An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Manage risks, prevent mishaps

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Antonio Hickey
  • 451st Air Expeditionary Wing command chief master sergeant
There's no doubt about it: our profession as Airmen in the U.S. Air Force is dangerous business. We send America's best and brightest into harm's way on a daily basis in any number of different scenarios and tend to downplay the risks involved. Tragically, every once in a while we are reminded of just how dangerous it is with the loss of one of our brothers or sisters.

Due to the inherent risk, as professional Airmen we must make sure we do everything we can to minimize any unnecessary risk and make every effort to fully understand what we or our people are getting into. This concept is known as operational risk management and is laid out in Air Force Instruction 90-901.

I was first introduced to ORM back in the late '90s and was pretty skeptical when I was told I would be going on a temporary duty assignment to learn the basic concepts in a two-day course at Langley, Air Force Base, Va. Visions of total quality management danced in my head as I prepared for another "mandatory" training requirement.

I soon learned, however, that ORM at its most basic level is about as common sense as you can get when it comes to avoiding mishaps. To sum it all up in one sentence, ORM involves understanding the risks of any course of action and making a decision based on those risks and the importance of your intended outcome. It's a very simple cost-benefit analysis with deadly consequences if not applied correctly.

AFI 90-901 is a simple and quick read all Airmen should be familiar with, especially in a combat environment. It lists the following principles with regard to managing risks:
1. Accept no unnecessary risk
2. Make risk decisions at the appropriate level
3. Accept risk when benefits outweigh the costs
4. Integrate ORM planning into operations and planning at all levels
Sounds very simple, right? The concepts are what we would like to assume is common sense, but many times we find ourselves leaning so far forward to get the mission done, we do not appropriately evaluate the risks involved. I'll go ahead and coin that type of behavior as complacency and, at times, it can become epidemic in the combat zone.

The funny part is that complacency has absolutely no place in a combat zone, much less any place else. Just imagine the impact of assuming too much risk when launching a combat sortie. What would the impact be if we accepted an unnecessary risk and lost or damaged the aircraft? Not only could we potentially lose an aircraft and crew, but that loss could result in the deaths of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines or Airmen relying on that mission for critical support.

I'm not just talking about applying ORM in the flying operation, but using it in everything we do. The same concepts must be applied whether you are working on the flightline or placing a T-barrier in the parking lot of the dining facility. Either action could result in loss of life if we forget or neglect to apply sound ORM principles when evaluating risks.

Effective ORM also needs to be used both on and off duty. Even the simplest risk evaluation when deciding to lift weights without a spotter is ORM in its simplest form. Deciding how far to travel and whether or not you are too tired to continue is another great opportunity to apply ORM.

As Airmen, we must apply these principles on a daily basis and make sure we never get complacent. Even when we do everything right and fully understand and evaluate the risk involved in an operation, we will still experience losses or injuries due to unforeseen circumstances. Those losses, while extremely tragic, are the nature of our business. However, even one death or injury resulting from an unnecessary risk is too many and we can never accept that.