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NEWS | Nov. 20, 2006

Team Charleston urged to be safe for the holidays, winter

By Wayne Bendall Air Mobility Command Safety

Winter doesn't officially begin until December 21st. However, wintry weather is already here for many of us and fast approaching for others. The cold, icy conditions lead to increased hazards and typically results in spikes in our accidents, injuries and deaths. To keep ourselves and our loved ones safe this season, we need to apply the principles of risk management and be prepared to adjust for the extreme conditions.

AMC's safety record the past five winters has been less than stellar: we've lost 15 members to traffic-related accidents during that time. The familiar factors found in most motor vehicle accidents -- fatigue, alcohol and speed -- are joined by another equally-dangerous contributing factor during winter: inclement weather. For example, posted speed limits are for "ideal" road conditions; yet, during the months ahead, we may rarely encounter an "ideal" road condition.

In addition to the traffic hazards we encounter each winter, we also experience a large number of accidents due to unsafe walking surfaces. Last winter alone, there were 22 slip, trip and fall accidents resulting in 173 lost duty days.

For Charleston however, some may say the winter season is the best time to be here. Although you are more likely to be wearing shorts than seeing snow, there are still things to be aware of. Staff Sergeant Jeffery Graham, 437th Airlift Wing safety office, says that even though the Charleston winter is mild, even the smallest amounts of ice cause mishaps in the area.

"There will be wrecks here if it ever does snow," says Stuart Wyatt, 437 AW safety office. Even as little as a quarter of an inch will cause havoc as people attempt to maneuver on the roads in an atmosphere they aren't used to. Also, notes Mr. Wyatt, if snow is expected, be prepared for the grocery stores to be packed as people prepare for a "blizzard."

According to Mr. Wyatt, summer hurricane car safety kits seem more essential than winter car safety kits in this area. However, if you are planning to travel north or west this holiday season, even just three hours upstate, a winter safety kit is a good idea. "North Carolina mountain areas are always subject to winter weather. Be prepared with a blanket, candles, snack food and water should you get stuck in a blizzard," Mr. Wyatt said. In addition, he mentioned that fog can be problematic so having fog lights on your car is a good preventative measure.

Mr. Wyatt also noted that there are other winter accidents that happen in the area besides the few traffic incidents, "We experience a high number of miscellaneous mishaps around the house during Christmas and New Years - turkey fryer fires, falls from ladders, fires from Christmas trees, etc."

The single greatest obstacle to effective risk management is the failure to recognize hazards and assign an appropriate level of risk to them. The signs of increased risk are often clear when we look back at the sequence of events leading up to an accident, but the signs are either not recognized or ignored by the victims or those that allowed the conditions to exist.

As commanders, supervisors, co-workers and wingmen, it is our duty to instill the principles of personal risk management into our everyday activities. The bottom line: no one should take unnecessary risks!

What can a local Charleston resident expect for this winter season? "Golfing in shorts and short sleeved shirts for the most part", says Wyatt. "Still, be prepared for the unexpected," he said.

The winter season should be full of cheer and joy. Don't let it be remembered as a time of sorrow.

(Shauna Heathman contributed to this article.)