Members of today's high-tech Air Force - in too much of a rush on busy flight lines - are losing their fingers and thumbs at an alarming rate, according to Air Force officials.

Maj. Gen. Stanton Musser, the Air Force's top safety officer, said "alarm bells sounded" when a recent review of service accident reports revealed that 11 airmen had lost fingers or thumbs between October and February. Ten of the injuries occurred while on Air Force duty, he said in the latest issue of the Air Force inspector general's newsletter.

Musser warned that this could be one of the worst years ever for finger losses. "Clearly, this trend is unacceptable," he said in a column entitled "Some `handy' advice - keep your fingers and thumbs!"

The loss of digits - largely caused by aircraft maintenance gear, power tools and vehicles - costs the Air Force nearly $3 million annually in lost productivity, Col. James L. Morse reported in the newsletter. In addition to roughly 25 amputations each year, 500 Air Force fingers are crushed or lacerated so badly that 3,000 days of recuperation are required.

Musser contended Air Force emphasis on getting the job done too often has relegated safety to the back seat. "At the operational level, managers are so focused on the end result, be it the scheduled sortie, system on alert, repaired component, etc., they sometimes lose sight of what it takes to achieve that end result," he said.

Dwayne Burks, the Air Force's chief of operational safety, said that while the service's overall safety record is better than industry in general, rings and inattention play a major role in such injuries, which occur most often to young enlisted airmen.

"People wear their rings when they shouldn't, and they can lose their finger by amputation almost instantaneously" if it's caught on a moving piece of equipment, Burks said. Those who lose fingers are allowed to remain in the service, although they may have to change jobs, he said.

Musser called on Air Force commanders to focus attention on safety concerns in an effort to wipe out injuries "traditionally associated with sweat shops."