Commentary

101 Critical Days of Summer begins

By 432 WG Safety Office 432d Wing Chief of Safety

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Every year about this time, we start to hear about the 101 Critical Days of Summer. Most of us hear those words and think "oh great, another day of briefings." However, I'd like to give you a better understanding of why we safety guys focus on the 101 Critical Days of Summer and why that's a good thing for you.

The 101 Critical Days of Summer campaign begins on Memorial Day weekend and extends to Labor Day weekend. Historically, the Air Force loses proportionally more people in that period than in any other time of the year. Last year we lost 22 Airmen to off-duty accidents -- all preventable. Of the 22 deaths, 18 were car and motorcycle related.

We're not exactly off to a great start this year, either. So far in Fiscal Year 2010, the Air Force has lost 12 Airmen in motor vehicle crashes. Six of the 12 were motorcycle accidents, five of which were sport bikes and in four of the six cases "the other guy" caused the accident. The other six deaths were due to car accidents. In four of those cases, alcohol was involved and, amazingly in this day and age, three of our Airmen weren't wearing seatbelts and it cost them their lives. Those statistics aren't pretty, and they only tell us what occurred and to whom it happened. What they don't tell us is why, and that's the most important question: Why do we have more accidents during the spring and summer and what can we do about it? I'll answer the two parts of the question separately.

First, why do we have more fatalities due to accidents, especially motor vehicle accidents, in the summer when the weather is nice and the roads are better? Well ... because the weather is nice and the daylight window is longer, we take advantage of the opportunity to travel and play more. That's great; it's exactly what we should do. We work very hard and we've earned the chance to play hard as well. Unfortunately, our on-duty and family duties don't decrease and that's where we run into problems. Doing more off-duty with the same on-duty and family demands leads to fatigue and, potentially, poor decision making.

You may be wondering why we don't see a spike in on-duty mishaps in the same time period. The answer lies in our training. We're trained very well for our on-duty responsibilities and, as a result, we still perform them very well even when fatigued. We are not, however, "trained" for our off-duty activities and that leads to a high accident rate. If you need another statistic to bring the point home, try this: Since Sept. 11, and the beginning of sustained combat operations, the Air Force has lost 55 Airmen in combat; in the same period we've lost over 650 to off-duty accidents.

That brings me to the second part of the question: what can we do about it? In the safety world, we learned a long time ago that telling someone to "be careful" rarely leads to them being safer. We also learned that teaching a person to perform a task or activity better inherently leads to them doing it more safely.

Teaching people to do things better is the focus of the summer safety campaign and the Creech Safety Fair. At the fair, we're not going to do "death by PowerPoint" and spend hours telling you not to run with scissors or play with spiders. Instead, each base organization will run a booth with a topic like mountain climbing, hiking or water safety.

Each of us will get a "safety passport" and must get it stamped at every booth to ensure we get the information we need. Armed with information on how to be better at the things we want to do this summer, we'll all have a better time and be safer in the process.
The Creech Safety Fair will occur from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, May 27 in Hangar 1003. See you there!