Saturday, May 12, 2012
Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) calls for training halt: Driving home that training safety message
All the training halts in the world will not help the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) improve training safety, until and unless everyone in uniform takes that message to heart.
SAF regulars, Operationally Ready National Servicemen and full-time National Servicemen can achieve impressive results in training and workplace safety as shown by the clean record of zero training deaths that every active and NS personnel achieved in 2010.
The drive to do so again cannot come top down. Putting aside the image of the SAF, the effort of every person in uniform in observing the safety first mindset will prevent heartbreaks among camp mates, family and friends.
Safest year for SAF despite high ops tempo
The safety milestone in 2010 was achieved despite a high operational tempo in Singapore and training arrangements for SAF land, air and naval forces in faraway places that resulted in some form of military training taking place round the world and round-the-clock every day of the year. Some training took place in harsh environments with weather conditions that Singaporeans are not used to. War games, some of which included combined live-fire exercises, were carried out with foreign forces that SAF personnel did not know personally. Despite thousands of live rounds being fired, the SAF's intensive training calendar never resulted in a fatal incident in 2010.
Add to this operational deployments in places like Afghanistan, where SAF personnel had to contend with an unfamiliar area of operations and hostile forces out to kill without remorse. But all who served came home safely.
On home ground, the Ops Bascinet deployments in 2010 safeguarded key installations such as our airport, port and oil refining infrastructure and other places of vital interest. Singapore Army units tasked with Protection of Installation and coastal surveillance were armed with live ammunition and shoot-to-kill protocols. But every Bascinet patrol was carried out safely that year.
The year 2010 also demanded an increased SAF presence when thousands of foreign visitors flew in for the Singapore Airshow and the Singapore Formula 1 night race. In addition, SAF and Home Team forces provided security cover for defence chiefs from the region and nuclear-armed powers when they gathered in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue. National Day 2010 at the Padang was another security tasking, not just at the NDP venue but island-wide as celebrations moved into the heartlands. Countless hours of preparations by declared SAF units such as CBRE forces and low-key units helped keep the island safe during these taskings.
Our armed forces paid a heavy price to achieve that unprecedented safety record in 2010.
The year 2009 was a tragic year for SAF training safety with an all-time high of 10 training deaths recorded from January to December 2009.
So what is the secret behind this dramatic drop in training deaths from a most tragic year to the safest year on file?
Could it be that the steady stream of death announcements turned out to be an effective wake-up call for the SAF? Alas, the NSFs who served in 2009 and 2010 have all left the SAF, taking with them precious lessons that the current batch of NSFs are learning once again.
How many times do we need to sit down and reflect on training safety before that message is driven home?
Would an online repository of past training incidents, BOI/COI reports as well as near misses help Singaporeans learn, absorb and apply that safety first mindset better?
The ongoing training time-out is an invaluable opportunity for all in uniform to think about their responsibility to themselves, their co-workers and loved ones.
Helplines for soldiers who have personal problems, if not dialed in, are of no help to those in distress. After 45 years handling NSFs, almost every personal problem and crisis you can think of has been heard by sympathetic professionals who are trained and have a proven track record in mending broken hearts and unsettled lives. So help is at hand for those who need it.
Whether you believe our fate on this planet is determined by God, kismet or the brutal statistics of number of fatalities per training hours, your personal commitment to safety is something well within one's control.
When that training time-out expires, SAF personnel must put in their best effort in improving the safety culture.
This best effort will not guarantee zero training deaths. But it will at least help SAF personnel avoid the pain, tears and tragedy of preventable accidents.
Posted by David Boey at 12:22 PM