The Responsibility of Risk


In the weapons safety world there cannot be enough emphasis on the involvement of responsible commanders. Commanders at all levels may be responsible for some facet of weapons safety, whether it is an Additional Duty Weapons Safety Representative (ADWSR) program or a commander who owns the assets within a quantity distance (QD) arc. The job of the Weapons Safety Manager (WSM) is to understand and apply weapons safety principles to provide accurate guidance to responsible commanders. At the squadron level, the WSM also ensures ADWSRs are able to communicate the details of their own mission-specific requirements to their respective commanders.

So why is all this safety information important? Risk mitigation. One thing that makes the Profession of Arms relatively unique compared with the civilian sector is the propensity to operate with, or in close proximity to, ammunition and explosives (AE). Even if you do not work in a career field that typically handles AE, if you are on a military installation, chances are there is at least one area in which AE is stored. The introduction of AE into any location inherently comes with risk, whether from a safety or a security standpoint. The goal of the weapons safety program is to reduce that risk to the lowest level possible while still allowing the mission to continue.

As a WSM, it is vital to accurately assess and communicate the risks AE poses on an installation to its respective commanders. A WSM’s job is not to tell commanders what they can or cannot do, but provide multiple courses of action and illustrate the pros and cons of each. At the end of the day, commanders will do what they think is best for the mission—it is the WSM’s responsibility to help them choose wisely.

The risk from AE will never be zero. At some point, a commander will need to make a decision between the potential loss of resources versus mission success. The decision may not be easy, and the potential result of a mishap may not be pretty, but such is the nature of command responsibility. Fortunately, commanders have a pool of subject matter experts (SMEs) to call on for advice, including the installation Safety Office. The Judge Advocate Office is another excellent resource for commanders and WSMs alike, as many weapons safety risk decisions must take the legal “do’s” and “don’ts” into consideration as well. Other SMEs who may be included in making sound command risk decisions include Security Forces, Airfield Management, Maintenance, and Civil Engineering personnel.

Not only should the WSM be familiar with each of these helping agencies, but the familiarity should also be reciprocal. For example, if Civil Engineering is planning a construction project that falls within a QD arc, they need to make the WSM aware early on so the explosives site planning process can be initiated. No WSM succeeds on his or her own; weapons safety is truly a team effort involving all the helping agencies on base that have a stake in the AE mission. In turn, the helping agencies involved make up the team that provides the best advice possible to the responsible commander so he or she can make a good risk decision when the time comes.

Another consideration the WSM must take into account is the responsible level of command for a given risk. Some AE risk decisions involve a great deal of risk that cannot be mitigated without degrading the mission. In all cases, the level of command that should be making that risk decision must be accurately determined. The greater the risk, the higher the level of command that is responsible for making the decision. In many cases, that decision will be at the flag officer echelon. As a general rule of thumb, in the event of a mishap, ask who will ultimately answer the mail. Consider not only resources on base (such as personnel, equipment, and infrastructure), but possible effects off base as well.

As you can see, weapons safety is a multifaceted environment, but it all boils down to managing risk. Commanders may be as involved or uninvolved as they see fit; however, it is the WSM’s responsibility to be as involved as possible to ensure all AE-related risks are defined and mitigated within reason. With the assistance of a team of ADWSRs and helping agency SMEs, the WSM provides an essential link between commanders and successful mission accomplishment.