Controlling your risk by Bob Carruth

As Risk Control Manager for the NCACC, Bob Carruth manages the operation of the Risk Control Team for the Risk Management Pools. The team assists members with development of safety policies and programs and identification of liability exposures and controls. Carruth is a Certified Safety Professional and is certified as an Associate – Risk Management.  For archives of this column click here

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Nov 26

"Might as well jump" - my perspective on safety

Posted on November 26, 2013 at 3:58 PM by Chris Baucom

Last year, in honor of Thanksgiving, I used the holiday as an object lesson to teach some basic truths about working safely. In honor of our many veterans, and in recognizing the 30th anniversary of my graduation from the US Army Airborne School, I felt it appropriate to share some observations on how the Army is able to train thousands of soldiers every year to “exit an aircraft in flight and land safely on the ground.”

It goes without saying that jumping from a “perfectly good” airplane isn’t natural. In fact, it is arguably one of the riskiest and difficult tasks that a service member can undertake, outside of actually being in active combat. To jump, you have to overcome everything that is screaming inside your head that tells you not to do it. So how does the Army take someone, who may be terrified to even climb on top of a library stool, and in three short weeks, have them successfully jump from over 1,000 feet, not once, but five times? 

They Recognize the Hazard. Outside of a few miraculous cases, the human body will not survive a fall of over 1,000 feet. That is a foregone conclusion. Given this, there is a seriousness and focus that is present every hour, every day for the three weeks of training. There is a time for celebration and light heartedness – after the training has been completed and graduation is done. Note to Self - How well does my organization or team do at recognizing the hazards my employees face every day?

They Physically Assess up Front. There takes a certain level of fitness and physical stamina to be able to master the basic skills needed to successfully complete the school. The physical standards are high for a reason – you have to have confidence in yourself when you take that final step out of the aircraft and are on your own. Without the physical strength and ability to meet the standard, your chances of injury or even death increase dramatically. Note to Self - How many jobs do I have that require a certain level of physical fitness or strength in order to be effective?

They train. And train. And train. Although on the surface it looks as though jumping from an aircraft is relatively easy (all you have to do is fall, right?), it is a surprisingly complex system that depends on all the pieces working at close to perfection in order for everything to turn out successfully. Most important of these is the ability of the jumper to go on a sort of “auto-pilot” and learn to react instantly when the situation warrants. Given this, every aspect of the jump event, from the moment the jumper dons the chute to getting on the plane to procedures in the aircraft to exiting the aircraft and landing are all drilled continuously for the two weeks leading up to “jump week”, when the skills are all put together and demonstrated to the instructors that the skills have been mastered. 

In addition to this, all tasks are organized around a set of simple drills, which are repeated over and over and over again. After two weeks of having these drills pounded into your head, you remember them – forever.

Finally, the focus is not on teaching how to make mistakes but the right way to do it. Training is to standard, not time. For those who don’t learn, or can’t meet the training standard, they get to continue doing it until they get it right or drop out of the course. Note to Self – What kind of emphasis to do I put on training my employees do their job? Do they take it seriously enough? 

Someone is always Responsible and Accountable. For the airborne student, this is emphasized from the first minute after arrival. Each student is made to understand, if he doesn’t already, that he is responsible for his own actions, good or bad. He also learns very quickly that the “black hat” is in charge. Obedience at all times to the instructions given is demanded and expected. Mistakes are addressed immediately.

During the jump operation itself, there is only one person in charge – the jumpmaster. The jumpmaster has received advanced training and has shown he is capable of fully understanding the responsibility placed on his shoulders – the jumpmaster is held accountable for getting dozens of jumpers safely out of the aircraft. He checks their equipment. He gives the jump commands. He knows when to open the door and knows when to safely let the jumpers exit. There is no rank on the aircraft – only the jumpmaster. Note to Self – Am I holding my supervisors and first line leaders accountable for the safety of their employees?

Hopefully, having read this, you can see that in safely training thousands of service members each year on how to successfully “exit an aircraft in flight and land safely on the ground,” the Airborne School has safety figured out. Why not apply the observations in your organization and see what happens? 

Finally, during this season of Thanksgiving, take some time to thank a service member or veteran that you see. Their sacrifices, and those of their families, are tremendous, and we owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be re-paid. To all of our veterans, Happy Veterans Day, and Happy Thanksgiving!