KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) — With two months in the seat as Air Force Chief of Safety, Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward does not need a palm reader to get a glimpse at the future.
“It is absolutely essential that safety is embraced as a core value in preserving combat capability,” Woodward said.
The Air Force’s success in reducing mishaps over the past 10 years has leveled off, while the cost of losing a single Air Force asset has grown exponentially. “It’s time to take our mishap efforts to the next level,” Woodward said. “That will be driven by a proactive safety approach.”
“We’ve always practiced active safety by managing known risks and hazards,” Woodward said. “Now, we’re transforming Air Force safety by studying leading indicators of mishaps, while continuing to investigate trailing indicators identified by safety investigations and applying trending data.”
Woodward noted that the transformation would take a concerted effort at all levels. “That’s exactly why a safety culture must be embedded as a core value at every level.”
“Our work as Airmen is inherently risky, but we pay attention to those risks and mitigate the risks as much as possible,” Woodward said. “We’ve done such a good job at reducing mishaps that we’ve made it look easy. It never gets easy; we have to keep looking for ways to further reduce risks by identifying those mishap precursors before the next mishap.”
However, on-duty risk mitigation has improved, Woodward points to the need for a stronger safety culture to influence sound risk management during off-duty hours, when the majority of active duty mishaps occur.
Woodward has served more than nine years as a commander, a third of her career and served twice in combat. “Losing an Airman to something preventable is the most tragic thing,” she said, “I hope to do everything I can in this job to prevent other commanders from having to experience that.”
“Sometimes Airmen take unnecessary risks and make mistakes, particularly during off-duty hours,” she said. “We can’t protect Airmen against bad choices, but we’ll continue to use new methods to train, educate and influence them so they have the knowledge and ability to make good decisions based on risk management.”
“Safety is about preserving combat capabilities,” she said. “If we don’t think in those terms every day — on and off duty — we’re not doing our job.”
Woodward is a command pilot with more than 3,800 flying hours in trainers, tankers and cargo aircraft. As the Air Force Chief of Safety, she is responsible for oversight of development, execution and evaluation of all Air Force aviation, ground, weapons, space and system mishap prevention, and nuclear surety programs and policies.
From her office at the Pentagon, Woodward directs about 150 safety experts and specialists at the Safety Center here who conduct research to promote safety awareness and mishap prevention, oversee mishap investigations and manage, develop and conduct all Air Force safety and risk management courses.