CORRECTION: Defense Department Emphasizes Employee Safety, Occupational Health
By Carmen L. Gleason
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2007 --EDITOR'S NOTE: The original version of this article, published March 28, 2007, incorrectly identified Joseph Angello as the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. Mr. Angello is the executive secretary of the Defense Safety Oversight Council. The following is a corrected version of the article.--
Safety is critical to readiness, the Defense Safety Oversight Council's executive secretary told safety officers attending the Voluntary Protection Program conference here yesterday.
“Every asset we keep in peacetime is an asset we can apply against the enemy in war,” Joseph Angello said. “Every person we keep healthy and fit is a person in our unit who is serving against the enemy.”
DoD spends more than $3 billion in direct costs associated with aviation and ground accidents, military injuries, and civilian worker compensation, Angello told the audience. “Those are resources we could be using for systems and people to defend our country.”
Defense officials are pushing for leaders to better understand the importance of safety and are aiming for a 75 percent accident reduction rate throughout the force, Angello said.
For a second year, DoD is participating in the Voluntary Protection Program, designed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to improve safety records and readiness of its civilian and military personnel.
The program is recognized as an accident reduction “best practice” for the private sector to improve safety in industrial operations and has been adopted by the Defense Safety Oversight Council’s Installations Task Force, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment Safety and Occupational Health Tad Davis said.
Private sector VPP participants have seen a 60 percent reduction in injuries, 20 percent reduction in worker’s compensation costs, and a 150 percent return on investments, program officials said.
“We saw VPP as one of private industry’s best practices,” Davis said. “Our needs are similar but unique compared to the private sector.”
Army safety officials, with Davis in the lead, created the DoD VPP Center of Excellence to ensure that 40 new installations each year work to implement injury reduction throughout the armed forces.
“If we can apply lessons learned from the first two years, then we’ll have insights that will allow us to do it smarter, quicker and more economically at these installations down the road,” Davis said.
The focus of the two-day conference is to acknowledge good work that has been done thus far on installations and gain insights from the installations that have already implemented the program, he said. Participants also came together to discuss ways to improve the processes installations are using to prevent injuries and improve mishap prevention.
Panel members and speakers repeatedly expressed the importance of senior military and installation leaders championing safety efforts and filtering that information down to each individual. “People don’t really care what you have to say until you show you care about them,” Navy Capt. Mike McKinnon, commander or Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Ga., said. “The key to success is the leadership at the top.”
McKinnon said the key to VPP success is attitude. “It’s not just eight hours while you’re at work; it’s 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” he said.
To date, four Navy bases and an Army installation have been recognized by OSHA as attaining “star status” for their safety efforts. DoD has set the goal of participating VPP installations to achieve this status within two years of joining the program.
By incorporating leadership and employees into worksite analysis, hazard prevention, and safety and health training, officials hope ultimately to save DoD billions of dollars.
“The lynchpin has been the tremendous support from senior leadership,” Davis said. “This has to start at the top and permeate down to individual soldiers, civilians and contractors.”
“The Department of Defense is a world-class organization,” Angello said. “We’re going to demonstrate our commitment to this program where the rubber meets the rank.”