Magazine article Occupational Hazards

DoD: Making Peace with Safety: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2003 Was Given the Difficult Task of Dramatically Reducing Non-Combat Accidents for Military and Civilian Personnel and Their Families. Can a Culture Fashioned for War Conquer Safety?

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

DoD: Making Peace with Safety: The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in 2003 Was Given the Difficult Task of Dramatically Reducing Non-Combat Accidents for Military and Civilian Personnel and Their Families. Can a Culture Fashioned for War Conquer Safety?

Article excerpt

When most people think of safe places to work, the U.S. military doesn't come to mind. Even during times of peace, when things are calm injury and fatality rates for its personnel--both civilian and military--are high.

In 2003, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ("SecDef" to those in the military) charged the armed forces with reducing preventable accidents by 50 percent, a number that later was increased to 75 percent.

"World-class organizations do not tolerate preventable accidents," Rumsfeld said in a May 19, 2003, memo. "These goals are achievable, and will directly increase our operational readiness. We owe no less to the men and women who defend our nation."

The directive, called the "Mishap Reduction Initiative," applies to all DoD activities and includes on- and off-duty and active-duty military personnel as well as National Guard and Reserve forces and all civilian employees. The reduction goal also applies to all operations of aircraft, weapons, ordnance, motor vehicles, maritime assets and installations.

The initiative is a concerted effort to engage all levels of DoD leadership in mishap prevention strategies, which include developing a real-time mishap decision support system; applying commercial technologies, where practical, on high-risk equipment such as aircraft; and implementing best practices from industry and other government agencies into DoD activities.

Like other military initiatives, this one started at the top and is slowly working its way down through the ranks.

The Survey

The first step in the process, says William Brem Morrison, assistant inspector general for Inspection and Evaluations, was a safety perception survey of four groups in the military. The groups were comprised of more than 2,000 senior leaders such as admirals, generals and Senior Executive Service civilians; active-duty personnel; civilian employees; and National Guard and Reserve personnel.

"We learned that as a group, [the senior leaders] thought highly of themselves and their attention and pursuit of safety in their service," Morrison says. However, he adds: "There was a distinct gap in the perception of senior leaders and their constituents and subordinates, who did not agree with senior leaders about the emphasis on safety."

Now that the survey is complete--results are expected to be published this month beginning with a series of nine reports--DoD will examine:

* Policy--Are the right policies and programs in place?

* Resourcing--How are military leaders managing resources?

* Organization--Is the organization correctly set up to promote safety and safe behaviors?

* Lessons learned.

In private industry, at a single facility, these questions sometimes are hard to answer and analyze. This initiative--which examines on- and off-the-job safety for military and civilian personnel and their families, as well as for National Guard and Reserve personnel, at 6,000 facilities scattered around the world--would seem to be an impossible task.

Culture Change Happens Slowly

Morrison is well-aware that culture change for the military happens slowly. Layers of command and a legendary bureaucracy do not make his job easy.

As an example of the challenge ahead, Morrison points out, "There is very limited visibility of safety in the DoD budget. It is hard to determine how much money is spent on safety because it's all part of the operational and maintenance costs."

Morrison says he hopes that DoD will focus more on funding prevention versus the greater costs of consequence management, and that leadership will "adopt, revise, change and create policies" to improve safety.

Another challenge, says Lt. Cmdr. Robert Cooper, team leader of the Evaluation of the Department of Defense Safety Program, is data collection and the accuracy of existing data regarding injuries and illnesses. …

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