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Learning from Incident Reports

By Ed Scott

Gearing Up | April 2019
Monday, April 1, 2019

If your words could save a skydiver from injury or worse, would you speak up? Of course you would. In fact, such conversations probably happen every day at DZs everywhere. Whether such discussions occur after a gear check, when reviewing a dive plan or while discussing jump run or winds or a landing pattern, sharing knowledge and correcting misconceptions are a vital part of safe skydiving.

But what if your words could have a wider impact, one that goes beyond your DZ and throughout the whole skydiving community? If you could share information or an observation that would benefit skydivers far beyond your drop zone, would you? I would hope the answer is still yes. Every one of us probably has an opportunity to share a teachable moment every skydiving season. And the easiest and most effective way to do so is to submit a voluntary incident report.

There is no disputing the value of first-person, voluntary incident reports in helping reduce the risk of skydiving and enhancing the sport’s level of safety. Taken singly, an incident report can alert readers about a specific problem or situation and reinforce awareness about how to address that situation. Taken together, incident reports can help identify accident trends that command attention from USPA’s safety and training staff and Safety & Training Committee. Incident reports focus attention on equipment issues, training methods and established procedures, including USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements. In short, incident reports are the cornerstone of any systematic approach to continuing safety gains and even enhancing those gains. And with first-person reports, the reporting individual can describe the reasons for the actions they took and provide helpful details about a real-world event in near real time.

But the fact is, USPA’s voluntary incident reporting system is broken. While we nearly always receive an incident report when a fatality occurs, we receive only a handful of reports on non-fatal incidents. Of the estimated 3.3 million jumps made last year in the U.S., including an estimated 4,277 reserve rides and 2,147 injuries that required medical care, USPA received only 29 incident reports. In other words, thousands of reportable incidents occurred, but few beyond the involved skydivers learned anything from them. That needs to change in order for the sport to continue reaping safety gains.

By comparison, check out the Australian Parachute Federation’s latest compilation of incident reports over a six-month period here: uspa.org/apf. I dare you to read those 125 reports and not learn something that will make your skydiving safer. Unlike USPA, the APF actually has government authority to compel incident reports, but that doesn’t diminish their value.

At its recent winter meeting, USPA’s board of directors took a concrete step to make sure that one type of incident is always reported. The board approved a new BSR requiring instructors to submit a report whenever an automatic activation device—whether a student’s, an instructor’s or a videographer’s—activates in the course of an instructional or instructor-supervised jump. The purpose of the non-punitive reporting requirement is to assess the factors leading to the AAD activation so that instructors and DZOs can take steps to avoid them.

Take the few minutes to submit a report if you have an incident or witness one. It’s easy: Go to uspa.org/safety-training/incident-reports to submit a report online or download a form to complete and mail. Let’s all help each other be more informed and aware. After all, we’re skydivers; that’s what we do.

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