Defending the Human Weapon System with off-duty risk management

  • Published
  • Air Force Safety Center

Ever have that feeling when the workday is almost over and your mind drifts off to that recreational activity coming up? Anticipation is building for the upcoming adventure. Maybe it involves going for a hike up the mountain, riding a motorcycle through the twists and turns, snowboarding the Alps, chilling at the beach, or even skydiving with friends. No matter the activity, throwing caution to the wind could end in disaster with one bad decision.

To help Airmen and Guardians identify and lessen the risks they may encounter in their off time, the Air Force Safety Center will sponsor a department-wide focus on off-duty risk management from October 8 through November 27. The campaign reaches out to the Air and Space Forces for participation in both video and safety slogan contests highlighting off-duty threats to the Human Weapon System.

Airmen and Guardians make good risk management decisions every day without even realizing they are doing it, but between fiscal years 2017 and 2022, the Department of the Air Force lost 172 servicemembers to off-duty activities.

“Our Airmen and Guardians are our most valuable resource,” said Maj. Gen. Jeannie Leavitt, Department of the Air Force chief of safety and AFSEC commander. “It is important that they make good decisions not only on duty, but also in the off-duty environment. There is inherent risk in many of our activities, and the key is to identify that risk and then negate or mitigate it whenever possible. Our goal is to inspire Airmen and Guardians to have a proactive safety mindset when they approach risk.”

Was an off-duty risk assessment done beforehand? Exposure to unnecessary risks while participating in common off-duty activities without proper risk assessments can result in damage, destruction, impeded job performance, injury, and possibly loss of life. Taking a little time to think about the risks versus the consequences beforehand could both improve your enjoyment of the activity and prevent tragedy from happening.

“Poor decision making and unnecessary risks in the off-duty environment are a continuous, and unending threat to the human weapon system,” said William “Bill” Walkowiak, chief of Occupational Safety at the Air Force Safety Center. “As humans, we have an amazing capability to adapt, overcome adversity, and remain resilient in the face of difficult circumstances. However, we are neither indestructible nor immune to the potential consequences of our actions.”

As the Air and Space Forces evolve, we continue to develop ways to mitigate threats to our weapon, mechanical and cyber systems, and we must do the same for our most valuable asset, the Human Weapon System (YOU).

The Department of the Air Force has established a robust on-duty risk management program that educates its service members and civilians on how to assess risks inherent to the missions they perform. The program is based on the Five-Step Risk Management process where they learn to identify risk, assess risk, develop controls, implement controls and evaluate those controls to avoid or mitigate unnecessary risk and decide what is acceptable risk. This is all being done while keeping in mind the four principles of risk management; to accept no unnecessary risk, make risk decisions at the appropriate level, integrate risk management into operations, activities and planning at all levels, and apply the process cyclically and continuously.

Off-duty risk management can be as simple as looking both ways before crossing the street, designating a sober driver before attending a party, planning a safe hiking route, swimming near a lifeguard, and riding a bicycle or motorcycle with a helmet.

Airmen and Guardians typically enjoy recreational activities to blow off steam and have fun. These ventures are needed to reduce stress and keep nourished, physically, emotionally and spiritually, properly sustaining the Human Weapon System.

“It is our responsibility as leaders to train our Airmen and Guardians to do effective risk management while on-duty; however, we must take an aggressive approach in educating them on how to apply their risk management skills to their off-duty activities,” said Leavitt. “Every Airman or Guardian we lose to an off-duty activity hurts our mission, our force, and affects their family forever.”

To defend yourself from unnecessary threats and risks, you should apply the same risk management and sound decision-making toolkit you use on duty. When participating in off- duty, activities do a risk assessment, take a course if you haven’t participated in a particular activity in a while or go with a club, and always wear the proper fitting personal protective equipment.

Being healthy, staying fit, adaptive to change, and agile in problem solving increases the chances that you, our most valuable asset, the Human Weapon System, returns to duty mission ready, critical to the success of our Air and Space Forces.

Find out more about off-duty risk management, the human weapon system and the rules for the contests here: