Safe practices ensure mission success
By Staff Sgt. Patrick Evenson, 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 23, 2018
AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
When asked about the mission of the U.S. Air Force, Airmen will instinctively recite the organization’s call-to-arms of ‘fly, fight, win.’ As any motto that rolls smoothly off the tongue, although motivating, they are frequently absent of all the nuanced puzzle pieces that come together to make that mission a reality.
In a job where that mission is inherently dangerous, mitigating the risk can seem like a close second in mission priority. Safe practices and risk management, both on and off duty, are a part of ensuring that the mission is accomplished as safely and efficiently as possible.
The 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Safety office is responsible for the safety of Al Udeid Air Base’s approximately 10,000 personnel, seven operational flying units and near continuous rotation of personnel in-transient to various locations within U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.
“Safety equals risk management and risk has to be accepted at the appropriate level, because mishaps impact our lethality,” Maj. Gen. John T. Rauch, Air Force Chief of Safety, said in November at a safety conference.
The safety office focuses on three areas: flight safety, which encompasses everything that happens on the airfield and in the air; occupational safety, which centers on everything that happens on and off duty; and weapons safety, which concentrates on how ordnance, from small arms to bombs, are handled.
“The primary idea of safety is to prevent things from happening that kill or hurt people so that those people and their equipment can make it to the fight,” Capt. Ian Doneski, flight safety officer for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing said.
In the past six months, more than 6,500 sorties have been conducted without any Class A or B aviation or weapons mishaps.
That type of safety record isn’t accomplished by a single safety office though; it’s a community effort.
“A lot of it is lessons learned and getting the information out to the masses that ‘this is what happened and this is how we can prevent it from happening again,” Master Sgt. Vernon Russell, Flight Safety non-commissioned officer for the 379 AEW said.
“When issues come up in the aviation community that have never happened before, the whole community, no matter what airframe, has to look reflectively on their equipment and practices,” Russell said.
Recently the 379 AEW safety office identified a systemic KC-135 drogue failure issue. They had several instances where the hose would rupture in flight, causing the mission to be canceled.
Working with maintenance they were able to determine that it was an issue on how the drogue was being stored when not in flight. They were able to develop a zero-cost solution to alleviate the problem.
The safety office works with the unit or section to determine what steps can be taken to help mitigate risk.
“Whenever they start investing themselves in recommendations, they have more ownership in it. It is more likely to get follow-through,” Russell says. “You have to work with what will work.”
Off the flight line, the safety office stays busy as well. Managing risk starts long before an aircraft leaves the ground or Airmen report for duty.
The 379 AEW safety office operates the largest occupational safety inspection program in U.S. Air Forces Central Command.
In the past six months Wing Safety conducted 13 group and squadron safety program inspections. The safety team documented six unit safety program violations and 49 building deficiencies.
Due to these types of inspections and ongoing education programs, on-duty mishaps were reduced by 29 percent in fiscal year 2017, from the five-year average. Industrial mishaps were also reduced 35 percent, while vehicle accidents dropped seven percent during that same period.
These achievements contributed to the Wing Safety office winning the Group Innovation of the Quarter award three times.
A big part of risk management is looking at data and analyzing trends.
“We know that during certain months there are going to be big rotational turn-overs,” Doneski said. “We know by looking back in the past, certain things tend to occur during rotational turn overs. We can address those items before this period in question happens to hopefully mitigate that risk.”
During rotational turn-overs especially, the safety office stresses driving, bicycle and pedestrian safety to the incoming Airmen.
The office works with 50 unit safety representatives to inform and update Airmen on the latest trends.
Russell says that the overall goal is the same for everyone no matter what area of the mission they are a part of.
“A lot of people view safety as something that gets in the way of a process that works,” Russell said. “We don’t ever want to come across as hindering someone’s mission. We are all on the same team and we all want the same thing. We want people to show up to work. We want planes in the air that are safe.”
The aim is to promote a proactive safety culture that empowers Airmen to report things that need corrected.
“Any progress in mishap reduction is actually a result of the concerted efforts of all our committed safety personnel, Air Force leaders and the Airmen who accomplish the Air Force mission every day,” Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Mueller, former Air Force Chief of safety said last year after being recognized by the National Safety Council. “Leadership involvement, focus on compliance and decision making at the right level continue to be the essential elements of a successful Air Force safety program.”