Big difference between risk-taking and recklessness

Following full-time national serviceman Dave Lee Han Xuan's death during training, the Chief of Staff (General Staff) of the Singapore Armed Forces stressed that those found responsible for training safety violations will be taken to task (Military funeral for NSF who died after heatstroke; May 2).

However, whatever punishment is meted out cannot justify the death of a soldier, especially for a peacetime military.

My older son died in a naval training accident in 2001, while doing national service. The several commissions of inquiry concluded that the lack of a proper equipment maintenance regime, inadequate supervision, poorly designed training plans, scant attention paid to risk assessments and violation of training safety protocols contributed to an accident that was waiting to happen, as it did on Feb 26, 2001.

Those found guilty were given varying forms of punishment, I received a meagreworkmen's compensation payout and the case was closed.

The armed forces are given immunity from being sued - the reason being that they must be allowed to make judgments, even if risky, without the fear of legal suits should things go awry.

No one will dispute the need to take calculated risks, in order to make training realistic and effective. However, wilfully and knowingly violating training protocols is something else. In the latter case, immunity against lawsuits must be lifted.

There is a clear line between risk-taking and being reckless.

Risk-taking is when one accepts the risks and take measures to minimise or control them.

Being reckless is when one ignores the risks, downplays them or subscribes to misplaced optimism.

It is time for the Government to recognise this distinction.

Lawrence Loh Kiah Muan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2018, with the headline 'Big difference between risk-taking and recklessness'. Print Edition | Subscribe