By David San Miguel, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, Ford Rucker, AlabamaMay 15, 2015
ALEXANDRIA, Virginia - Speaking at the Senior Safety and Occupational Health Summit held here April 12-17, Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Farnsworth, director, Army Safety, and commanding general, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, challenged the 350 safety and occupational health professionals in attendance to not rest on their laurels, but to work together and exploit 21st century technology to identify and influence Soldier behavior to prevent accidents.
"We've done a tremendous job as an Army in driving those fatality numbers down. The trend is going in the right direction," he said. "However, if you're the mother or father of one of 127 (4-wheel privately-owned motor vehicle) or one of 44 (motorcycle) (fatalities reported last fiscal year), you would say we haven't done enough, because by definition every accident is preventable."
The summit, the first held after a two-year pause due to sequestration, drew Army safety and occupational health professionals from various locations worldwide to learn and hear from Farnsworth and Army senior leaders to include the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army; the deputy commanding general, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command; deputy surgeon general and deputy commanding general (support), U.S. Army Medical Command; deputy assistant, Secretary of the Army, Environmental, Safety and Occupational Health; as well as top federal and industry leaders.
In addition, the week-long summit gave attendees multiple opportunities to continue their professional development through a myriad of courses on topics, some of which include strategic planning, force management, explosive safety, radiation and laser safety, contract safety, program management, top trends in safety and occupational health, analysis tools, fire and emergency medical services. For many in attendance, the courses helped fulfill their ongoing credentialing and professional certification requirements.
Brenda Miller, Ph.D., senior safety advisor, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, said the summit offered a perfect training environment for the professional development of the command's safety and occupational health workforce.
"Hearing from the Army's senior leadership, participating in the break-out sessions and meeting with their peers at various command levels should prove especially beneficial when they get back to their respective organizations and formulate their own safety strategies," she said. "It's important that each safety and occupational health professional leaves here armed with the knowledge to help them better advise their unit commanders in developing and executing their safety programs."
According to Farnsworth, this summit also offered him a chance to share his vision of Army safety with the workforce in light of budget constraints and the still looming personnel reductions.
"We're not going to get any bigger as a workforce, in fact, we're going to get smaller," he said. "I know many of you are concerned about impacts on the career program personnel authorizations. Our requirements are clear. The Army validated that manpower model, but the authorizations are the commanders' determination. What they have left to resource in these hard times is going to depend on what they see as the risk value proposition.
"What's the risk if the commander decrements the safety office?" the general asked. "It's up to you to conduct that assessment and communicate the risk. Make the commander aware. That's all you can do. How well you perform, the relative value you contribute to the command, how that commander perceives your organization is going to determine whether you get a 10 or 40 percent cut."
Farnsworth also added that it's at this juncture of declining resources that necessitates safety and occupational health care professionals to collaborate and cooperate with each other to complete the mission.
"Everyone needs to work to the priorities of the senior commander on that camp, post or installation, and if that means you have to borrow manpower from MEDCOM and the installation mission side to do something for the garrison or from the garrison to do something for the mission, we have to act as a team of professionals and work together to achieve those priorities," he said.
Among other issues challenging the safety workforce includes how to implement the right sensors and data collection tools to identify Soldiers' risk profiles and better apply those loss prevention efforts in a more effective manner.
"We know that we've got a 4-wheel motor vehicle problem while off duty," Farnsworth said. "Well, what do we do about that? Where? What age group? What is it they're doing before and during that's causing that problem? Were they under the influence? Distressed? How do you know? That's what I mean by understanding ourselves better. If I knew the answers to those questions, then I can target my loss prevention efforts where it's going to make the most difference."
We need to think creatively and to exploit modern technology to improve data collection to meet future challenges, he said.
"We've done a lot. We've done well, but conditions change and we have to adapt to those changes," Farnsworth said. "We have to tailor to the need."
According to Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, vice chief of staff of the Army, tailoring that need is necessary as the Army reduces unit deployment to combat environments and transitions out of the ARFORGEN (Army Force Generation) training cycle.
"Our Army is getting smaller, but our global commitment is twice the size," he said. "We'll need every Soldier in our formation fit-to-fight to optimize our readiness and our organization's efforts, so safety and avoidance of preventable accidents is job one as we prepare our most important resource, the American Soldier."
The vice chief added that Soldiers and leaders do well at minimizing safety incidents while deployed and then somehow return home full of insensibilities.
"We change our supervision practice and create an environment filled with accepted risks that can arguably lead to bad decisions," Allyn said. "The solution to continuing to improve our safety results is involved leadership, discipline and change.
"Leaders at all levels must spend time getting to know their people so that they can optimize mission performance, exploit strengths, address gaps and intervene when situations warrant," he said. "We need safety leaders who, one, understand where our Army is going so that they can relate to Soldiers and leaders; two, trained leaders capable of influencing those around them and building a safety culture in their formation; and three, leaders who know their Soldiers and can focus energy and essential resources to those at risk.
"Our Soldiers are our Army and they are our nation's most trusted resource," Allyn said. "Your job is to help empower our leaders to ensure we keep them safe so that they can answer the call to defend our nation."