Safety: A key component in any good holiday celebration

  • Published
  • By Josh Aycock
  • Air Force Safety Center

As we approach Thanksgiving, leadership at every level should ensure our Airmen are prepared for the hazards they may face both on and off their installation. The Air Forces top three leaders highlighted those hazards and began the conversation in a recently released tri-signature memorandum discussing holiday safety.  

“Your health and safety is our priority, and requires all of us to do our part to take care of each other,” stated the memorandum. “Thanksgiving weekend is the unofficial start of the holiday season which brings additional risk caused by inclement weather, decreased daylight hours and some of the heaviest travel days of the year. All of these factors increase the risk of accidental injuries, which in tum affects our readiness as a fighting force.”

Throughout the past decade, 35 Airmen lost their lives to on- and off-duty preventable accidents during the holidays. Last winter alone, Airmen suffered 251 accidents that took them out of work at least one day, with a cost to readiness of nearly 11 work-years.

“Airmen are the backbone of our combat capability. Ensuring they are prepared to identify and mitigate risks in every environment is paramount,” said Maj. Gen. John T. Rauch, Air Force chief of safety. “Given the nature of the holidays, we tend to see those guards start to slip as our minds focus on the enjoyment of celebrating with family and friends. That’s why we want to ensure safety plays a key role in planning for the holidays and winter in general.”

Throughout the last decade, the top five hazards Airmen incur during the holiday timeframe are operating a 4-wheeled personally owned vehicle; operating a 2-wheeled personally owned vehicle; engaging in activities on natural water; aviation; and simply being a pedestrian.

In four of the five hazards, aviation excluded, alcohol use was the single most common factor, cross-cutting all off-duty mishap categories.

“No one is invincible or immune to accidents, but everyone can reduce the odds by using simple risk management steps such as having a plan and sticking to it. Err on the side of safety when conflicts in the plan occur,” said Michael Ballard, Air Force chief of occupational safety.

While leaders around the Air Force should stress hazard identification and risk management with their Airmen, the Air Force’s senior leaders closed the memorandum by mentioning the importance of appreciating the reasons for the season:

“The holiday season provides abundant opportunities to celebrate with our family and friends. We urge you to take advantage of the long weekends and holiday periods, enjoy your hard-earned leave, and do it safely with a focus on returning to duty healthy and recharged. We wish you the happiest of Holiday Seasons and continued success in the New Year.”

To keep the conversation going, the Air Force Safety Center will focus on providing materials relative to winter and holiday safety concerns during its 2019 Holiday Safety focus, but also encourages leaders to join in the conversation. The primary focus areas will consist of promoting and educating Airmen on:

  1. Holiday and Winter Driving 
    1. Traveling – Rest prior to starting the trip; not stopping to rest; drowsy driving; night driving due to shorter days; trip planning
    2. Weather – Not being prepared for weather; driving on snow/ice; mountain driving; dressing for the weather
    3. Vehicle Preparation – Preparing your car for winter driving, adding to your vehicle emergency kit

2.  Slip, Trips and Falls – Snow/ice; wearing the wrong footwear, hanging decorations

3.  Exertion – Over-doing it; not preparing for an activity (snow shoveling, winter sports, layering)

4.  Alcohol – Impaired driving; over-indulgence; having a “get home” plan

5.  Home – Furnace/fireplace maintenance; smoke/C02 detector check-ups 

Additionally, Airmen should consider using Check 3 GPS when holiday planning. In this case, GPS stands for Gear, Plan and Skills. Check 3 is a quick and easy method to assess an off-duty activity or event for possible hazards and allow mitigation when required. Learn more at

For more information on holiday and winter hazards, or to download unit safety training aids, visit the Air Force Safety Center’s winter safety page at