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Safety and the supervisor: not just an additional duty

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lea Ann Chambers
  • Air Force Materiel Command Public Affairs
Most Air Force people equate occupational safety with the presence of an ergonomic keyboard or one person in their unit periodically reminding them to unplug space heaters before leaving work.

That person is their unit safety representative and the reminders are part of that person's additional duties. Yet, the unit safety representative is not the only person in the unit responsible for occupational safety and a recent memorandum from Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander, Air Force Materiel Command, reiterated just that.

"Nothing is more important to me than the safety and wellness of our people," he said. "Emphasis and focus must start with leadership at every level."

It is not just an AFMC emphasis. AFI 36-1001 mandates that performance evaluations on supervisors reflect personal accountability for compliance with occupational safety requirements. Those that go above and beyond the call of safety can be recognized for superior performance in their evaluations.

The Air Force guidance echoes Department of Defense guidance found in DODI 6055.1 that holds commanders, supervisors, and managers responsible for protecting personnel under their command by using the risk management process and for the effective implementation of safety and occupational health policies.

The guidance has been around for a long time, but according to AFMC Ground Safety chief John Sheehan, it hasn't been something that has been emphasized heavily before.

"This is just one more way of saying we're serious about this and we want other people to be serious about it too," he said.

A change in the culture surrounding safety awareness is the key to successfully reducing workplace accidents, Mr. Sheehan added. This involves understanding that any workplace environment in the Air Force, even an office one, includes some level of risk.

Major sources of workplace injury continue to be slips, trips, falls, strains and sprains said Mr. Sheehan. These types of accidents occur on and off the flight line.

One example he gave was of office reorganizations and the lifting involved in moving equipment. If not done correctly, heavy lifting can result in injury and missed days at work.

For the quarter ending September 2005, AFMC logged 404 new cases. "These numbers include both occupational illnesses and injuries," said Jane Hostler, AFMC A1 human resources specialist. "Cases are counted as new when a claim submitted by an employee is accepted by the Office of Workers' Compensation and assigned an official case number."

The emphasis on safety and its involvement in performance evaluations not only reiterates individual accountability but of the wingman concept as well. Looking out for subordinates is officially part of the supervisor's role, but looking out for coworkers is part of the wingman culture of the Air Force said Mr. Sheehan. Workplace safety is just one way to embrace that culture.

Officer and enlisted performance reports ask raters if the ratee adheres to Air Force standards and accepts personal responsibility. Failure to comply with Air Force occupational safety standards would result in an enlisted or officer to failing to "meet standards" or being rated as "ineffective."

For Air Force civilian supervisors whose annual performance appraisals are based on a Standard Core Personnel Document, the requirement to reflect compliance with occupational safety is already met. When Air Force Form 860, Civilian Performance Plan is used as the basis for annual appraisals, it must include a performance element and corresponding standard addressing accountability for safety.

"Mission success in AFMC depends largely on the wellness and safety of our people," said General Carlson. "It is incumbent upon leadership to look out for their people by ensuring adherence to applicably safety standards."

AFMC people should visit their personnel offices if they need help reflecting safety compliance in performance evaluations.