Where are the Safety Officers?

BY JOE PERFETTO, NAVSAFECEN This question is being asked more often than not: Where are the safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers? As safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers, do you have direct access to the commanding officer or officer in charge to inform […]

BY JOE PERFETTO, NAVSAFECEN

This question is being asked more often than not: Where are the safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers? As safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers, do you have direct access to the commanding officer or officer in charge to inform him or her of potential safety issues that are a concern to the command?

During safety assessments conducted by Naval Safety Center analysts, they ask safety professionals the following questions: Where are you in the chain of command? Do you have direct access to the commanding officer or officer in charge? The answers vary, but the bottom line is that there are safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers who lack access to the commanding officer or officer in charge.

According to Navy policy OPNAVINST 5100.23G:

0302: Organization of Safety Organizations at Headquarters Commands

Headquarters commands shall designate a safety official who will have sufficient authority and responsibility to represent effectively and support the headquarters commander in the management and administration of the headquarters command safety program. The designated safety official shall report directly to the headquarters commander. A safety organization, staffed and organized commensurate with the mission and functions of the command, shall support and report directly to the designated safety official. A safety professional shall head the safety organization. Professional certification is recommended, per paragraphs 0304.c and 0606.

0303: Organization, Functional Responsibilities, and Staffing Criteria for Shore Safety

a. Organization.

(1) Each shore activity not receiving base operating (BOS) safety services from their cognizant naval region shall have a safety organization, staffed and organized commensurate with the mission and functions of the command. A safety professional shall head the safety organization and shall have the authority, responsibility, and visibility to manage and represent effectively the activity’s safety program. Implementation of the safety program is considered a command staff level function. Accordingly, the head of the safety organization shall report directly to the commanding officer of the shore activity.

In addition Paragraph 402 f.(1) reads:

If the region or activity safety manager attends routinely scheduled department head (staff) meetings or personally briefs the commanding officer/executive officer on a recurring basis, where safety items can be discussed in a timely manner, only one formal annual meeting is required. Otherwise, the council shall meet annually or more frequently as needed. The region or activity safety organization shall retain minutes on file for a minimum of three years.

If safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers are not reporting to the commanding officer or officer in charge, does it infer that safety is no longer important? If safety professionals are buried behind the operations officer, aviation safety officer or other individuals, is safety becoming a secondary concern? If safety professionals do not have access to the commanding officer or officer in charge, are there safety concerns that they should be aware of and are not?

SCENARIO: The safety professional identifies a safety concern or trend that he or she feels the commanding officer or officer in charge should be aware of, but does not have direct access to the commanding officer or officer in charge. He or she must go through the chain of command to get this information to them. What if the message gets modified or someone in the chain of command does not think the information is important enough to bother the commanding officer or officer in charge? What happens if someone is injured or a fatality occurs that could have been prevented? What then?

We understand that commanding officers and officers in charge are busy. Safety officers, managers, specialists and collateral duty safety officers should be trained to handle safety issues and concerns. They should also have the training and the authority to handle all safety concerns without having to inform the chain of command in advance. It is concerning, if the safety professional does not have this authority or must go through a number of individuals to inform the commanding officers and officers in charge of a potential safety issue.
Safety should be part of the command culture and climate. The safety professional should be involved with every aspect of the command. Commanding officers or officer in charge should listen to their safety professionals.

In turn safety professionals, supervisors, and employees should have the authority to stop any activity that could potentially cause an injury. The Naval Safety Center does not receive reports of safety professionals that temporarily stop a process to ensure safety protocol is being adhered to or cases where safety measures are absent from the process and safety is incorporated on-the-spot with the process proceeding without incident. We know this happens and the question to the commanding officer and officer in charge is, “Do you know the condition of your safety program?”