The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center has released its assessment of the Army Safety Program for fiscal 2020, highlighting the successes and challenges of operations in the ongoing COVID-19 environment.
Statistically speaking, fiscal 2020 was the Army’s safest year on record, with 96 Soldier and Department of the Army Civilian mishap fatalities reported between Oct. 1, 2019, and Sept. 30, 2020. The previous record low was achieved in fiscal 2016, with 109 mishap fatalities. However, USACRC subject matter experts said pandemic-related restrictions on personal travel and mission profiles during the last nine months most likely affected both on- and off-duty mishap totals.
“We can’t say why a hypothetical mishap didn’t happen,” said Brig. Gen. Andrew C. Hilmes, USACRC commanding general and director of Army Safety. “But we can look at trends from past years, especially with private motor vehicles, and be reasonably confident stop-movement orders and restricted travel had a positive net effect on mishaps in 2020.”
On-duty ground mishap fatalities fell 25 percent for the year, down to 18 from the 24 recorded during fiscal 2019. Eleven of those deaths occurred in government motor vehicles, primarily tactical variants. Eight Soldiers were killed in rollovers, and most were not wearing seat belts or using vehicle restraint systems.
“It’s important to remember vehicles don’t just roll over,” said USACRC Command Sgt. Maj. William L. Gardner II. “Speeding or driving too fast for conditions, distractions, or loss of situational awareness during cross-country movements are common in rollover mishaps. Standards enforcement and mandatory use of restraint systems are key to preventing rollovers and fatalities.”
The Army’s manned aviation force, which fulfilled 90 percent of 2020’s allotted flying hours despite COVID-19 restrictions, saw Class A mishaps drop by half from the previous year. More Soldiers died in these mishaps, though — seven compared to two during fiscal 2019.
“Aviation commanders at all levels proved their commitment to risk management during lockdown,” Hilmes said. “That fewer mishaps were actually deadlier is a tragic reminder of the inherent danger in flight operations. We can lose entire crews in a single crash.”
Off-duty mishap fatalities fell to 71 from 91 in fiscal 2019, a decline of 22 percent. Although PMV mishaps were responsible for 53 of those deaths, both motorcycle and four-wheeled fatalities experienced significant reductions, 19 and 13 percent respectively.
“This area is where you can really see a pandemic effect,” Gardner said. “With travel cancelled or delayed across the force, we suspect there were fewer Soldiers on the road and far fewer miles driven off duty. Sustaining this trend will be the challenge as commanders loosen restrictions and we move into the holiday travel period.”
The USACRC recently released a communications campaign targeted toward off-duty risk management during the holiday block leave period, the second-deadliest time of year for mishap fatalities. It includes a counseling checklist, news articles on prevalent holiday hazards, and links to popular tools like the Travel Risk Planning System and Off Duty Safety Awareness Presentation.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for leaders to keep their Soldiers as safe as possible during this hectic season,” Hilmes said. “We can start 2021 on the right track with a successful holiday safety effort.”
The complete annual safety assessment is available for download at https://safety.army.mil/Portals/0/Documents/MEDIA/Standard/Annual-Assessment-FY20.pdf.
To view the holiday exodus campaign, visit https://safety.army.mil/MEDIA/Seasonal-Safety-Campaigns/Fall-Winter-Safety-2020.