our people while deployed?  What are the most prevalent mishaps at my current location?  How could an accident affect me?  What can we do to increase safety awareness?  What makes an incident reportable and who do I report it to if necessary?  Each of these questions should be considered individually, but lead to a conversation.  Working through the answers will make a significant impact and possibly save someone's life.