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Safety ... a state of mind

MOUNTIAN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- The early morning events of June 21, 2011 will always stand out in my mind. I remember feeling a knot in my throat as the First Sergeant said, "The squadron is formed up, Sir."

I walked out, climbed onto the platform, and when I looked out over the formation the knot expanded into my stomach. Before addressing the squadron, I took a moment to steady myself and thank God that the situation I was about to describe was not as bad as it could have been.

Just 15 hours before, I was summoned to the site of an on-duty accident. When I arrived, one of my Airmen was being attended to by emergency responders while security forces and safety personnel were securing the scene. An object weighing more than 10,000 pounds fell on my Airmen's head and upper torso. I went to check on the young man, and though very shaken up and noticeably battered, he was better than I expected.

As the facts unfolded and I took in my surroundings, many questions were answered. Even though told earlier not to do so, he was so eager to please his supervisor that he tried to cut a corner and almost paid for it with his life.

With all that in mind, my intent for the "Safety Call" was to deliver a clear and concise message that "Safety is Paramount," there is no excuse for cutting corners, and we are all extremely lucky not to have lost a squadron member. Once I thought I delivered my message and called upon the formation to verbalize their commitment.

From the lowest Airmen to my chief, all nodded their heads and said they would do everything to be safe. I left the formation feeling encouraged.

That feeling was short-lived because less than 24-hrs later I was standing at another preventable accident site...this time explaining to my group commander what had transpired. Again, we were extremely blessed as the young man was shaken but not hurt.

I immediately called a Safety Pause in the squadron. We stood down operations for a day, reviewed processes, improved initial safety briefs, purchased items to mitigate risk and mandated more supervision through our key functions. Nevertheless, I have a renewed appreciation for safety as a leadership responsibility.

Safety is something that must become a part of our organizations, and each leader and team member has to champion the cause. Now, I can't speak about safety enough it's never enough. Even with 40 percent fewer safety incidents this year my compelling motivation is preventing the next mishap.

No resting, no relenting-safety is a state of mind, one that must be reinforced daily by everyone, because complacency can be deadly.