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Accidental Deaths Decline in DoD

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 29, 1998 – Leadership involvement and a DoD-wide effort to make safety integral to the military training and operations have helped reduce accidental deaths dramatically across the department.

An inspector general report published this summer shows that 6,790 service members died accidentally in the nine years from 1988 through 1996. That compares to a total of 11,216 accidental deaths during the previous five-year period. The report said service members are less likely to die accidentally than their civilian counterparts.

Pentagon officials attributed the relative 66 percent decline to several factors, including reducing and managing safety risks.

"The services have focused very seriously on risk management," said Sherri Goodman, deputy under secretary of defense for environmental security. "We use simulation to a much greater extent. We also have a leadership approach that focuses on making sure every soldier, sailor, airman and Marine is aware of the possibility of accidents and how to prevent them."

The services develop their own safety programs, said Goodman, but all generally depend on strong support by leaders to succeed. "It's not by luck or chance that people are safer in our military than they are outside," she said. "At all levels of command, we are working to keep the sons and daughters of America safe."

The IG report found that motor vehicle deaths in the service are lower than for the civilian population as a whole. Goodman said that's because the military can require and enforce mandatory safety belt usage and other common sense safety practices.

Service members also are routinely bombarded with safety messages on workplace bulletin boards, in base newspapers and even in their leave and earnings statements.

In June, Defense Secretary William Cohen issued the first-ever DoD safety proclamation, saying one preventable death is one too many. The proclamation went to the service secretaries and Joint Chiefs of Staff for distribution to the field.

"[Cohen] has set aggressive goals for the Department of Defense," Goodman said. "He personally requested the IG report."

"To be successful in safety, you need top management support," said John Lemke, assistant for safety policy on Goodman's staff. Cohen's proclamation "showed that safety is a part of the mission, a part of everything we do, and a part of what he wants the department to be doing."

Risk management means knowing the risks, getting rid of unnecessary ones and managing the rest, Lemke said. "The services are doing this to a higher degree than ever before. They realize that if they don't work safely, they won't accomplish the mission. Everybody has a stake in safety."

Lemke pointed to additional reports on military safety published by the General Accounting Office. The reports show that military people are safer on and off duty, he said. In fact, from a safety perspective, Lemke said, the safest service members are those stationed in Bosnia.

He said the Army sets the best on-duty safety example in its force protection program. "We see a blending there of safety into military training and operations that's seamless," he said. "We're always fighting the perception that military duty is hazardous and, therefore, unsafe. But because of the skill, discipline and training, we are safer."

"Those in the military have agreed to give their lives in the service of their country, if necessary. So, of course, it's a risky business," Goodman said. "But at the same time, we have greater awareness of those risks and greater ability" to prevent accidental deaths.

More safety information and Cohen's proclamation are available on the Internet at two DoD Web sites: www.acq.osd.mil/ens/sh and www.denix.osd.mil.

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