A time to strengthen, refine dedication to safety

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Robert Garner
  • Chief of Safety
In 2008, Malmstrom will be implementing a "new" safety program called the Voluntary Protection Program. This program, created by the Occupational Safety and Health Organization, is actually not that new having been created in 1982. However, the Air Force only recently decided to adopt it as part of the Air Force safety program. Essentially, VPP is a recognition program that recognizes organizations (both military and civilian) that go beyond the minimum OSHA safety requirements. The program awards "Star" status to organizations that do particularly well during a final VPP assessment that usually occurs one to two years after beginning the program. Part of this assessment involves interviews with unit personnel to determine their attitudes and beliefs with regard to safety as well as their actual performance of safety behaviors. Key to doing well is showing that your organization has a real safety culture.

So what is a "safety culture"? More importantly, how do you get one?
One definition of culture, from the Merriam Webster dictionary, is the shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characterize an institution or organization. So in effect, a safety culture is a group of people who value each others' and their own safety and implement standardized practices to achieve that safety. 

How do you get one? For those of us who serve in the DoD (both civilian and military), it is embedded in the very foundation of who we are. We are risk managers by nature, implicit within war fighting doctrinal principles such as "observe, orient, decide and act," "monitor, assess, plan and execute," and even the joint targeting cycle, are the Operations Risk Management principles of assess the risk, consider options and take appropriate action.

Safety is even embedded in many of our services' creeds. 
* From the Army creed: "I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself." 
* From the Marine Corps rifleman's creed: "Without me my rifle is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless." 
* From the Air Force creed: "I am an American Airman. Wingman, Leader, Warrior." Clearly, each individual's responsibility to maintaining their equipment, and more importantly their personnel, is one of our fundamental values.

So as we begin implementation of the VPP program, I do not believe this is so much of a culture change for us nearly as much as it is a time for us to strengthen and refine our already strong dedication to safety. No two organizations implement solutions to VPP the same way, by design. We will be no exception. I am confident we will find our own military solution to implementing VPP as an ICBM base and we will emerge safer and more effective in the end.