Winter Risk Management; my story

  • Published
  • By Adam Sandbek, 75th Air Bass Wing Safety

HILL AIR FORCE BASE – Every activity we participate in during the winter season carries with it an element of risk. In my job, I’m often tasked with helping organizations measure safety risk, and help them develop and implement strategies for risk management. Often, this comes in the form of an AF 4437, Deliberate Risk Assessment Worksheet. If you find yourself in need of deliberate risk assessment, our office is always ready to respond.

Many tasks do not require deliberate, formal risk assessment and in those instances, we encourage using Real-Time Risk-Management to quickly assess a situation, make a control decision, implement it and monitor it to ensure it is accomplishing the goal of risk reduction and having a safe outcome.

Last winter, on December 19, I wish someone would have stopped me in my tracks and encouraged me to use some Real-Time Risk-Management.

I was out sledding with my children on a local hill near my home in Mountain Green when it came time for us to head home. There was just one more hill to slide down between our location and our home.

My son, 11 years old and weighing all of 65 pounds, went flying down the hill with no issues. My daughter, 8 years old and weighing all of 35 pounds was next. She fell out of her sled on the way down the hill and tumbled to the bottom, laughing all the way. I’m convinced kids are 40% rubber.

It was my turn to hop in my sled and ride down that last hill. As I approached the edge of the hill, I had a brief and fleeting thought that I weigh closer to 190 pounds and the hill was looking a little steep. In my effort to be a brave, fun-loving dad, I pushed that out of my head and initiated my descent.

Approximately .23 milliseconds later I was filled with regret, and fear. I was going way faster than expected. Instinctively, I put both of my arms out and deployed the hand brakes. You know, where you use your hand as a brake.

My right hand caught a snow-covered tree.

My thumb, index and middle fingers went left, and my ring finger and pinky went right. I felt a crack and for a split second, it felt like someone hit my hand with a sledgehammer.

I took my glove off and discovered that not all of my fingers were facing the normal direction. I kept it together and got my kids home, but did inform them, “daddy broke his hand, but it will be fine.”

One year, four surgeries and more than 30 physical therapy sessions later, it’s getting close to being fine.

My fingers will never look the same, and I’ll never have the ability to grip with that hand the way I used to. I had to take an entire summer off from mountain biking.

You know what? It’s not fine. Because it could have been avoided. In that moment where I considered my size  and the angle of the hill, I had a window of opportunity to stop.

I do this every day. My job is to assess risk. But I’m still human and I make mistakes. I’m lucky it was just an injury.

I’ll always be reminded of it, and always be reminded to listen when that little voice tries to tell me that something isn’t a great idea.

I hope that through this holiday season, my story encourages you to SLOW DOWN, listen to that voice and use Real-Time Risk-Management to make good decisions.