WASHINGTON, – As the summer season approaches, the Defense Department (DOD) is redoubling its efforts to promote safety and emphasize responsibility to all service members and their families, DOD’s director of personnel risk reduction said here today.
During a joint interview with the American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel, Leonard Litton discussed the department’s efforts to reinforce caution during the “Critical Days of Summer.”
“The theme for this summer is doing the right thing for the right reasons,” Litton said. “And [Defense] Secretary [Chuck Hagel] reiterated that because the summer safety season is an important season for safety. We do tend to lose anywhere from 80 to 100 of our service members during this period of time.”
Accidents and ensuing loss, he said, occur mainly because of summer outdoor activities such as riding motorcycles, boating, parasailing and other warm-weather leisure pursuits.
“Some of those activities tend to have a little bit more risk associated with them,” Litton said.
Litton explained the importance of the “Critical Days of Summer” safety campaign and why DOD emphasizes caution and careful consideration of summertime activities.
“Generally we look at those [days] from the Memorial Day holiday through the Labor Day holiday — those 101 days that span that time period,” he said.
“There’s a lot of travel that goes on,” Litton said. “Folks are generally taking their vacations. Schools are out, and so sometimes folks may try to drive a little too far [without adequate rest].”
People also may try to drive when the weather’s not very good, he said, and sometimes outdoor events are attended where alcohol is involved, which may lead to poor choices in performing activities requiring “a lot of mental focus or a high level of dexterity.”
When considering the importance of safety, “you have to think about what it is,” Litton said.
“In my mind, safety is not really an entity,” he said. “I can’t take safety and put it in a box. I can’t let you touch it, feel it, see it. To me, safety is really an outcome.”
DOD is well-acquainted with getting safe outcomes, Litton noted, through proper planning, training, equipping and providing personal protective equipment necessary.
“You plan, you identify the risks, you mitigate any high risks you may identify and you accomplish the task,” he said. “We do that very well on active duty.
“We’ve taken accidents and mishaps from about a total of 600 in the mid-2005 … all the way down to 311 in fiscal year ’13,” he continued, “so we’ve cut that number almost in half.”
Litton emphasized applying safety principles learned and employed on-duty to situations off-duty.
“We do it well on-duty, but off-duty, sometimes we forget that training that we’ve had. We just do things that aren’t smart,” he said.
“So what I want to encourage all the service members to do is take that great risk training we’ve given you — applied to that everyday job — and do it off-duty as well,” Litton added.
Applying these risk principles off-duty, he said, may prevent mishaps and fatalities that need not happen.
Litton provided an example of what can happen when the application of risk principles aren’t applied off-duty.
“We had a service member [who] went out with his buddy to go enjoy a day on the river,” he said. “[There were] two of them. They tried to put two people into a one-man kayak … that doesn’t make a lot of sense.
“Also neither one of them had a life jacket or personal floatation device,” Litton continued. “On-duty, we wouldn’t take two people and put them in a single-seat fighter cockpit. It just doesn’t make sense.”
One service member, Litton said, drowned during this particular incident.
“We lost a valuable team member because they didn’t apply what we taught them on the job off the job,” he said.
Litton encourages service members to seek additional information of safety and risk mitigation activities — beginning at their units.
“Almost all commanders and supervisors are trained in safety and risk mitigation activities,” he said. “Almost all units will have a safety officer or a safety NCO.”
Additionally, he said, each service has a website and safety center to provide information on travel safety.
“Again, we want to reiterate that safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Litton said. “We look to the leader to set a command climate that is conducive to safe operations.”
It also gives people the freedom to speak up, he said, when they see something that doesn’t look or feel right and they think the unit is taking too much risk in an activity or at an event.
“Everyone from the [youngest enlisted person] to the general officer has the responsibility to speak up when they see something they believe doesn’t look right or we’re taking excessive risks,” Litton said.