Culture of Safety Takes Flight at McChord Air Force Base

Employers and employees all around the country can learn some safety lessons from the airmen at McChord Air Force Base in Washington state.

Every year, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the base participates in the Air Force's Critical Days of Summer (CDS) safety campaign. The campaign encourages the airmen at the base to take some time to think about safe behaviors, both on the base and off.

During this year's CDS campaign, total mishaps at McChord were down nearly 30 percent from last year. The low numbers speak to a great culture of safety at McChord, said Lt. Col. Rod Lewis, 62nd Airlift Wing chief of safety.

“It shows that safety is really everyone's program and the culture has really permeated through the base populous,” Lewis said.

The numbers of Class C mishaps — defined as something that causes an airman to be placed on quarters or convalescent leave — and on-duty mishaps were way down compared to last year.

“The low on-duty mishaps show that new wing leadership, as well as commanders and supervisors at all levels, remain committed to keeping safety as a real focal point and placing it at the forefront of operations every day,” said Lewis.

SPECIAL INITIATIVES AND CIRCUMSTANCES

Lewis said he was most pleased with the fact that Team McChord had not lost a life to a motorcycle accident. He credits airmen with taking the initiative to enroll in the many sport bike classes the safety office has offered this summer.

“Motorcycle safety is a tough thing to get your arms around, specifically sport bike training,” he said. Of the base's 294 motorcycle riders, 94 of those ride sport bikes. Nearly all have gone through the class, he said.

“Those who haven't are either deployed or on long TDYs,” Lewis added.

The overall campaign numbers are even more impressive considering that Rodeo 2009, the premier international air mobility competition that brought dozens of teams from Belgium, Germany, Malaysia, Israel, Republic of Korea, Turkey and Spain was held at McChord in July.

In addition to the excitement of Rodeo 2009, airmen at the base had to contend with a run uncharacteristically hot weather this summer.

“Overall, the summer campaign was very successful,” Lewis said.

However, said McChord's safety officers, traditionally there has been a small spike in incidents toward the end of the campaign.

Those numbers show a possible tendency by airmen to rush to fit in various recreational activities before the summer and warm weather comes to an end, said Ken Heath, 62nd AW chief of ground safety.

“Some may be rushing to get something done,” Heath said. “The rush can lead to a small lapse of concentration, and that's all it takes for us to have an incident. We want people to have fun, but do it smartly and take the proper precautions.”

Those proper precautions include airmen keeping an open dialogue with leadership about any high-risk activity they engage in, Lewis said.

DRIVING SAFETY

Despite a successful summer safety campaign at McChord, there were more fatalities Air Force-wide this summer than in the prior 2 years.

“There were 22 Air Force-wide fatalities due to lack of proper safety measures,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Welin, 446th Airlift Wing Chief of Safety at McChord. “People are forgetting about operational risk management.”

According to Master Sgt. Dean Jones, 446th AW Ground Safety assistant manager, motor vehicle accidents are the cause of many of the Air Force fatalities.

These accidents tend to occur during holiday weekends, when drivers want to hurry up and make it to a party and drive too fast, swerve to avoid another driver and end up hitting a tree or another car, said Jones. Alcohol also tends to be a factor impacting holiday fatalities, added Welin, whether it is summer holidays like Labor Day or winter ones like New Year's Eve. People celebrate with a few drinks and get behind the wheel of a vehicle. That's a bad combination, said the safety officers.

With the daylight hours getting shorter and school being back in session, driving safety has a whole new focus, according to Welin.

“We have to consider now that there are more kids out and less daylight,” said Welin. “That factored with the combination of more rain and leaves on the ground, it might as well be ice.”

WEATHER AND DRIVING

Starting in October and continuing through the winter, black ice is a problem in the mornings on the roads in the base and in the area surrounding it, said Jones. It can be a rude awakening if you're not from the area.

Another thing to consider, according to Jones, is the fact that in the fall, more rainfall in the area causes the oil from the roads to surface, allowing for the potential of hydroplaning.

Mountain pass conditions, for commuters and people going to and from Seattle Seahawks, Washington State University Cougars and University of Washington Huskies games, are going to be a lot more hazardous later in the year, added Jones. Commuters must allow more travel time and check the Washington State Department of Transportation Web site for weather and road conditions.

Late fall and winter road conditions are not the only concern for drivers when the weather gets colder, said Welin. One of the biggest items people seem to miss is fuel line freeze-up, he explained.

“If you don't remember the last time you added fuel injector cleaner to your fuel tank, you might want to consider doing it soon,” said Colonel Welin. “You don't want to get stuck on the pass because your fuel line froze.”

Welin suggested having an emergency kit just in case a hazardous situation arises. “You should, at minimum, have a blanket, water, meal ready to eat, band aids, hazard flares, global positioning system, a collapsible shovel and pain reliever,” he advised.

Replacing windshield wipers and checking tire pressure and tread depth are other critical items that shouldn't be slept on, he added. “Make sure you have your windshield wipers replaced if you've had them over a year. Low tire pressure and shallow depth can be a problem [too].”

After all, said the safety officers, airmen, like all other employees of businesses across the United States, need to be careful, resourceful and safe for the next season to come.


Tech. Sgt. Jake Chappelle is with the 446th Airlift Wing Office of Public Affairs.

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