A safe unit is a ready unit Published Jan. 4, 2021 By Jessie Perkins Air Force Safety Center KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. (AFNS) -- How does your organization measure up? Are violations of operating instructions in the unit common? Is the organization genuinely concerned about safety? Can leaders and supervisors in the squadron be trusted? Survey items like these come from the Air Force Combined Mishap Reduction System survey. The Human Factors Division at the Air Force Safety Center provides this survey to meet the Air Force’s safety mission to safeguard Airmen and Guardians, protect resources and preserve combat capability by addressing the number one cause of Air Force mishaps: human error. A proactive safety tool, AFCMRS helps commanders assess the safety climate of their units through anonymously surveying member’s attitudes and perceptions. These surveys can be conducted at any echelon in the Air Force and Space Force from the squadron to the major command or field command. “The AFCRMS survey helps leaders find hidden safety risks, inform mitigations, monitor changes, or affirm a safe culture,” said Col. Geoffrey Ewing, chief of the Human Factors Division and a physician of aerospace and occupational medicine. “Airman and Guardians want to be safe, compliant and productive by nature. A safe working environment for them directly results in increased productivity and trust in leadership.” The AFCMRS program hails from a solid history beginning in 2007. In the last five years, 4,724 total unit surveys were completed consisting of 289,929 individual participants. There were 28,854 aircrew members; 55,064 maintainers; and 88,922 other support personnel accounting for the majority of the career fields surveyed. The Safety Center debriefed results to more than 2,700 unit commanders during that five years. During each debrief, commanders were provided an opportunity to give feedback on the program. In an effort to highlight areas of improvement needed, one commander stated, “The results highlighted a few areas of concern based on the majority of responses. This allows me and the rest of the unit leadership to better focus our efforts in addressing Airmen's concerns.” The survey can also highlight successes, as another commander stated, “The overall feedback … was that the unit was moving in the right direction overall. I didn't see any major areas of concern. All responses were an improvement from the previous year.” The Air Force Combined Mishap Reduction System has the ability to reach every member of the unit with the click of the mouse or tap of the finger on a mobile device providing commanders with a quick and easy way to check the pulse of their unit. “The survey can be up and running within 15 minutes of a request,” said Moses Winston, AFCMRS program manager. “The median completion time is under 10 minutes and the results can be debriefed within 2 hours, giving units a very valuable measurement tool that can be done quickly, and best of all at no cost.” “We have a team of professionals at the Air Force Safety Center that guide commanders through every question to help them understand the results,” Ewing said. “Our goal is to ensure they are able to take the data we provide and mitigate unit issues through an informed decision-making process.” Participant perceptions are scored from 1-point, for strongly disagree, to 5-points for strongly agree. The use of the Likert scale allows commanders to target limited resources with lower scores and continue operations in areas with higher scores to improve mission effectiveness for their squadrons. The scores and comments then allow commanders to compare their unit to other similar units across common subject areas. “Effectiveness of survey results to Air Force Safety as a whole is hard to quantify,” Winston said. “On a squadron-by-squadron basis, good commanders are rarely surprised and often survey data confirms ‘gut’ feelings about their units.” According to AFCMRS, the value of the data is directly proportional to the effort that the Airman or Guardian and their command put into conducting the survey. Winston added, “Commanders who are surprised by the results appreciate how AFCMRS was able to identify the issue and include data to back up perceptions.” There are three main surveys available. The first is, OPS (Operations), which is targeted to the line aviator in a flying squadron. The second is, MX (Maintenance), targeted to the crew chief on the line and wrench-turners in the back shops that keep aircraft flying. The third SUP (Support), includes everyone on the commander’s staff and other wing agencies that keep the mission going. Additional surveys are available such as one that assesses patient safety in medical units or the impacts of COVID-19 on unit operations. Other specialized versions are available for members within the nuclear, space, special warfare, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance communities. There are also surveys for higher headquarters and staffs at numbered Air Force and above used to assess their level of support to lower-echelon organizations. Unique surveys exist as well like a driving survey that looks into the driving habits of Airmen and Space Professionals. “Keep in mind, AFCMRS items are not limited to just safety practices; outcomes are likely improved as well; squadrons with a good safety climate in the areas of process, climate, resources and supervision are less likely to experience slips, trips and falls or even more serious incidents,” Winston said. Winston recommends and encourages squadrons to take the OPS, MX, and/or SUP surveys within 30 days of a change of command and then biennially thereafter. Deployment cycles, a desire to examine a particular issue, or a feeling something just isn't right can also be reasons to initiate a survey. Contact the AFSEC Human Factors Division at AFSEC.SEH.LocalDivision@us.af to learn more about how a proactive safety culture equals a ready unit.