DHWS Highest-Risk Off Duty Categories

  • Published
  • By Dawn Bodenner
  • Air Force Safety Center

To help Airmen and Guardians identify and lessen the risks they may encounter in their off time, the Air Force Safety Center’s department-wide campaign focus on off-duty risk management is coming to an end. The campaign reaches out to the Air and Space Forces for participation in both video and safety slogan contests highlighting off-duty threats to the Human Weapon System.

At this stage of the campaign, the question was asked, "What are the highest risk off-duty activities?" This is a good, complex question.

In an October 2022 analysis, AFSEC's Traffic Management and Outreach team identified highest-risk injury mishaps for off-duty USAF and USSF military member injuries by category and subcategory percentages. Highest risk activities resulting in injury include Motor Vehicle subcategories: automobiles (1,400), motorcycles (720), dirt bikes (121), and ATV/UTV/OHV (98). In the Team Sport category, Basketball injuries (568) were higher than football/rugby/lacrosse/flickerball (270) and soccer (177) combined. In Individual Sports, injuries from bicycling (241) were higher than all other subcategories including jogging/running/hiking (197).

Included in the Motor Vehicle category which includes on-road and off-road vehicles, Personal Transportation Devices, from Segways to e-bikes, to folding scooters and hoverboards are becoming more popular, and injury mishaps are on the rise. Recent data indicates that PTDs should not be treated as toys, and the same attention to personal protective equipment when riding, such as wearing a helmet is paramount to preventing injury.

While automobile and motorcycle mishaps are highest in rank, there has been a decrease from FY18/FY19 mishap numbers. Although injury mishaps have decreased for motorcycles, SEGT Branch Chief Michael Eckert said, "The most hazardous activity you can do in the Air and Space Forces, is to ride a motorcycle." 

To further Eckert's point, from FY18 to FY22, there were 720 motorcycle mishaps and 54 included fatalities. In comparison, automobile mishaps included 58 fatalities out of 1,400 mishaps.

Excessive speed, alcohol/drugs, and other controllable behavior factors contribute to fatalities and injury mishaps. Injuries including fracture, concussion, contusion, open wounds, and sprains and strains contribute to restricted duty, days away from work, medical restrictions, or transfer. 

Though not included in the above categories, risk is inherent in all activities to include services, such as food preparation and housekeeping; outdoor recreation such as hiking, rock and mountain climbing, fishing and horseback riding; weapons handling and hunting; skiing, snowboarding and ice skating; private aircraft and flightline operations.

So which categories represent a higher risk when we analyze data?  What qualifies as the highest-risk off-duty activities?

Well, that depends. Airmen and Guardians make good risk management decisions every day without even realizing they are doing it, but between FY2017 and FY2022, the Department of the Air Force lost 172 servicemembers to off-duty activities. Exposure to unnecessary risks while participating in common off-duty activities without proper risk assessments can result in damage, destruction, impeded job performance, injury, and loss of life. 

Do you have a proactive mindset approach to risk off-duty? Do you plan and prepare for the sports you enjoy? Was an off-duty risk assessment done beforehand? Do you prepare for extreme sports or unusual physical challenges and think before doing something outside of your skill level? Do you have the proper permissions before engaging in an off-duty activity?

As the Air and Space Forces evolve, we continue to develop ways to mitigate threats to our weapon, mechanical and cyber systems, and we must do the same for our most valuable asset, the Human Weapon System. 

Being healthy, staying fit, adaptive to change, and agile in problem solving increases the chances that Airmen and Guardians return to duty mission ready, critical to the success of our Air and Space Forces.

Poor decision making and unnecessary risks in the off-duty environment can turn any activity into a high-risk event. Taking a little time to think about the risks versus the consequences beforehand could both improve your enjoyment of the activity and prevent tragedy from happening regardless of the activity category.