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My Coast Guard
Commentary | April 17, 2023

Progress made; more work needed for safer work spaces. 

By Edward Bock, Health, Safety, Work-Life Safety and Environmental Health division chief, and AJ Pulkkinen, MyCG Writer 

The good news: we reduced the backlog of uncorrected hazardous conditions by 55%. The not-so-good news: we’ve got a way to go.  

Once we become accustomed to an existing safety concern, we accept it as “the way it is” and accept that unnecessary risk. All too often, our jobs are risky enough. We need to recognize that uncorrected hazardous conditions are a precursor to mishaps and an indicator of a deteriorating safety culture. And we can do something about it.  

Empowered by the Safety and Risk Management (SARM) councils, the Coast Guard addressed 3,798 previously uncorrected hazardous conditions this past year, significantly reducing the backlog. Rear Adm. Dana Thomas, director of Health, Safety and Work-Life (HSWL), is pleased with the progress achieved but knows we need to build on this momentum.  

The 2022 Annual Safety Report (ASR) reveals a concerning pattern of the Coast Guard identifying new hazardous conditions without taking prompt corrective action. Only 42% of hazardous conditions identified during Safety Mobile Assistance, Response, and Training (SMART) assessments, and only six percent of those identified using the Unit Self-Assessment Tool (USAT) were corrected in fiscal year 2022 (FY22). This means we’re increasing that backlog of uncorrected hazardous reports. And no, the answer is not to stop identifying and reporting hazards!  

Thomas lamented that “unlike leather boots, fine wines, trees, and uncorrected hazardous conditions do not age well and expose our members to preventable mishaps.”  

Capt. Jose Martis, the commanding officer at the HSWL Service Center, echoed the admiral’s sentiments. He emphasized that acting on known hazards is key to “improving safety culture by demonstrating that unit leadership is dedicated to correcting hazards, making workplaces safer, reducing injuries, and increasing operational readiness.”  

Units are not on their own to remedy all hazards. Read more about the Coast Guard’s Uncorrected Hazard Conditions Initiative and get resources to support your hazard abatement efforts.  

Besides addressing hazardous condition abatement, the Annual Safety Report provides information on mishap rates by community (e.g., cutter, boat, aviation, shore, etc.), loss metrics associated with mishap, causes of mishaps, and guidance for mitigating hazards and preventing mishaps. In FY22, the Coast Guard received 2,402 mishap reports detailing 637 injuries and 30 permanent or partial disabilities. In total, mishaps cost the Coast Guard $72.5 million in property damage, $6.3 million in worker’s compensation, and resulted in 6,372 lost workdays and 17,281 days restricted.  

Glenn Gebele, chief of Safety and Environmental Health, stressed that a workplace culture valuing safety enables mission execution. “The fewer lost workdays and fewer lost asset hours due to mishaps increases operational readiness. Striving to find, isolate, and reduce the hazards we face daily will increase operational effectiveness.”  

The ASR provides valuable information for everyone in the Coast Guard since hazard exposure is a reality that will impact you directly. Whether it’s drinking water quality, lead and asbestos exposure, galley sanitation, habitability, fire safety, motor vehicle safety, recreational and sports safety, there is something for everyone to improve awareness and hopefully prevent mishaps. Safety is everyone’s responsibility and begins with awareness of your hazards.  

Another individual responsibility is reporting hazards to maintain hazard awareness efforts. Your reports provide the necessary information to initiate actions to correct the hazard condition, but your report will also be captured in next year’s ASR to inform the organization and sustain the hazard awareness campaign. Only through your efforts will the Coast Guard achieve a safety program that is proactive and adapts to the dynamic nature of operations to protect our family and sustain mission excellence.