Safety regulations

The resignation of Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Panayiotis Harvalas – said to have been requested by Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos – was not a propitiatory act in an attempt to close the case of the three soldiers that were killed in military accidents, but a symbolic act which acknowledges the extent of the problem and the need to take coordinated remedial action. Barring the fact that accidents are normal – and notwithstanding that in hazardous work, such as that of the military, they can have tragic consequences – the frequency of injuries and fatalities in the Greek armed forces betrays that this is not just a question of bad luck that cannot be prevented. The recent electrocution of five soldiers in the Evros district and the tank accident in Perama that killed two army officials yesterday both proclaim that the unexpected death of so many men resulted from a lack of concentration, lack of respect for safety procedures, lack of sufficient training, and poor maintenance of military equipment – all essential parameters for the prevention of ill-fated accidents. The facts speak for themselves, and unfortunately, reveal a lax state of affairs, a lack of emphasis on formal operating procedures, a clear lack of training, and slow reflexes. During times of emergency, such as a rescue operation, men and their superiors may overtax themselves but the tragic consequences of unexpected incidents in everyday military life underscore a lack of concentration in carrying out current duties. This lax state of affairs perhaps fits a broader pattern in the administration. In the army, however, where activity is by nature more hazardous and where safety is paramount, the consequences of an accident are often tragic and therefore more evident. Day by day, step by step, an overwhelming «who cares?» attitude has laid aside security regulations as over the top and staff training has been snubbed to the extent that a large section of the army is unprepared to tackle the pitfalls engendered by this lax state of affairs. What is more, all this is taking place in a force whose task is to react swiftly and under adverse circumstances – where respect for safety priorities is not the first priority. If the resignation of the army chief reflects the government view that the death of the three military men is not an isolated incident but merely the tip of an iceberg of negligence, we ought to implement a string of measures to restore safety and seriousness in the military. Spiliotopoulos, a former aircraft pilot, has first-hand knowledge of safety regulations. As defense minister, he has an even greater obligation to enforce their implementation.

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