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AF Safety Center marks 20th anniversary

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) -- This year the Air Force Safety Center commemorates the organization's 20th anniversary. Since its designation, the basic mission has remained the same: preserving lives and combat capability through mishap prevention.

Safety was originally designated under the Office of the Inspector General at Norton Air Force Base, California, shortly after the Air Force became a separate department in 1947. In 1992, safety became a separate entity with the creation of the Air Force chief of safety position.

The Air Force Safety Center was activated Jan. 1, 1996, as a result of recommendations accepted from the Blue Ribbon Panel on Aviation in 1995, which consolidated all safety functions at Kirtland AFB.

"As we take a moment to remember our heritage, I encourage all Airmen to join us in our commitment to advancing the safety culture for the Air Force," said Maj. Gen. Andrew M. Mueller, the Air Force chief of safety and Air Force Safety Center commander. "Safety messages from our past are just as enduring today.

"The lessons we learn will enable the Air Force to safeguard Airmen, protect resources and preserve combat readiness for the future," Mueller continued.

The safety center develops policy, and provides guidance, education, training and oversight of the Air Force safety and nuclear surety programs to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of safety education and training, risk management, and mishap prevention. These programs cover aviation, occupational and space safety, as well as conventional and nuclear weapons, directed energy, human factors and other emerging technologies. The safety center’s goal is to conserve Air Force resources by eliminating mishaps through proactive hazard identification and risk management consistent with operational requirements.

Over the past 20 years, the safety center has worked hard to reduce the number of preventable mishaps. In a snapshot, the Air Force has incurred an average of 24 Class A aviation mishaps per fiscal year producing a rate of 1.15 Class A's per 100,000 flight hours for manned aircraft. Those aviation mishaps resulted in an average of 15 fatalities per year. The last five years were below the 20-year average with fiscal 2014 ending with only seven aviation flight Class A's for a rate of .43 per 100,000 flight hours.

Off-duty ground mishaps continue to be one of the Air Force's biggest challenges. On-duty ground fatalities averaged five per year, while off-duty ground fatalities reached an average of 55. The Air Force finished fiscal 2014 with three on-duty and 42 off-duty ground fatalities, marking the lowest fatality rate in 10 years. Current efforts to promote a risk management-based safety culture on duty challenge Airmen to be accountable for their actions off duty.

During the past 20 years, weapons safety has developed automated site planning generating more than 20,000 explosive site plans. On the nuclear side, two decades of effort of Independent Nuclear Design Certification and developing and refining the policies and procedures to ensure nuclear surety have continued to strengthen the nuclear enterprise. Weapons safety has also made great strides in the areas of improving radiation safety and the evolving field of directed energy.

Recognizing the growing congestion in space and growing reliance upon its use, the Air Force formalized space safety as a mission operations discipline within the safety center in 2013. In just two years, the Air Force's space safety accomplishments earned global status with efforts such as standardizing policy across the Defense Department, academia and civil agencies such as NASA. Achievements included cooperative efforts in the development of small satellites, participation in commercial launch mishap investigations, and as a leader in the international community with regard to tracking procedures.

The safety center remains committed to applying lessons learned while identifying new solutions for an ever-expanding array of challenges.

"Our history and heritage are the foundation of what we do and who we are; they enable us to maintain a lasting legacy of excellence,” Mueller said. "The Air Force commitment to sustain a center of safety professionals reinforces the importance of safety to mission accomplishment."