By William Murray
American Forces Press Service
In a ceremony Friday afternoon, Fort Indiantown Gap’s Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) became the first Army National Guard facility to be awarded a “Star Status” flag in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).
The event featured the awarding of the star status flag by Mr. Ed Selker, Deputy Regional Administrator, OSHA Region III.
Also speaking at the ceremony were Major General Jessica Wright, Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, Mr. Tad Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health and Sergeant Matthew Donher, Association of Civilian Technicians Steward.
“VPP is all about employees and making significant reductions in ground accident rates,” said Colonel Steve Mahoney, facility Commander. “VPP’s bottom-up approach means employees are truly driving the process from identification of problems to implementing solutions. Key to the VPP concept is the fact that sites who implement VPP concepts see a very large, long term, reduction in accidents and incidents. We’re seeing greatly improved ground safety results at AASF, so OSHA’s VPP concept does work. It also has a significant side benefit of getting management and employees to work side-by-side for a common goal.”
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.
The Department of Defense is in its fourth year of participating in VPP, which is the cornerstone of DoD's installation/industrial site mishap reduction effort. In those four years there have been 21 DoD sites awarded Star Status and there are expected to be at least 36 DoD Star sites by the end of FY09.
"The Secretary has said that his goal is zero preventable accidents," said Mr. Joseph Angello, Executive Secretary of the Defense Safety Oversight Council. "VPP is an essential part of that effort"
Fort Indiantown Gap’s AASF began its VPP journey in 2007 with the help of the Department of Defense VPP Center of Excellence (VPPCX). The DoD VPPCX conducted an analysis of the AASF and then worked with the facility as they developed a plan.
Although Fort Indiantown Gap was the initial focus of the Pennsylvania National Guard’s VPP efforts, Major General Wright decided to focus first on one worksite – AASF#1. “AASF #1 was chosen because Army Aviation already had built-in safety infrastructure,” said VPP Coordinator and Chinook (CH-47) Instructor Pilot, CW2 Paul DeVincenzo. “Because the worksite had already been conditioned to higher levels of safety scrutiny and inspection, it had a leg up in reaching its VPP goals.”
A key part of the VPP process for AASF #1 was partnering with VPP mentors. The base partnered with Tobyhanna Army Depot and General Electric. These partnerships led Fort Indiantown Gap to form employee committees that created bottom-up change. As a result the base quickly started to see a drop in accident rates. OSHA’s VPP review noted that the workplace accident rate for AASF #1 is 47% below the national average for similar facilities.
Just as important to Fort Indiantown Gap’s success was the partnership with the Association of Civilian Technicians (ACT) – the union on base. Union buy-in and participation was crucial to the base reaching its goals. “ACT was a strong partner from the very beginning,” said DiVincenzo, “helping to get management on board quickly.”
Unlike many of the Department of Defense sites that have attained VPP Star Status, Fort Indiantown Gap is unique in that many of the workers are uniformed – federal civilians during the week and uniformed members of the National Guard on weekends. This allows Fort Indiantown Gap to stand as an example to other DoD sites with large numbers of uniformed military workers.
“Our VPP journey is not over with the awarding of the flag,” said Mahoney. “In order to retain our Star Status we must recertify every three years and we must be a mentor to other organizations striving for Star Status. This has the added benefit of exposing us to new ideas and helping us to continually improve.”