New safety manager urges presence of mind for the holidays

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kasey Phipps
  • 137th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
As sparkling holiday decorations go up in fireplace-heated homes and fluttering businesses, so too do injuries and accidents.

Insurance companies like Allstate report an increase of insurance claims each year during the holidays due to personal injury or damage to property, and the "new guy" in the 137th Air Refueling Wing Safety Office wants to remind Airmen that safety needs to be a focus now more than ever.

"Around the holidays, we get complacent," said Tech. Sgt. John Hernandez, the new 137th safety and occupational health manager.  "We don't realize the impacts that this can cause during a season that we should be celebrating together."

Hernandez has been a strong advocate for safety, both in past job positions with the military and in his personal life, he said. It is important to approach safety from a practical perspective in the everyday workplace, especially considering the innate dangers in serving in the military.

"Ethically and morally, we have a responsibility to keep our employees safe," he said. "You can't risk someone's life with preventable hazards."

As a part of the Safety Office, Hernandez's duties involve planning and organizing safety functions for the entire installation, including training. However, he has his sights set on a bigger challenge.

"I think the biggest challenge is going to be establishing lines of communication with people and getting them to realize that when I show up for an inspection, I'm not there for punitive reasons," said Hernandez. "I'm there to help them mitigate any hazards that might be around."

Hernandez said he recognizes that jobs with the military can be inherently dangerous, but safeguarding people, especially in special operations, should be the focus.

"You can't replace or rapidly produce special operations troops, so we need to treat them as our biggest asset," he said. "Equipment can be replaced; humans can't."

With three years of Air Force Special Operations Command experience and several safety-related jobs held during his career, Hernandez said that the solution is found through intentional and continual risk management.

"It may be tedious at first, but eventually, if we keep doing it, we can make it second nature," he said. "It's worth it to be safe."

Originally from Santa Barbara, Calif., Hernandez has been with the Wing for six years, but primarily in maintenance at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, he said. This is his first time to work out of the headquarters building here and he is excited to meet everyone.

"I thought it was going to be way too quiet," he said as boisterous laughter poured down the hallway and filled the Safety Office. "But it's easy to get comfortable here."

As the holiday season hurriedly progresses and Airmen settle into the holiday bustle, Hernandez encourages all Airmen to slow down and reflect on a vital question: "You always hear the phrase 'safety first,' but what if it was just "safety always?'"