Voluntary Protection Programs Continue to Make Strides
By William Murray
Special to American Forces Press Service
NORFOLK, Va., Apr. 23, 2008 Defense Department officials participated in a conference here this week with an eye on reducing the department’s estimated $10 billion in annual losses caused by preventable injuries and accidents.
Keith Eastin, assistant secretary of the Army for installations and environment, kicked off the Voluntary Protection Programs conference April 21 with remarks that emphasized the importance of safety to the Defense Department.
“What you do is important,” he told the conferees. “It is important to our secretary, and it is important to the Defense Department.”
Voluntary Protection Programs not only are good for the health and safety of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and DoD civilians, but also are good business for the department, he added.
A highlight of this year’s VPP conference was the announcement that two DoD installations attained VPP Star status. Cathy Oliver, director of the Office of Partnerships and Recognition with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, announced that Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., and Naval Air Station Key West, Fla., met the stringent requirements to become VPP Star sites.
VPP sets performance-based criteria for management commitment, employee involvement, hazard recognition and mitigation and employee training. OSHA's verification process includes an application review and a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of OSHA safety and health experts.
Marine Corps Col. Kenneth Enzor, base commander of Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, and Ron Cooke, safety manager for Naval Air Station Key West, spoke about their path to their installations becoming VPP Star sites and the significant improvements that VPP has made in driving down their mishap rates.
This is the third year that DoD is participating in the Voluntary Protection Programs. VPP was created by OSHA to recognize industries that exhibit the best safety programs for their business sector. DoD already has shown VPP improves safety records and readiness of its civilian and military personnel, officials said, but they acknowledged that more needs to be done.
The idea that accidents are a cost of doing business is a mindset that is intolerable, Acting Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Readiness Joseph J. Angello Jr., told the conferees, emphasizing that a cultural change toward a goal of “zero preventable accidents” is the ultimate goal.
Angello, who is also the executive secretary of the Defense Safety Oversight Council, said safety and readiness are closely intertwined, and that the VPP is the cornerstone for addressing workplace safety in DoD. One of the goals of the DSOC is to keep safety at the forefront for DoD leadership, he noted.
“[VPP] gives us the tools in DoD to make sure we preserve our assets, our people, our equipment,” Angello said. “It gives us the tools to be the best we can be.”
Addison D. Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for environment, safety and occupational health, echoed Angello’s emphasis on culture change in DoD, speaking to a need to make safety a natural part of daily activity.
Angello and Davis also emphasized that safety is directly linked to readiness, and said readiness is the bottom line for senior leaders at DoD.
The focus of the two-day conference, hosted by the VPP Center of Excellence, was to learn about the progress made by installations and also to encourage participants to share lessons learned and best practices, officials said. One of the most common themes was the importance of employee participation in VPP. Many presenters noted that their progress and successes could not have happened without participation by the work force.
By incorporating leadership and employees into worksite analysis, hazard prevention, and safety and health training, officials said they hope ultimately to prevent injuries, preserve productivity and save DoD billions of dollars, thus enhancing readiness across the board.
(William Murray is a public affairs specialist with the New Media directorate of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs. He routinely covers news about the Office of the Director for Readiness Programming and Assessment, Office of the Secretary of Defense.)