How to Use Your Safety Officer
February 29, 2012
During my counseling session with the brigade commander, Col. Green, she asked how I planned to implement and maintain an effective unit safety program. I confidently replied that my safety officer would lead that effort. Not satisfied with my response, she asked me if I knew how to use my safety officer. I said that I would simply ask the safety officer to prepare seasonal and holiday safety messages for me, make appropriate comments at command/staff meetings, provide last-minute safety tips and keep me abreast of safety-related issues.
That's when Green offered some guidance and mentorship. I learned that my unit had experienced a rash of accidents both on and off duty during the last seven months. One in particular involved a 21-year-old Soldier killed on a motorcycle. The Soldier ran a stop sign and was hit by a car. Another accident involved a Soldier that sustained a serious back injury while lifting a heavy pelican case. That Soldier spent more than 3 ½ months on convalescent leave and is now pending possible medical retirement.
Green made it clear that unit readiness and combat capability depended on the use of my safety officer and their ability to implement and maintain an effective unit safety program. She said safety was a command team responsibility and informed me that I was required to attend her safety council meetings and that I needed to link up with her safety officer.
I met with the brigade safety officer and he gave me a lot of valuable information on how to breathe some life back into my safety program. He recommended that my additional duty safety officer serve as a member of my personal staff. He also said that I should appropriately empower the ADSO, allowing him or her to monitor key command support programs; observe and participate in unit operations; participate in the military decision making process; manage the unit safety program; document and track hazards, action officers and suspense dates; and handle accident reporting and trend analysis.
Armed with ideas and guidance, I met with my command team several times and we developed a plan on how to set up and effectively manage a unit safety program. I appointed a new ADSO, Capt. Johnson, and assistant ADSO, Sgt. 1st Class Stevenson. I briefed them on my expectations and, heeding the brigade safety officer's advice, I let them know they'd serve on my personal staff, reporting directly to me.
Four months later, my unit experienced one Class C, two Class D accidents and some close-call events that could have easily resulted in a serious injury or fatality. This definitely wasn't the precedence on safety I wanted to set.
Soon after, the ADSO and assistant ADSO returned from the Ground Safety Officer course with fresh ideas. Before my next safety council meeting, Johnson and Stevenson suggested we administer a safety survey. The survey they explained, along with analysis of unit accident trends, would help validate areas where the unit was performing well and expose the areas that needed improvement.
After the unit completed the survey, my executive officer set a date and time for the safety council meeting that happened to conflict with my schedule. I directed the XO to chair the meeting. That's when Johnson met with me and respectfully requested that I chair the meeting. Then I thought about the brigade commander's "implement and maintain an effective unit safety program" performance objective. I chaired the meeting.
My unit was three weeks out from conducting a field training exercise that included live-fire lanes training. Following the FTX and live-fire lanes rehearsal, Johnson and Stevenson emailed me two DA Form 7566 Composite Risk Management worksheets -- one for the FTX and the other for live-fire lanes training -- for my review and signature.
The FTX and live-fire lanes training went off well with no accidents, injuries or damaged equipment. During the after-action review, I was surprised to see both CRM worksheets included on the AAR agenda. Clearly, Johnson and Stevenson were onto something, and I attribute the success of the mission to them.
I firmly believe that implementing and maintaining an effective unit safety program and effective use of my safety officer is the key to a successful command. However, this will require continuous effort by me, my command team, Leaders at all levels, Soldiers and even their Families to maintain readiness and combat capability. At my safety council meetings, the performance metrics reflect an accident rate reduction with zero off-duty privately owned vehicle accidents. My last CUSR submission also showed considerable improvement. Morale seems greatly improved and, most importantly, we haven't lost anybody to accidents.
Editor's note: The names of the Soldiers in this article are fictitious.