Monday, February 09, 2009

Human error 'doing more harm than enemy'

Western Morning News on 26 January 2009

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), reported as saying accidents and mistakes in combat zones do more to undermine British troops' fighting abilities than attacks by the enemy, according to the head of the armed forces.

Sir Jock said that more than half of "accidents and incidents" which have led to troops being killed or injured on operations were down to human error.

The CDS also admitted that troops who make mistakes were too afraid to own up to their failings because of concerns they would be unfairly punished.

In an article for a Ministry of Defence publication, Sir Jock said that the absence of a "just culture" in the forces meant the military had failed to learn valuable lessons from its mistakes.

Since March 2003, 320 troops have died on operations and several thousand have been injured. And while the vast majority have been killed by enemy action, the CDS said that errors made by British troops had played a significant part.

In an article for "Desider", a magazine for the defence, equipment and support arms of the military, Sir Jock wrote: "Evidence shows that more than half our accidents and incidents are down to human factors. In other words, it is our people who are causing the most damage to our fighting capability. We must do something to drive down the number of accidents and incidents.

"One of the most effective ways of doing this is to promote a culture that encourages open and honest reporting that allows for a structured investigation of errors.

"This action should address all individual, systemic and environmental issues relating to an incident and allow us to learn from what took place.

"The actions and feedback will prevent us making the same mistakes again. It is the justness of what we do that gives rise to a just culture."

The CDS added: "To me, such a culture is based on trust. It suggests a working environment where individuals are encouraged to contribute to providing essential safety information and where they are commended for owning up to mistakes."

Sir Jock then asked: "Do we have a just culture in place? Is there a tolerant and non-punitive environment where mistakes can be admitted freely before they can cause an accident?

"My sense is that it is not as well established as it might be, nor as comprehensive as I would wish. The greatest challenge for senior leaders and those with command responsibility, including me, is to make a just culture a fact, not just an aspiration."

Sir Jock's comments come soon after the publication of a document in which General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, revealed that 10 out of the 89 soldiers killed in combat in 2007 were "entirely avoidable accidents".

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