21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – The 21st Space Wing kicks off its 2010 101 Critical Days of Summer safety campaign this Memorial Day weekend in an effort to keep Airmen vigilant about taking safety precautions in everything they do.
The annual campaign, which runs through the summer to Labor Day weekend, emphasizes safety in all that people do, from grilling on weekend afternoons, to water sports, to cleaning out the rain gutters on the house. The campaign usually tackles safety issues related to sunburn prevention, summer playtime for children and weather safety, like lightning and hail storms that sneak up on Coloradans.
But, this year, safety has taken an even more pressing tone than in recent years. A sudden increase in non-combat deaths of Airmen in 2010 has raised concerns and put a heightened emphasis on safety.
Since Jan. 1, 15 Airmen across the Air Force have died in safety-related incidents, which does not include deaths by suicide, which is also on the rise. The safety related deaths are the highest non-combat losses ever remembered in such a short time, officials said. In April, Col. Jim Jennings, 21st Space Wing vice commander, hosted a safety briefing that laid out the death toll and implored Airmen to be safe. Later that month, the 21st SW Airmen and civilians took a half day to discuss suicide prevention, safe driving, alcohol use, substance abuse, the wingman concept and sexual assault and intervention.
Colonel Jennings, in his April briefing, described many scenarios — water sports, home improvement, mountain hiking — where people let down their guard and were injured or died. Summer is especially a time when Airmen and their buddies or families get active. It shouldn’t be a time to get careless, he said.
“Have a plan and stick to it,” Colonel Jennings said to Airmen planning any activity that involves risk.
In 2009, during the 101 Critical Days of Summer, there were 18 reported mishaps within the 21st SW. Eight of the mishaps were among Airmen playing sports or involved in recreational activities. A little more than half of the mishaps happened while Airmen were on duty and the mishaps were spread across the ages, from 18 to 57. About 45 percent of the mishaps happened in July and 33 percent in August — Friday is the biggest day for a mishap, when 28 percent of all summer mishaps were reported, according to the 2009 Critical Days of Summer Ground Safety Analysis from the 21st SW safety office. More than half, 56 percent, of the mishaps happened between 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.
All mishaps, whether on duty or off duty, are costly. The 21st SW safety office reports the cost of the 2009 summer mishaps was $164,835 and of that, $115,000 was a result of a permanent partial disability. More than $22,000 of the cost was damage done to a government vehicle and nearly 100 days of work were lost due to the summer mishaps.
“The 18 mishaps represent a 12 percent increase from FY08, in reportable mishaps,” said Lt. Col. Allen Reeves, 21st SW chief of safety.
All the safety briefings in the world won’t keep Airmen safe, Colonel Reeves said.
“There are always mistakes that could be prevented,” Colonel Reeves said. “Although you can warn people over and over again, it doesn’t always prevent bad decisions.”
Airmen themselves must take responsibility, he said. And, they must practice operational risk management – that is taking time to assess the risk of any activity and taking time to employ proper safety procedures. The majority of the reportable mishaps in the summer of 2009 happened during duty hours when supervisory oversight should have been available, the 2009 safety report said.
“Knowing the risks and your personal limitations while participating in activities, and being aware of your surroundings – situational awareness – are important factors in preventing and reducing mishaps,” Colonel Reeves said.