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Chu Urges Renewed Focus to Reduce Preventable Accidents

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 25, 2005 – The Defense Department wants servicemembers and civilians to concentrate on safety whether they're on or off duty, DoD's top personnel official said Jan. 24.

Each year scores of sailors, soldiers, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard members, as well as DoD civilians, are killed or injured by preventable accidents, David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told attendees here at the annual Tricare conference .

For example, "we lose several hundred military persons a year in motor vehicle accidents," Chu pointed out, noting, "that tragic record continues" during military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

DoD has been evaluating its safety policies and programs as part of its transformation efforts, Chu noted. In a May 2003 memorandum Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld stated that top organizations like DoD "do not tolerate preventable accidents."

The secretary directed Chu to lead the effort to reduce the number of mishaps and accident rates within DoD by 50 percent over the next two years.

"These goals are achievable, and will directly increase our operational readiness," Rumsfeld said in the memo, adding, "We owe no less to the men and women who defend our nation."

Meeting the secretary's short-term safety goal requires "real process change" across the department, Chu pointed out. To facilitate that change, the Defense Safety Oversight Council was established, he noted, comprised of the undersecretaries of defense, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the undersecretaries of the military departments.

That group meets every other month, Chu observed, to provide guidance "and to monitor the accident-reduction efforts the department is undertaking."

DoD's long-term safety goal, Chu explained, "is zero preventable mishaps." The council's existence, he noted, demonstrates DoD's senior leadership "is involved in pursuing this goal."

Also, Chu said, a series of task forces have been set up to address safety concerns in military aviation, training, deployment operations, installation/industrial operations, privately operated motor vehicle safety, and workmen's compensation.

Chu said another task force examines acquisition/technology safety issues, while yet another looks at establishing a DoD-wide safety monitoring system. A general officer or a Senior Executive Service civilian heads each task force, he noted, which all utilize input from safety experts from across DoD and private industry.

The acquisition/technology task force, Chu explained, studies lessons learned to improve safety standards for present and future military systems. For example, he said, the task force examined the issue of missing or outdated safety features on tactical military vehicles.

As a result, he pointed out, the Army is now retrofitting its heavy-truck fleet including trucks used in combat theaters -- with quick-release, multi-point seat belts and anti-lock brakes.

"Vehicle crashes are the largest accidental killer of U.S. military personnel," Chu asserted, noting that in Iraq Humvees and tactical cargo trucks "comprise the largest segment of accidental vehicle deaths." Department safety experts believe that ensuring seat belt usage by servicemembers, controlling speed, and managing driver fatigue "can reduce these accidents," he said.

And the leading noncombat-associated killer of service members, Chu said, is privately operated vehicle accidents including motorcycles.

The highest risk group in this category, Chu noted, includes servicemembers 18- 24 years of age. Military commanders, he said, will continue to issue safety messages to troops "to re-emphasis the need to exercise good judgment."

Chu told care providers at the Tricare conference that medical surveillance is a "key element" of DoD's injury-reduction program.

"We need to know where, when and why an injury occurs," he explained, noting it's important to know not only the types of servicemember injuries, "but also the causes."

"Important progress" has been made on the safety front, Chu maintained, but he noted, "We've got a long way to go to meet the secretary's goals."

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