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Risk management from the workplace to homespace

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- In workplaces across the Air Force this week, the lull of the extended holidays is over and people are returning to duty with renewed vigor and a set of brand-new resolutions to start the year. Among these resolutions many of you have probably pledged to eat healthier, work out a little more at the gym or possibly finish that project you've been putting off. But how many of you have considered 'being safe' a resolution-worthy priority?
Of course no one ever knowingly puts themselves or others at risk, yet accidents routinely occur on- and off-duty. Unfortunately, as the chief of 30 SW Safety, I routinely read about mishaps across the Air Force that could have easily been prevented with just a little more foresight. That is why I ask each of you to consider adding another resolution to your list in 2014; incorporate Risk Management in everything you do.

Until recently, the Air Force addressed risk through the Operational Risk Management program. ORM was an essential part of the planning and performance of day-to-day activities to safely and effectively accomplish the mission while protecting lives and resources. However, in 2013 the 'O' was dropped to emphasize the importance of hazard and risk mitigation in all aspects of the Air Force not just Operations. This shift is not a subtle one. Risk Management is meant to be applied to all aspects of our lives. Risk is inherent in our daily activities from driving to base, working at our duty location and even when we walk in the door at home after a long workday. Few consider that many of our off-duty activities carry the same risk (and sometimes more) as when we wear the uniform. Knowing and understanding this risk will go a long way towards changing the behavior of our co-workers, friends and families. With the Air Force shift towards the RM concept, personnel should honestly assess their off-duty interests and activities. This short list highlights the most significant risks posed by Vandenberg personnel.


In 2013 there were eight Air Force active duty deaths during the critical days of summer attributed to motorcycle riders. This is over one-third of the total number of deaths AF-wide. Over the course of the year that number increased to 14. While the rider was not at fault in every circumstance, the majority of the cases found that riders displayed one or more unsafe practices that directly contributed to their death. These factors include insufficient training or experience, excessive speed, rider fatigue and the use of alcohol. Although driving a motorcycle carries more risk than driving a car, there are things every rider can do to minimize that risk:

· Wear proper protective equipment at all times
· Comply with traffic laws and posted speed limits
· Attend appropriate motorcycle-rider courses to improve their skills
· Learn from the mistakes of others to avoid repeating them

To help reduce the risk to our motorcycle community, several local resources are available. By joining the local chapter of the Green Knights motorcycle club or attending a monthly Motorcycle Rider Roundtable, riders can take the first step towards reducing and eventually minimizing the risk when getting on a motorcycle. Mr. Bill Stark leads the 30 SW Rider Roundtable held each month and can be reached at 605-7906.

High Risk Activities

Beyond motorcycling, Airmen routinely engage in off-duty activities that can be considered high risk. Scuba diving, rock climbing, kayaking and mountaineering are just a small sampling of sports undertaken by Vandenberg personnel. While each is wildly different in scope they all have something in common; participation carries the risk of serious injury or death. Does that mean Airmen cannot enjoy these activities? Absolutely not, but the responsibility for doing it safely falls upon the individual and commanders. Becoming proficient in a high-risk activity significantly reduces the risk to the participant and others. But proficiency can be a lengthy process and requires training, practice, proper equipment and the skill to bring it all together. During the activity, participants should remain within their comfort zone but seek opportunities to expand and improve their skills with expert supervision. One word of caution; individuals who possess basic knowledge of a high-risk skill also carry the highest risk of serious injury. This factor can easily be countered by using RM to determine when to step back from a difficult situation.

Everyone has heard the call to 'have a plan' when it comes to alcohol, but not everyone has answered that call. Having one beer, shot or glass of wine ratchets up the risk for any activity, including having the next one. Each subsequent drink consumed builds upon the first and further decreases judgment, alters one's perception of reality, impairs motor skills and slows reaction times. Understanding this risk is essential to developing a rational plan and making informed decisions before that first drink. Once a plan is in place there are really no more questions to answer for the rest of the evening. Just ensure the plan remains the plan and avoid making any decisions when impaired. This will keep you safe along with those around you. However if the plan does fall through, your next decision should be to call the Airmen Against Drunk Driving volunteers. They are manned to provide assistance on weekends and can be reached at 606-2233.

Vacation Travel

Vacation travel no longer revolves around the major holidays. The recent trend toward 'staycations' means more people are on the road year-round. But staying close to home can feed the temptation to avoid taking leave with the intent to bank days for later. Departing after a full workday on a Friday and driving back late Sunday night carries significant risk and is never a good plan. The days of hopping into a loaded car before dinner for a 'quick' drive to LA or San Francisco for the weekend are over; increased traffic routinely leads to five or more hours on the 101. A quick departure also means there probably hasn't been time to check the vehicle. Are the tires in good condition and have the fluids been checked? Will weather be a factor in packing for your destination or is a consideration during the drive? What about the route? Relying solely on GPS is easy but doesn't often provide up-to-date information about alternate routes or nearby services. Being a well-rested, informed driver behind the wheel of a properly checked vehicle ensures you've done everything to prepare for the unexpected. And if something unexpected should occur, then you'll be in a much better position to handle the situation.

As we enter 2014 I encourage everyone to begin the year by focusing on risk in all aspects of our lives. While Risk Management will not remove every element of risk, the increased emphasis may prompt someone to call a "time-out" when circumstances warrant. It could prevent an injury, save a mission or even save a life.