Rule of Thumb
October 31, 2011
A colonel at my last duty station always included the safety rule of thumb message in his briefings prior to every long weekend. Although put into different words, the message was also something I heard several times while attending the aviation safety officer course (ASOC). The safety rule of thumb states that there is no difference to you, your Family or the unit if you cut off your thumb while at work or when off duty. If you lose a thumb, your Family has to take care of an injured Soldier, and the unit suffers by losing your expertise. This ideology applies to every injury, and the safety message should reverberate throughout our ranks. We need to take care of ourselves and look out for others on and off duty.
As a kid, I ice-skated a little bit. When I arrived to my duty station in Alaska, I became fascinated with the speed and grace of hockey players. I signed up for skating lessons at the physical fitness center and on the first day of lessons watched a Soldier's wife lose her footing, fall backward and bang her head on the ice. As the blood pooled on the ice and she was carried away on a stretcher by the medics, I thought, "I'd better get a helmet." But I didn't … at the risk of looking uncool. I was lucky enough to complete all of my lessons without hurting myself. Coincidentally, that same winter, a Soldier in my company was not wearing a helmet and suffered a fatal injury while snowmobiling.
After learning to skate, I was ready for recreational hockey. Can you imagine a 29-year-old about to play his first hockey game? I asked the fitness center front desk attendant what equipment was required to play. He told me all I'd need was a helmet and stick. So, I bought a nice helmet, some shin pads, a cheap stick and showed up for the next recreational hockey session. Since this was "no-check" league, I figured I had all the equipment I would need. I was wrong.
During my second game, I smashed my pinky finger between my stick and the glass. Four years later, it's still crooked. Fortunately, over the next couple of years, my hockey game improved. During that time, I watched as the "newbies" came in to give the sport a shot. Just like I had a few years earlier, they came in partially protected and most left limping.
During the ASOC, I was curious about winter sport-related accidents, so I cruised through the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center's accident database. I found several skiing accidents, most of which resulted in injury to the head, wrists and knees. I strongly encourage everyone to consider a comprehensive PPE plan before hitting the ice or slopes. Last year, a Soldier suffered a spiral fracture because a ski binding was too tight and failed to release in a fall. The majority of knee ligament sprains resulting from skiing are due to binding failures. Numerous skiing websites emphasize the importance of a properly fitting, properly functioning binding.
Most of us will participate in some hazardous activity this winter. We need to evaluate our experience level and put away our egos. All of the accidents and injuries I've mentioned most likely could have been prevented with the proper use of protective gear. Before you participate in any off-duty activity, evaluate the event as you would while on duty. Don't choose to accept greater risk because you're not on duty. On or off duty, the safety rule of thumb still applies.