CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 2 DOUGLAS LEVITT
In many units, safety is less of a state of mind and more of a punchline. Nothing drives this point home more that the high number of preliminary loss reports for motor vehicle accidents. To help improve the success of our mission and preservation of our fighting force, it is essential to foster a culture that does not accept unnecessary risks, such as driving under the influence. Below are five simple ways to improve the safety mindset of your unit and thus improve its overall safety.
1. Command Emphasis
Start at the top. Commanders and senior noncommissioned officers must get involved in safety. Safety briefings at the end of the week are great, but they are not enough. The command team must demonstrate the importance of safety every day. The unit’s safety program belongs to the commander and is managed by the safety officer. The next four tips need full support of the chain of command to succeed.
2. Integrate Safety into Every Task
Safety and risk management starts at the military decision-making process. Leaders plan training and missions on a regular basis, but how much of that planning is used mitigating risk before it is sent down to the next level of leadership? Factoring in the hazards and risks involved greatly reduces the amount of time needed to move from planning to mission execution. Leaders are entrusted with assigning missions that will succeed while maintaining the fighting force.
All Soldiers in the unit are responsible for their individual safety. Unfortunately, some Soldiers do not understand the risk management process. Also, Soldiers who are familiar with risk management do not apply it during off-duty activities. Officers and NCOs must schedule time to educate Soldiers about the dangers they face on and off duty. Unit leadership must also address hazards present in your area during monthly safety meetings. Encourage Soldiers at all levels to visit sites such as the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center’s website at https://safety.army.mil to learn about safety topics. They can also read about PLRs involving Soldiers who fall victim to unsafe acts.
One of the best ways to enhance the safety in your unit is to empower Soldiers to make smart risk choices. Junior leaders are very influential to their Soldiers. Senior leaders must give the junior leaders the knowledge and tools to assist their Soldiers in making the right choice on and off duty. Off duty time is when empowerment pays off. Using the battle buddy system in conjunction with empowerment can save lives. If a Soldier sees his or her battle buddy making a poor risk decision and feels empowered to intervene, the chances of that Soldier going through with their poor choice is greatly reduced. Commanders must encourage their Soldiers to protect themselves and their battle buddies on and off duty.
5. Award Safety
There are many safe acts that occur on a daily basis in our units. Many of these go unnoticed. Unfortunately, there are many unsafe acts as well. When most Soldiers hear about safety, it is not in the form of praise for a good job, but instead a more derogatory manner where they are being chastised for their failure to be safe. This is where safety awards come in.
Aviation and ground safety both have safety awards. In aviation, pilots are given awards for safe flying hours. As for ground units, the drivers badge is awarded to safe drivers. Units with safety officers often award safe acts with Safety Bucks or Safety Dollars that can be used toward an item such as a flashlight, pen set or other items. These items are not as important as what they represent — rewards for doing the right thing. When junior Soldiers see that safety is not just about getting yelled at for doing the wrong thing, their mindset may change.
There are other lesser-known awards for safety, many of which are not individual awards, but company or battalion-level awards. A primary example is the safety excellence streamer. This streamer is awarded to a unit which has completed 100 percent of its risk management training and has gone a full year without a Soldier-related Class A or B incident. A streamer is a great way to show other companies your unit’s commitment to safety.
Safety is not just smart choices and actions, but a mindset and culture. Through the influence of leadership using safety integration, education, empowerment and safety awards, your unit can make itself less prone to accidents and incidents. Leaders are required to provide a safe and healthful work environment. Using these tips will move your unit closer to this goal.