The OSHA Voluntary Protection Program

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Garner
  • Chief, Wing Safety
In 2003, the SECDEF challenged the military to reduce their mishap rates by 50 percent. As a means to accelerate this effort, the Defense Safety Oversight Council directed the services to implement the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Voluntary Protection Programs. Today we, the 341st S pace Wing, are the first ICBM wing to implement this new (or perhaps not-so-new) program. As happens with all new programs, eventually everyone in 20th Air Force will be asking the following questions: What is it? Why are we doing it? And how will it affect me?

Essentially the VPP program is an assessment and recognition program. For our purposes, it begins when a wing is scheduled for its initial VPP assessment and if all goes well, continues well after it achieves VPP "Star" status a year or two later. VPP assessments are currently performed by SAF/IE and a contractor team of approximately 12 individuals. This team goes to each VPP wing and performs the following: A detailed review of safety and organizational policy documentation, shop visits to various units at the wing, and interviews with senior leadership and employees. The team then uses this information to answer a series of questions that seek to determine the maturity of that organization's safety culture. The answers to these questions are then used to generate an action plan for the organization to follow in order to achieve VPP "Star" status recognition. "Star" status is the recognition OSHA awards organizations that have shown they have a mature safety culture under this methodology.

So why are we doing this? In simplest terms, although the program is called the "Voluntary" Protection Program, the voluntary part is already previously accomplished. The Air Force has already volunteered to do the program. Perhaps a better question is why we all should do everything we can, given our limited budgets and personnel, to make the program a success. First, it is our commanders' direction that we pursue this program. Second, items identified as gaps are things that will make your organization safer. Whether you can afford to implement the required change is a resource issue. But all the changes I saw in our gap analysis were things definitely worthy of consideration. By using some creativity I should be able to find ways to implement most, if not all, of them. For those I can't, I will funnel up resource requests to the MAJCOM. Finally, most Air Force sites are most of the way there, we were assessed as already doing or pursuing 75% of the things we need to achieve "Star" status. This is typical of AF sites. So we may as well get recognition for our hard work. To sum up the answer to the question "why?": Because we are a military organization. As a military organization we do everything we can to implement our commander's intent, we trust our commanders to give us the resources we need to accomplish the task and in the end it should make us safer.

How will this affect me? In practical terms, as a wing you will get a visit by an assessment team for an initial, pre-OSHA assessment and final OSHA assessment. Thereafter, if you achieve "Star" status, you will get an OSHA assessment once every three years. As far as impacts to individuals, it is too early for us to tell. At this point we are reviewing the results of our gap analysis. We are translating them into an Implementation Plan and once we complete that, we will have a better idea on the real impacts of this to individual organizations and personnel. As an individual, if you are part of the VPP implementation effort, you will probably get taskings out of the gap analysis action plan. These will probably involve things like updating existing documents, implementing some safety-related processes in your organization and making some safety-related information available to your co-workers. If you are not directly involved in VPP you should notice an increasing emphasis on your own responsibilities to make your workplace a safe work environment. You may see changes in the training you receive showing you how to accomplish hazard identification. You should see an increase in emphasis on your role to identify, report and work solutions for hazards in your own work area. If done skillfully, these changes should be embedded in your every day actions so the impact to you is minimal. If not, please step up and come up with better ways of implementing the proposed changes. If your organization already does a lot of this (remember the 75 percent figure above?) than the changes may actually be minimal. In addition, any changes will probably be gradual. Our assessment team continuously emphasized that changes are not expected to occur overnight; 18 to 24 month implementation schedules are expected. Change is always a source of stress for an organization but my impression from the SAF/IE assessment team is that they truly intend on us finding the best, most efficient, least stressful way to achieve this recognition.

In summary, VPP implementation has begun at the 341st Space Wing. Help the wing make it a success.