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All accidents are preventable

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. -- I recently had some discussions with personnel from my squadron. We talked about safety incidents that we'd heard of and experienced. We talked about working in industrial areas like the flightline and we discussed accidents that happen on our highways and in our homes. To sort of "stir the pot" and get people talking about safety, I proposed my own personal theory that all accidents are preventable.

I started quite a controversy; most people vehemently disagreed with me. They stated while most accidents are preventable, there are a few that "just happen" and nothing could have been done to stop someone from getting hurt or equipment damaged.

Though studies and statistics exist, I came up with my theory very unscientifically. It's only based on my own experience. Every incident that I have known about or was involved in, when you "peel the onion back", was preventable if someone would have used the proper equipment or tool, slowed down, followed directions or warnings or used Operational Risk Management.

My experience includes both personal and professional incidents. For example, I had a friend from high school drown in a boating accident; he was not wearing a life preserver. I had a close family member involved in a serious snowmobile accident; his speed was excessive for the nighttime conditions. To be honest, I too have done some things that could have been thought out better. Sometimes, I got lucky and no one got hurt and nothing got broken. Other times, I got hurt or I broke something. We're all human, but all of it was avoidable.

Professionally, I've investigated traffic collisions and damage to Air Force equipment, and a few years ago I was part of a Safety Investigation Board. Unfortunately, at work, I see people get hurt and equipment get broken. Once, I saw an Air Force spouse, while mowing a lawn, lose her vision in one eye; she was not wearing eye protection. Most of these people were not doing anything overtly stupid. They were doing what we all do, doing their tasks as best they knew how. But they hadn't really thought about the inherent risks of the tasks. What's the worst that can happen? What's the probability that it will happen?

My unit leadership recently started a safety enhancement program. We're not changing any of the current policies. We're just trying to highlight safety more and get people thinking about it during their activities. We're increasing emphasis on accident prevention by learning from others mistakes. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate the incidents. The main prong of attack is communication. Our leadership will be out talking more about safety, our safety representatives will brief senior leadership on trends. And we'll incentivize our personnel with rewards and passes for 180 days with no incidents. It's a lofty goal, but achievable. Our people and our equipment are just too valuable to lose and we've got to protect both.

Safety is not a "program". My leadership believes, and I agree, it's a value and it's something we need to think about every time we accomplish a task. Be aware of our environment. Be aware of the inherent risks of the task, both on and off duty. Watch out for your Wingman. If you do this, you can break the chain of events that always lead to an accident and ultimately prevent these accidents from happening.