Be selfish for safety

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Thomas Painter
  • Chief of Safety
It is often said that "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Unfortunately, the same holds true for some Airmen in the workplace when it comes to safety. Leadership can provide the resources necessary for a safe and healthy work environment, but to remain 100 percent mishap-free, each of us must make a conscious decision to take personal responsibility for being safe on the job.

Now, rarely do Airmen make conscious decisions to be unsafe on the job, they just do what they have always done during their day-to-day tasks. A slowly-grown sense of complacency, along with pressure to complete a job or mission in a compressed time frame, can and does cause us to overlook small things that keep each of us safe. A "been there, done that" attitude often blinds workers to emerging hazards in the workplace. This is exactly what each of us must fight against every day to ensure we all stay mishap free.

To combat complacency, each of us needs to be a good Wingman. A quick reminder or tip for a fellow worker could be all that it takes to avoid a painful and debilitating injury that affects not only production at work, but the workers' family life as well. Who knows? A Wingman speaking up in a timely manner may mean the difference between life and death for a valued Air Force member.

In addition to speaking up when needed, each of us must also learn the necessity of accepting safety feedback from Wingmen without feeling threatened or attacked. After all, anyone who takes the time to voice a concern, cares about your safety and wants you to care as well. Having the courage to accept this feedback and take steps to correct your behavior will ingrain the safety culture that we all strive for at Tinker.

So, how do we build a safety culture where everyone always makes responsible choices? It won't happen overnight, but the simple answer is we must all be selfish. I know these words go against what many of us were taught as children, but safety is one instance where selfishness works in everyone's favor.

Leaders cannot order their Airmen to be safe, any more than they can make that horse drink water. Therefore, everyone must want safety for personal reasons. For some, insisting on safety means no pain and suffering. After all, who likes to be in pain? For others it means being there for loved ones or going on that great vacation getaway you have been planning for months. Each of us has our own selfish reason for staying safe.

I ask that each and every Airman, military and civilian alike, identify their selfish reason for staying safe and then make the choices that will ensure their safety. I also ask that that everyone, regardless of position, be an exceptional Wingmen and safety leader. Look out for your co-workers to ensure their safety.