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Army implements strategic plan to improve safety

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 01, 2010) -- The "101 Critical Days of Summer" campaign, which began on Memorial Day, and the larger National Safety Month observation during June, provide opportunity to focus on the goals outlined in the latest version of the Army Safety and Occupational Health Strategic Plan that was released in February.

The plan lays out four broad goals to provide a strategic vision for safety across the Army, said Tad Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.

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First among those broad goals is the incorporation of safety and occupational health into Army culture.

"We want to reduce complacency -- for folks to take the same careful attention they do every time they get in the car, the vehicle, the helicopter or every time they make a parachute jump," Davis said. "What we want them to do is assess the risks associated with the action they are going to take and take the proactive measures."

Ensuring proactive and systematic management of risk is also important. Davis said that means leadership makes it part of their organizational routine to continually look at and identify ahead of time the risks of the workplace. That includes off-duty time, and combat or contingency operations. They can then use what they have identified to find ways to minimize that risk.

The Army has a cadre of safety professionals, Davis said, who must manage the Army safety and occupational health program efficiently and effectively. That too is a goal outlined in the plan.

"Our safety professionals in particular are providing tremendous dividends for our Soldiers both at home when they are in garrison doing training and preparatory activity, and when they forward deploy on contingency operations," Davis said.

Ensuring career paths, career planning and training for those professionals is important, Davis said. Also important to safety program management is the process of fielding a single reporting system to the entire Army that will assist leaders and supervisors at every level in doing a better job of reporting accidents when they occur. Until now, the Army's had as many as eight systems for accident reporting, Davis said.

Finally, the reduction of the accident and illness rates in the Army is a very broad goal included in the plan. That goal is accomplished through programs at every installation and organization within the Army, Davis said.

"The Safety Center down at Fort Rucker has developed a host of leading edge initiatives in the areas of privately owned vehicles and driving safety to motorcycle safety in particular" to further the Army's accident reduction goals, Davis said, adding that there's good feedback coming from those programs.

There were 299 accidental fatalities among Soldiers in fiscal year 2005; that number dropped to 240 in 2006, rose slightly to 250 in 2007, dropped again to 210 in 2008, and then dropped again to 173 in 2009. So far this year, there are 99 accidental fatalities in the Army -- less than the number of deaths at the same time each year since 2005.

"We're doing better now than we did last year, not by much, but I think that we'll continue to show progress," Davis said.

Of the 99 accidental deaths so far in fiscal year 2010, 27 have been on-duty deaths and 72 were off-duty. Davis said that the number of on-duty accidental deaths is stabilizing and that the number of off-duty accidental deaths in the Army is decreasing.

The largest number of those off-duty deaths this year are from accidents in privately owned vehicles -- and those numbers are broken down by vehicle type: 28 from sedans, 16 from motorcycles, and 11 from other vehicles such as vans, SUVs, mopeds or all-terrain vehicles.

"The motorcycle area is one where we spend a lot of time and effort," Davis said. "We have seen a big push at every level within every organization that really focuses on motorcycle safety. There are a lot of Soldiers that ride motorcycles."

Davis said that Army efforts for motorcycle safety focus on training and certification for Soldiers to ride motorcycles. To ride a motorcycle on an Army installation, for instance, a Soldier must have first taken a motorcycle safety course. The Army also has programs to pair new riders with more experienced ones.

"A lot of time when you're dealing with motorcycles, one of the key factors there with fatalities is experience," Davis said.

Other large risk factors involve non-motorcycle POVs. "There's two things: speed and seatbelts," Davis said. "As we look at the accident reports that come in, it just shocks you that probably in the range of 25 to 35 percent of those fatalities involve Soldiers that weren't wearing their seat belts."

For on-the-job safety, the Army is also making efforts, including aviation safety and ground safety. On-duty safety can be improved with training, Davis said. One such example is with the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle program. The Army is working to designate more MRAPs for training purposes so Soldiers can learn about them before they deploy.

"We're working to get the MRAP out at home station training and also the combat training centers so Soldiers will have the opportunity to enhance their driving skills and become more proficient in operating these vehicles," Davis said.

The same efforts were made for the up-armored Humvee, three to four years ago, Davis said. Those vehicles were top-heavy, and training was needed to help Soldiers learn to deal with that and to know what to do in a rollover.

"They would enhance crew coordination when you have a rollover and we just had more of the vehicles that were available at home station, installations and combat training centers for Soldiers to actually drive and become proficient in operating," he said.

Crew coordination continues to be an essential element of aviation activities, Davis said. And the Army has also increased training for high altitude operations, in light of the high altitude conditions Army aviators operate under in Afghanistan.

Another big factor in safety, Davis said, is leadership and peer-to-peer engagement.

"Soldiers themselves can really help one another, whether it's preparing a mortar round to be fired or setting head space and timing on a .50-cal machine gun -- everybody is watching one another," he said. "At the end of the day, if the headspace and timing is not set properly, it could injure not only the person firing but other people."

Soldiers can also ask themselves over the summer if drinking a six-pack of beer is a good idea before boating or getting on a jet ski. Or if it's safe to take a 12-hour drive after working a 12-hour duty day. Davis said the impact of the loss of even one Soldier is far-reaching.

"Whether he was a member of a fire team, a Bradley crew, a tank crew or some other team, it can have a devastating effect," he said. "And not just from a readiness standpoint -- by not having a Soldier there -- but there is an impact on the mental readiness of other Soldiers as well. They've lost somebody who was a member of the team, the Army family -- it's hard to recover from that."

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