Holiday & winter safety

The following blog was written by Rear Adm. T.K. Shannon, Commander, Military Sealift Command. Winter weather afloat and ashore requires extra attention to detail if we all want to keep ourselves and our families safe this holiday season and all winter long. 

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 16, 2013) USS Truxtun (DDG 103) conducts an underway replenishment USNS Kanawha (T-AO 196).  (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Scott Barnes)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Dec. 16, 2013) USS Truxtun (DDG 103) conducts an underway replenishment USNS Kanawha (T-AO 196). (U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Scott Barnes)


 Making safety part of our work and lifestyle

We need to consciously weave safety into everything we do, every day, because what we do in our everyday lives affects our work, our colleagues and our command. 

We all make instantaneous risk assessments throughout the day in regard to walking, driving, climbing stairs and so on. The truth is that these instantaneous assessments become so common that they drop to the back of our minds. When we get to the workplace, the same thing happens with tasks we’ve completed a thousand times. We just don’t seem to consciously think about safety and risk management, yet we all need to hold on to the safety mind.


Aboard ship, we can fall into the tedium of routine tasks, forgetting that the job is inherently dangerous, whether above or below deck. Ladders are steep. Decks can be slippery. Eyes take a while to adjust to the dark. Cables under tension can break.

Please, consider the lint traps on clothes dryers. It only takes a couple of seconds to pull them out and clean them after you use a dryer. If you don’t, the consequences can be devastating, as they were aboard the passenger ship Ecstasy in 1998. The resultant fire injured 14 crew members and eight passengers. Damages exceeded $17 million, and the ship was out of commission for two months.

Whether ashore or afloat, it’s the mental environment we’ve established in our heads that will keep us from hurting ourselves or others, maybe even save our lives. Please don’t just react to an event or emergency, and don’t let “urgency” overrule our common “safety” sense. We need to use operational risk management, a decision-making process that helps identify hazards, assess the risks associated with those hazards and implement the controls or processes that will reduce those risks.


The familiar environment of our office or home just doesn’t seem to be all that dangerous. But electrical cords can short out when yanked from a wall plug. Desk chairs don’t make good ladders. Wet and slippery tile floors can lead to broken arms.

We’ve just survived one of our biggest travel holidays in America – Thanksgiving. Now, the rest of the holiday season is upon us, and safety remains paramount. Cold weather, travel, parties and winter activities all require an extra sense of vigilance. 

If you plan to travel via automobile to spend time with family and friends, then please plan ahead before you travel. Conduct a maintenance check on your vehicle. It’s best to get plenty of rest before you make any long drives. Stopping frequently during the drive keeps you fresh. And, please, always make sure everyone is wearing their seatbelt.

If you’re headed to a big party in town, please don’t drink and drive, and always identify and use a designated driver. Alcohol and driving do not mix.

If you engage in outdoor activities, please think about what you’re doing. It’s always good to watch your kids and use layers of clothing for cold weather. If you’re playing winter sports, please review the rules and wear the proper safety gear. With any outdoor activity, minimizing alcohol consumption is a giant step toward personal safety.

All the time

Leaders play a critical role in safety. They must be committed to safety on a daily basis:  education, training, practice and enforcement. Safety itself starts at the bottom with each one of us, but a safe environment starts at the top with leadership by example and a safety mindset. 

Safety has to be part of what we do and who we are, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Safety has to be so much a part of our lives that we act safely without having to think about it. 

Our goal is to end 2013 and begin the New Year with no injuries or lost workdays. Safety isn’t rocket science. It’s common sense and proper planning, and it’s everyone’s job. No one is immune when it comes to mishaps. So, please, watch out for each other – think safety – act safely. 

Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Thanks for your service,

 T.K. Shannon
Rear Adm., U.S. Navy
Commander, Military Sealift Command 

About jmarconi