The Green Safety Dot and Risk Assessment.

Here’s your weekend “must-read” on the woes of the current Army culture.

Read the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

No, that doesn’t mean we need to be suicidal kamikazes. It does mean we accept that combat is a dangerous world, where even those who take every precaution can still be killed or wounded. It means we embrace the courage of those who disregard mortal danger and do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. It means we shouldn’t reduce bravery to a chart balancing risk versus safety. It means we don’t train Soldiers to believe something as mundane as talking in a classroom requires a careful analysis of danger (no, not even if it’s just a training method). It means we shouldn’t act as if a physical fitness test, which we’re all supposed to be able to pass at a moment’s notice, requires mission planning more worthy of a combat patrol.

Risk assessment is a great tool.  The modern version of Risk Assessment came to us from the aviation community. And, understand, it IS important to do risk assessments there. In the post Vietnam era, the drive to accomplish the mission, always make every flight, led to some crashes, losses of aircraft, and worse, people, that really didn’t need to happen. And so, a risk assessment that takes into account the weather, the mission, the training and experience of the crews involved can give the commander a good idea of whether or not a mission is a good idea.

And to a goodly extent, bringing that concept into the ground forces is a good idea. Is your infantry battalion planning on conducting a river crossing exercise? What are some of the risks involved in that?  Can soldiers swim? Is hypothermia a risk? Will there be medics and ambulances in site? What about a trained rescue team?

But the requirements that Hernandez describes in his (go read the whole thing) essay shows the bureaucratic imperative at work. The process has become more important than the product. We see now the question asked of NCOs is “Have you done your risk assessment?”  The real question is, what have you done to reduce likely risks?

When small unit leaders find they cannot perform the simplest of training tasks because of unreasonable restrictions placed upon them by their superiors, their initiative is smothered. And that’s a tragedy. Because historically, one of the great strengths of our Army (and other services) has been that very initiative.

I’ve railed a time or two about the reflective safety belt becoming the emblem of this risk adverse mentality. The belt does little or nothing to enhance safety, but allows weak leaders to be seen doing something, anything, to promote safety.

Mind you, I ‘m a huge fan of safety. Soldiers don’t join the Army to die for a training event. But nor do soldiers  join the Army to live in a bubble wrapped world.

*Yes, I see that Roamy posted a link to the same essay. She posted hers first because I was busy making brownies. But great minds think alike.



10 responses to “The Green Safety Dot and Risk Assessment.

  1. ultimaratioregis

    Busy making brownies? Are you checked out on that stove? Eye pro for the mixer? Oven mitts a safety orange? “Caution Hot” sign on the counter for when they come out? Multiple alarms for baking time to prevent combustion? Let’s see your ORM matrix. And some o’ them brownies.


  2. I would have rather had the brownies.


  3. Esli

    While I admit that “safety” has seemingly run out of control, I am going to say that this author’s experiences are not representative of all units and it is specific to individual chains of command. I have never seen much of what he rails against. I would add the following thoughts. Junior leaders today have no idea what real risks are for the training they plan, whether tactical or accidental, so they substitute things like don’t mess with the wildlife for real ones like “keep your stupid feet out from under the coax ready box so they don’t get crushed.” Risk assessments, properly done, educate on the actual risks. Also, properly done, allow units to conduct better, and more stressful and realistic training by identifying risks, putting preventive or mitigating factors in place, and allowing leaders to make decisions on it. The other side of the coin, senior leaders sometimes put stupid blanket policies in place. However, most of them have been put in place as a result of stupid people, doing stupid things, that should have been prevented by junior and mid-grade leadership that didn’t stop it and didn’t know any better but were probably complaining about how “they” don’t get it, or about small potatoes pt belts while their vehicle’s driver is busy parking on a slope and putting the chock block on the uphill side. It takes two sides to fix this. But, yeah, wearing a PT belt to cut a lawn is stupid. Wearing it as part of the uniform sure seems dumb until, invariably the only indicator I see of soldiers crossing over Battalion Avenue at 0610 between streetlights while I am driving down it at 40mph is the stupid bel and then I am fine with it. Senior leaders need to delegate more and junior leaders need to do better, and more realistic, risk assessments.


  4. Did you give one to Sox?


  5. When I went to Army flight school in 1987 they handed out Orange Safety Dots to all the flight school students, because it identified us as student pilots to the ladies in Panama City nobody really got upset about it, even though we thought the idea as dumb as the author of the article.

    Whomever said things like the dot and other superficial things are only there to show that someone did “SOMETHING” hit the nail on the head. It is sometimes hard work to find real solutions to real problems and there are a lot of people who want easy answers to hard problems…those generally don’t exist.


  6. crazyhorse13

    We got to go to PC maybe twice while I was a WOC and that was while I was on hold status and the National Guard/Reserve students took all the slots. Things had changed but not as much in relation to the way things are now.