Don't become 'just another statistic'

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ralph Pinkston
  • 470th Air Base Squadron
One of my least favorite things to do in the Air Force is to sit and watch a PowerPoint presentation that is stuffed full of statistics, graphs, and facts that I feel rarely pertain to me or my job.

I used to think, "Who cares about how many dollars were saved by the reduction of traffic accidents or electrical fatalities in the Air Force?"

Sadly, this has been my view of safety briefs, and I know that it is the sentiment of many young Airmen across the service. I know this because I see the lack of attention paid during commander's calls and mass briefings. I hear the jokes being made and the laughter at the graphic pictures provided to create a "shock and awe" effect on all who watch and listen to the briefs. I know, because I have been there and have done the same thing, over and over again.

The sad reality is that it usually takes your life being affected by a statistic before it becomes personal. I am writing this to hopefully affect change before another life is touched by tragedy and becomes a statistic.

I have been very privileged in my life to grow up in a minister's home. My father has been the pastor of a small church located in sunny California for the last 33 years. Over the years, the facilities have become somewhat dilapidated and run down. In order to save money my dad's best friend, Jerry, took it upon himself to try and fix some small electrical problems that the church had been experiencing.

Jerry was a very outgoing guy. I remember him visiting our house three to four times a month for dinner and other family functions. Jerry was handy with everything. If it needed to be done, Jerry knew how to fix it.

Jerry decided to crawl into the attic of the church Aug. 10, 2004, without cutting the power. The ironic thing is that my father knew what Jerry was about to do and told him, "Jerry, whatever you do, please make sure to cut all the power." Jerry, being" typical Jerry," decided to forgo my father's warning.

My dad found him two hours later lying across an exposed wire. My dad cut the power and tried in vain for 15 minutes to give his best friend CPR. Eight years later, my father still grieves over the memories of his best friend.

A statistic is just a statistic until it impacts your life. My hope and prayer is that it does not require a personal loss for our Air Force members to recognize potential hazards and react appropriately. I hope that the information shared and the facts given become personal and applicable to your life outside of tragedy. We all have loved ones, and we all have a "Jerry" in our lives that we care about. So what can we do to ensure that we have every chance possible to avoid potential hazards that we come across every day?

Here are a few ways to increase or heighten our awareness to potential life threats.

Use all of your senses. A former commander of mine used to say, "If it does not look, feel or smell right, then chances are it's not right." If something just does not sit right, we need to reassess our surroundings and seek appropriate help to address it.

Speak up. There are too many stories of Airmen who have lost a fellow Airman because they refused to speak up. Rank has nothing to do with safety. You have a voice. Use it.

Listen. How often have we shrugged off the advice of others because we felt that they were being over cautious? I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as being too cautious. Being cautious just means asking yourself the right questions. Do I need to do this? Am I doing this the right way? Is there a better way? Do I have the right training to accomplish this? Are there potential hazards? What are they and how do they affect me and what I am doing?

Walk away. Know when you are in over your head. Know when to say, "I am done." One of the most dangerous things that you will ever come across in your Air Force career is an Airman who does not know his limitations.

Protective equipment. Do you have it? Do you use it?

Report it. Identify it. Don't wait until it affects someone else; report it to your safety office or supervisor immediately.

The above steps literally have the potential to reduce the common, easily avoidable, potentially hazardous situations that the Air Force faces every day.

The following facts are reported from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration; the National Census Bureau; and the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation.

- One person is electrocuted every day in the workplace.
- More people in the 25- to 44-year-old age group are electrocuted in the workplace than any other age group.
- People 18- 27 year old are more likely to take unnecessary risk on and off the job than any other age group.
- Approximately 1.2 million working people suffered from avoidable work related illnesses in 2010-2011.
- There were 175 work related fatalities reported to OSHA in 2011.
- More than 200,000 avoidable injuries were reported under RIDDOR in 2011 that missed greater than 3 days of work.
- Approximately 26.4 million working days were lost due to avoidable work related illnesses and injuries in 2011.

It is our job to make sure that we as Airmen don't fall or allow fellow Airmen to fall into the realm of "just another statistic." We can produce change and inspire others to do the same.