Acting Chief of Occupational Safety Wins Distinguished Service to Safety Award

  • Published
  • By Susan Merhege
  • Air Force Safety Center

The National Safety Council awarded its top honor to Michael Ballard, Air Force Safety Center’s acting chief of occupational safety, Sept. 9 during the 2019 NSC Congress & Expo.

Ballard was presented the Distinguished Service to Safety Award during the opening session of this year’s expo. The recognition is fitting for a safety professional credited with being the driving force in saving the lives of more than 900 Airmen over the course of his safety career.

Ballard was nominated by long-time supervisor and colleague Bill Parsons, recently retired AFSEC chief of occupational safety.

“I’m not at all surprised that he won.  After all, who is more deserving? He is, without question, the most knowledgeable and dedicated safety professional I’ve known in my career,” Parsons said. “Mike is directly responsible for more than 685,000 men and women worldwide and he takes care to ensure that they have the best safety support available to perform work that often includes potential exposure to the most severe of hazards in the very worst of conditions.”

Ballard’s career spans four decades.  He began his enlisted career as a fire fighter, but within nine years was drawn to the safety community.  One year into his safety career, Ballard was recognized for a 54% reduction in mishap rates in his performance report.

He moved on to become the first-ever non-aviator to hold the civilian flight safety manager position at Kelly Air Force Base; the first-ever civilian chief of safety at the 37 Training Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas; and the first-ever civilian deputy director of safety at Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe.

In addition, Ballard is the first-ever former noncommissioned officer to fill the role as deputy chief, Air Force occupational safety. In this role, he oversaw the Risk Management program at AFSEC which catapulted the popular safety video series, “Dr. Love Risk Management in 45 Seconds or Less”, starring Leonard “Dr. Love” Jones.  The videos highlight risk management initiatives to Airmen worldwide on the AFSEC website, Armed Forces Network and YouTube.

In this position, Ballard conceived the early implementation of Occupational Safety & Health Administration electronic activity tracking, which has developed into today’s OSHA module on the Air Force Safety Automated System.

Additionally, below are some achievements of mishap reductions extracted from Ballard’s performance appraisals over the years:

  • On-duty fatalities reduced by 77%
  • Off-duty fatalities reduced by 86%
  • Tactical vehicle mishaps reduced by 25%
  • Lost workdays due to mishaps reduced by 58%

Perhaps Ballard’s biggest impact on Air Force safety thus far has been as a leader in the development and implementation of the Air Force safety management system – a comprehensive management system designed to manage safety elements in the workplace. It includes policy, objectives, plans, procedures, organization, responsibilities, and other measures. It is a continuous improvement process that has become a part of the Air Force culture and the way Airmen do their jobs every day.

“Mike Ballard has been a cornerstone to the safety community for over 40 years. He personally made a significant impact on AF Safety with the implementation of our safety management system that has had a direct impact on the readiness of the entire Air Force,” said Maj. Gen. John T. Rauch, Air Force chief of safety and Air Force Safety Center commander. “The DSSA is an incredible recognition by the safety community acknowledging his significant impact.”

The Distinguished Service to Safety Award is awarded by NSC as a lifetime achievement recognition to standout safety professionals who have changed the face of safety within their scope of influence. 

 “The Distinguished Service to Safety Award winners have been instrumental in shaping their organizations’ culture around safety,” said Sarah Van Huis, NSC Awards & Scholarships program manager.  “They have provided steady leadership to those around them by setting an example and believing that safety is the best way to do business. Honoring individuals focused on improving safety among our military is especially rewarding, because those lessons spread through service members’ communities as well.” 

Ballard was humble in his reception of the award, crediting others and career diversity for his success.

“I’ve worked alongside some tremendous colleagues, and my safety journey was also a contributor to this award,” said Ballard. “Over the years I had the challenging good fortune to work not only occupational safety, but also had assignments involving safety program work in weapons/explosives, aviation, and risk management. My positions have ranged from safety apprentice, to program manager, to chief of safety, to major command deputy director, to my present position as the acting chief of Air Force Occupational Safety. This diversity in work helped me grow to understand how all components of the Air Force safety program plays into the larger organizational mission success.”