Leadership Corner

Safety matters where the shovel hits the dirt

June 1st, 2018 at 11:00AM

Forest Supervisor Bill Avey, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest

Field season is here, and many of us are already out there managing the land and working with people for the benefit of the communities we serve. The safety of our employees is our most critical concern. In the field, and everywhere else we go, safety must be central to everything we do.

We know the work we do entails a certain amount of risk. So does crossing a street or driving a car, but our work puts us in environments with risks that might be unique—risks that we need to be aware of and manage appropriately.

And being aware of risk—and managing exposure to risk—is the responsibility of every employee. Each employee has the responsibility to ensure that they are properly qualified, trained and equipped, as well as ensuring they are mentally and physically capable of safely accomplishing their assignments.

As you know, wildland fire environments pose unique risks, and the Chief intends for firefighters to “stop, think and talk” before “acting” in any circumstance where there may be needless exposure. That’s sound advice and applies to those of us out in the field in non-fire environments as well; it applies whether you’re an entomologist doing bark beetle surveys in a remote location or a wilderness ranger working in the backcountry.

Situational awareness is key, and as such, we need to approach every task recognizing and understanding the hazards that could harm us. Recognizing those hazards allows us to take steps to reduce the risks that might interfere with the safe and successful accomplishment of our tasks.

State and Private Forestry Director Michael Dudley, Intermountain and Northern Regions

Preventing accidents requires critical thinking, a commitment to safe work practices, eliminating unnecessary exposure, continually assessing our ever-changing work environments and mitigating risk. Every one of us has the right—indeed, the duty—to do what we can to stop all unsafe acts we see or hear about. Thinking and practicing safety saves lives!

Yes, we are a can-do organization. Ingrained in Forest Service culture is getting the job done and doing it well, it’s simply who we are. But we should never expose ourselves to unacceptable risk just to get a job done.

Every day we accomplish work on behalf of the Forest Service and communities and we should be justly proud of it. With that said, our most important accomplishment is making sure that every one of us returns home safely at the end of each day. The most important resource we have is each other.

Be safe in everything you do at the Forest Service, as well as in every other part of your life!