Don't forget about the garlic bread

Senior Airman Matthew Baldyga unbuckles the safety harness after climbing the radio frequency tower for training at Naval Weapons Station Charleston, June 14. Airman Baldyga is a radio frequency transmissions journeyman with the 628 Communications Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sergeant Katie Gieratz)

Whether climbing a radio frequency tower, as the Airman is doing here, or planning a party at the neighborhood pool, it is important to keep safety on your mind by paying attention to the details and remaining aware of your surroundings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sergeant Katie Gieratz)

Megan Just

Megan Just is a former Navy officer and the editor of the weekly newspaper at March Air Reserve Base, Calif.

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. -- In the Air Force, we focus on safety during key times of the year, like the Critical Days of Summer, or prior to the winter holidays. We also focus on safety before missions with increased risk levels. But the truth is, we must have safety on our minds at all times, whether we are flying a refueling or airlift mission, or having a barbeque in our backyard.

People always say "accidents happen when you're least expecting them," but I believe it goes beyond that. In my past career as a Navy officer, I discovered a more accurate statement is, "accidents come as a surprise when you're not prepared or watching out for them."

When you're in the moment of reckoning, it all seems like it's happening instantly. You're slamming on the brakes because the SUV in front of you is making a left. Your fishing boat is capsizing but your lifejacket's in the car. In the seconds you left the kitchen, the garlic bread under the broiler has burst into flames.

When examining the causes of an accident, our hindsight allows us to decipher a chain of events that led to the accident. The theory is that if any of the links in the chain had been broken, the accident would not have happened.

Jim Moats, our wing's ground safety manager, recently told me that inattentiveness and rushing are the most common factors of the on-the-job accidents at March. I think the same can be said of many off-base accidents and mishaps.

In the scenario above, you might have had to slam on the brakes because you were tailgating, which was a result of not prioritizing your tasks at work, which caused you to be late leaving for a meeting.

In the fishing boat scenario, you might have skipped researching the weather or double-checking your equipment because you had still had a dehydration headache from yesterday's 10-miler in 90-degree heat.

In the broiler scenario, you might have been cooking dinner, making brownies for a work party, feeding the baby, grading your 6-year-old's homework, and when the phone rang in the living room, you completely forgot about the garlic bread.

Accidents happen when you're on autopilot, when you're not giving due attention to your surroundings or when you've let five links in a safety chain slip without realizing it.

"The Air Force requires 'high risk activity' and 'pre-departure' safety briefings because they want to bring the potential hazards to the forefront of whatever else might be on Airmen's minds," said Col. Mary Aldrian, 452nd Air Mobility Wing commander. "They teach us to be on the lookout for warning signs of certain dangers and they prepare us to act automatically if we were to reach a link in the safety chain where our next decision could mean life or death."

In short, these briefings remind us that we should never allow ourselves to engage our internal cruise control.

It's not always easy to stop a safety chain in its early phases when the chance of an accident seems so remote, but the true root of mishap prevention lays not in the last minute swerve, for example, but in the amount of sleep you've gotten the night before.

"Each service member and civilian employee at our base is an important member of the team and a part of the March family," said Aldrian. "Whether at home or at work, it is my hope that we can each hold ourselves to a higher level of awareness of where we stand at any moment within a safety chain."

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