It seems contrary to a lot of people’s conceptions that the military is a major proponent of safe operations. From the military’s stand point, safe operations are one of the most important steps a leader can take to prepare their unit to accomplish their wartime mission. My first leadership position in the US Army was as a Heavy Mortar Platoon Leader in the Republic of Korea. My platoon’s purpose was to fire our six mortars accurately, quickly, and under any weather conditions. To do this safely, though, was a daunting task. We had to be able to operate from -30F to +100F, in rain, snow, mud, and maintain and operate wheeled and tracked vehicles when most of the platoon had less than three years in the US Army. Yet, we achieved our mission with a majority of very junior soldiers.
A focus on safety made us better at our military jobs. In my opinion, the same principles of safety the military uses can, and should, be used in the civilian world to make workplaces safer and more productive.
How military safety matters to workplace safety:
It starts with training & leadership to a high standard. Training, education, and rehearsals (practice) are the best way to maintain and create a safe workplace. Safe operations come from having to train, to practice, and to anticipate how to perform tasks safely even under a great amount of stress, little sleep, and minimal time in key positions. In the military, if you lose a soldier to an accident or to an enemy action, the safety injury is the worse event because that could have been prevented. Leaders enforcing safe activity every step of the way, in person, is also essential. In the winter, when a round became stuck in the mortar tube, a mixture of anti-freeze and water had to be poured in the tube and then the round removed. Standing in support around cold steel, freezing water, and a 25 lbs. mortar round slick with anti-freeze being slowly lifted so a soldier could catch it as it slid down the tube is a critical leadership activity to support safety.
Aggressively look at ways to become even safer. The US Army uses the Risk Management Process, a step-by-step process to analyze critical activities, identify solutions & hazards, and then put in risk mitigation and injury mitigation steps to create a safer work environment. This process works very well for the US Army but it is another procedure, the After Action Review (AAR) that makes the Risk Management Process work well. The AAR is when the entire unit, highest rank to lowest rank, gathers as peers in a circle, reviews what happened, identifies sustainment and improvement items, and then creates a plan to fix the improvement items. Safety items are highlighted in AAR’s. It is the team effort of an AAR to seek improvement and more safety combined with the discipline of the Risk Management Process that creates greater safety.
There are no excuses for not being safe & effective. Every military leader knows the quote, “I am responsible for everything my unit does and fails to do.” During my time in the ROK, I had the most up-to-date radios and military vehicles that were rebuilt from the 1970’s. The point was that no matter how we were equipped and supplied, we were expected to accomplish our missions safely and effectively – no excuses. On a field training exercise in January, the snow and ice made driving armored vehicles very slippery. We had to move 15 miles that took over three to four hours in -15F winter weather in a pitch dark night to make our position for the next exercise. We did it safely and on time. Not one of leaders commented on it, which was good – we were expected to be safe and effective and we were.
Safety in the military is viewed as an integral part of all activities from garrison to combat. Safety of military personnel is a critical leader task that is of vital importance. A focus on safety made us better at our military jobs. In my opinion, the same principles of safety that the military uses can, and should, be used in the civilian world to make workplaces safer and more productive.
Share some of your recommendations on how to maintain a safe work place!
About the Author:
Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 230 articles in over 110 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics. Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better. Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at Creighton University. Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University. Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and http://www.combattocorporate.com/.
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