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Corps nears end of fiscal year with fewest off-duty deaths since 2005

By Cpl. Pete Zrioka | | September 10, 2009

As fiscal year 2009 and the 101 Days of Summer wrap up this month, off-duty deaths are at their lowest since 2005.

With 53 deaths Corpwide, the figure is down by nine from the previous year’s 62, according to the Naval Safety Center. This is the lowest figure since the 55 off-duty fatalities in 2005.

As of Aug. 19, 2009, there were 39 motor vehicle deaths in this fiscal year, 12 less than the 51 in the last.

“There are some very positive trends as we near the fiscal year finish line,” said Brian Lindstrom, station ground safety manager.

Out of the 39 vehicular fatalities, 14 were motorcycle-related, nearly half of what it was in 2008.

“I think the attention it got was the driving force in bringing the [motorcycle] numbers down,” said Scott Pearce, station traffic safety program manager. “People knew they were under scrutiny and that slowed things down.”

Ross Chapa, station occupational safety specialist, attributes the decrease in motorcycle fatalities to training, registration of motorcycles and personal protective equipment changes.

In May 2008, Gen. James Conway, commandant of the Marine Corps, published All Marine Message 14/08, requiring all Marine motorcyclists to report bike ownership to their commands for verification of each rider’s license, registration and training.

In addition to stricter guidelines on protective equipment and registration, the Department of the Navy contracted Cape Fox Professional Services in September 2008 to provide experienced traffic safety instructors for Navy and Marine Corps installations in the United States.

“Cape Fox increased what we had for training capabilities in the way that they provided a dedicated source for motorcycle training. They also bring a lot of experience to the table,” said Chapa.

Noncommissioned officers were also used to combat rising vehicular deaths when they were tasked last year with taking responsibility for their subordinates’ safety, to include denying leave and liberty on the basis of safety risks, according to White Letter 2-08, published by Conway in April 2008.

While fiscal year 2008 recorded zero Yuma off-duty deaths, Yuma-based Marines accounted for three of 2009’s vehicular fatalities, while two others were included in recreational deaths.

“Safety is kind of like a speed bump,” said Chapa. “If you have traffic going 100 miles an hour, you put a speed bump there to slow it down. That’s how we approach an issue—we find the trends and take action to stop it or slow it down.”

The Corps sees the biggest spike in accidents and deaths within 90 days of Marines returning from deployment, said Chapa.
As of now, Marines are required to take safety training within 30 days from returning from deployment, said Chapa. It’s an attempt to transition them from a field mindset to a safe garrison one.

Training and checklists aside, safety still starts with an individual, said Chapa.

“We, as individuals, need to ensure we’re doing everything right, so we can avoid things going wrong,” said Chapa.

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