Commentary by Master Sgt. Steven Briggs
50th Space Wing Ground Safety Manager
When the warm weather leaves us and the landscape turns white, some people head inside to the warmth of a fireplace and a cup of hot chocolate. However, there are many people who break out the skis and snowboards with one thing on their mind…fresh powder.
Anyone who enjoys hitting the slopes will tell you there is nothing more tranquil than cutting grooves in freshly groomed snow or gliding through fresh powder. Skiing and snowboarding in these conditions and experiencing the majesty of the Rocky Mountain landscape, you might even forget about the arm and a leg you spent for lift tickets! Yes, it sounds like a fun-filled weekend . . . a weekend where we hope your wallet is the only one paying the arm and leg.
To help make this excursion full of fun and absent of pain and suffering, take time to review your plan, prevent the pain, and prepare for fun. We must consider what can go wrong and figure out how we can limit the likelihood of a mishap, or at least, minimize the effects if something does go wrong (sounds a lot like ORM to me).
Is a commander’s emphasis on this consideration overrated? Let’s consider some real incidents, what went wrong, and how easily the incidents could have been avoided. Keep these incidents in mind while preparing to hit the slopes.
A young Airman was traveling around 40 MPH on a snow-covered road in his four-wheel drive pickup. He wasn’t speeding according to the posted limit; in fact, he was driving 20 MPH under — just like the other vehicles ahead of him. As he started to climb a long, steady hill, the rear of his vehicle started to slide out. He tried to correct by steering into the slide as he should have; nevertheless, he slid off the road and rolled his vehicle. His ditch-diving event cost him a trip to the hospital, due to neck trauma. He never made it to his destination that day. Did I mention he did not have his four-wheel drive engaged? Driving on a snow covered road, what could go wrong? You could lose traction and crash. How can you prevent it? Slow down? Engage the four-wheel drive? Add weight to the rear? Take a front-wheel drive vehicle on the trip?
Although the Airman in this story did slow down, he failed to exercise all of his available options for avoiding a mishap. Incomplete risk management got this Airman a ride in the opposite direction, to a place he did not intend on going.
Here’s another one. With a new board, new snow and a funky new “jester” beanie with flames, the staff sergeant was excited to take his first runs of the season on a January day. Surely he hoped for smooth action; no rolling down the windows (snowboard terminology for when someone is caught off balance and they rotate their arms wildly in the air to try and recover) and no huckers (snowboardese for one who throws himself wildly through the air and does not land on his feet). He only had a couple of days and the lift tickets cost a bunch, so he was intent on getting the most for his money. After a couple of easy runs and reducing the chatter his board was spouting, he headed for the half-pipe. Although he was no “airdog,” he made a good turn back up the side of the pipe only to crater off the edge. In other words, he wasn’t really into jumping, but he did get some serious air and broke his neck when he landed.
What went wrong? He broke his neck; it was not the fun he had anticipated. Had he considered what could go wrong, he would have noted that it was in the middle of the season, yet this was his first day back on the slopes in more than a year. He may have considered he was a little rusty and should have spent more time getting used to the board and re-honing his skills. His weekend of fun, or actually his few hours, ended in hospitalization. He was lucky to recover. Was this just a part of snowboarding or the lack of considering what could go wrong?
Whether it’s a drive through the beauty of the Rockies or a run in the half-pipe, make the most of it and have fun. But remember, if you don’t consider what can go wrong, make a plan to keep it from happening, and then follow through on that plan, you could lose your weekend of fun to pain and suffering.
If this sounds a little like Operational Risk Management, that’s because it is. These incidents illustrate that a little consideration for your own safety can go a long way to ensuring your weekend is full gain without the pain.