Take No Unnecessary Risk
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 4 MICHAEL S. MCGILL
B Company, 834th Aviation Maintenance Company
Oklahoma Army National Guard
A few years ago, my family and I participated in a winter camp for veterans in Wyoming where we were introduced to snow skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing. The allure was immediately recognizable — the cold, crisp mountain air, the sound of the crunching and squeaking snow as you glided down the trail, and the breathtaking views. We were instantly hooked and vowed to make this one of our favorite family activities.
Living in Oklahoma meant we would only get one or two ski trips a year. My wife was interested in skiing, while my daughter, my son and I were drawn to snowboarding. My wife had grown up snow skiing, but my children and I would be new to snowboarding. We quickly recognized that, like any other sport or outdoor activity, there were going to be hazards. As an Army aviator, I am intimately familiar with the five-step risk management (RM) process, as it is an integral part of every mission or operation I perform. I thought RM was the perfect way to identify and mitigate the hazards of our newfound sports before our next trip.
By informally using the RM process, we identified the following as the most significant hazards (Step 1 – Identify hazards): head injuries from falls or collisions and wrist and knee injuries. After assessing each of these hazards based on probability and severity using the risk assessment matrix (Step 2 – Assess hazards), we determined each of these was a medium risk. Next, we identified several ways to eliminate or reduce the risks (Step 3 – Develop controls/make risk decisions) such as taking snowboarding lessons, skiing on easier trails, skiing in less crowded areas, and wearing helmets and wrist and knee braces. Implementing these controls would bring our risk down to a low. We decided to implement (Step 4 – Implement controls) snowboarding lessons, staying on the easiest trails, not skiing through trees and using less crowded areas. We considered using helmets, but we thought they would look uncool. The same went for wrist and knee braces, which we thought would also be cumbersome. Finally, all that was left was to ensure we implemented our controls and that they were effective (Step 5 – Supervise and evaluate).
Fast forward a few months to our next trip. We picked a quiet, not-so-crowded ski resort, took our snowboarding lessons and stayed on easy, well-groomed trails as we tried to hone our skills. Like any beginners, we took a few spills. I tweaked my wrist a little and even had my bell rung from a couple of tumbles. I did not think too much of it until one run where I was following my children down the slope. Each took a spill or two. On one fall, my daughter twisted her knee, and I saw my son’s head bounce off the hard-packed snow. It was at this moment that I recognized I had forgotten one of the most important principles of RM — take no unnecessary risk. I realized we had done exactly that just for the sake of looking cool. Helmets could have easily protected us from getting our bells rung and possible concussions, while wrist and knee braces could have helped prevent potential wrist and knee injuries.
Luckily, we did not end up with any lasting injuries and had a great time. However, I did learn a couple of very important lessons. First, don’t let being cool make you a fool! In other words, don’t accept unnecessary risk just because you don’t want to look uncool. Second, the RM process can (and should) be used as an effective tool to eliminate or mitigate risk in our off-duty activities just as is does during our operational activities. By using RM continuously and cyclically, I was able to identify unnecessary risks during our ski trip that will allow us to have safer and more enjoyable outings in the future. Hopefully, my family’s experience can serve as an example of how RM can help you plan for safe winter adventures of your own.