Mishaps begin long before they occur

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Darnell Edmonds
  • 39th Air Base Wing ground safety manager
We've all heard the phrases: "Avoiding mishaps is just using common sense," "Can you believe what the big dummy tried", "Accidents happen, nothing is 100 percent safe," and "Darwin's Theory - mishaps are just weeding out the weak ones."

Personally, I'd call these misconceptions. As a mishap investigator, my experience leads me to believe the two most common factors in mishaps are inadequate planning and complacency. These factors have created a bad day for some and a life altering event for others.

The Air Force defines a mishap as "an unplanned or unsought event or series of events, resulting in death, injury, occupational illness or damage to, or loss of, equipment or property." The key words in this definition are "unplanned" and "unsought". A little care makes mishaps rare.

How many of you leave your residence with the idea of losing a finger, breaking a couple of bones or worse, never returning home? Better yet, what is your plan as you leave your residence to keep all your fingers, not break any bones and ensure you return home at the end of the day? Planning is the key to mishap prevention!

If you look for and recognize the hazards at your job, while driving, at home, and in your social life, you've won half the battle. If, conversely, you think you are somehow incapable of being involved in a mishap, you've become complacent and complacency is an all too common factor in mishaps. Unfortunately, because of this complacency, someone from the safety office will someday conduct a mishap investigation on your accident.

When safety specialists conduct mishap investigations, we piece together the mishap's chronology. All mishaps have a chronology. In other words, each accident has a beginning and an end. The chain of events usually begins days, months and sometimes even years before the actual incident. This is where you and your actions come into play. The lack of hazard awareness and bad habits developed today usually starts the chain of events leading to a mishap. For example, failing to wear a seatbelt on occasion will predictably lead to your ejection from a vehicle someday or, by removing the guards from your table saw, you have significantly increased the probability of losing a finger or hand.

By the way, "lack of hazard awareness" and "bad habits" are another way to describe inadequate planning and complacency.

I've investigated numerous mishaps ranging from slips, trips and falls to severed fingers and hands, even fatalities. None of these people who were injured or died lacked common sense. Not one of them was a "big dummy." Every single mishap was preventable or, at the very least, the severity of the mishap could have been reduced. Most importantly, the human race is not better off because we are without someone who made a fatal mistake.

Mishap prevention is everyone's responsibility. Please remember to look for and be aware of the hazards around you, both on and off-duty. Awareness is half the battle.

Take care of yourself and those around you.

This commentary is Part 1 in a 3 part 'Refocus on Safety' series