Hill takes step toward safer environment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Brok McCarthy
  • 75th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Hill Air Force Base took a step forward in its commitment to safety and health, when a Voluntary Protection Program Commitment agreement was signed Aug. 15.

The VPP was an initiative started by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to recognize organizations with outstanding safety and health programs to protect their employees.

"We already have a very good (safety) program, but this is the next increment," said Lt. Col. Rick Palo, Ogden Air Logistics Center chief of safety. "The current Air Force safety and health requirements bring the base very close to the VPP ideal."

He said the major area the base can improve upon is the number of employees who get actively involved with and take control of their own safety programs. The commitment agreement, signed by Don Cazel, Ogden ALC deputy director, and Troy Tingey, Air Force Government Employees, Local 1592 President, symbolizes the key to successful VPP implementation -- management and employees working together.

"The union employees have been an integral part of our initial VPP implementation," Colonel Palo said. "The employees know the details of what happens in their individual work areas. They know where the hazards are, they know where people have gotten hurt in the past, and they usually know the best way to fix a problem."

In an industry setting, companies that participate in the VPP report about 52 percent lower injury and sickness claims than those who don't participate in the program based on OSHA statistics, he said. They also report about 20 percent lower workers compensation claims.

One of the reasons the improvements are as dramatic as they are is because companies that participate in the VPP get all employees in a section involved after a safety or health incident to fix whatever caused the problem. Even better, they get those employees involved to identify and correct potential hazards before an injury or illness occurs.

The percentage of people who are injured or become sick across the Air Force is not expected to drop nearly as dramatically as it has in typical civilian industry examples because the Air Force already has a strong safety and health compliance program.

The drop on Hill AFB is expected to be less than the average for the Air Force because of how safety conscious the base already is; in fact the base had the lowest rate of work-related class A, B and C mishaps in Air Force Material Command for 2006.

Hill AFB was among the first group of Air Force bases to begin striving toward VPP compliance in 2006.

"An ALC-wide working group has been established to implement VPP," Colonel Palo said. "Each wing also has a working group, which is where a majority of employee interaction with the safety and health program is expected to occur. The working groups will be comprised of employees and supported by leadership, environmental, safety and occupational health experts, and any other base experts needed to improve the work environment."

He said the intent is for everyone to know the VPP representative for their area so they can approach this person with any ideas or concerns to make their work area safer. Any concerns that can't be fixed on the spot will be dealt with by the working groups until it is satisfactorily resolved.

"It is important that people know this isn't a program that belongs to safety; it belongs to the employees and it will improve their safety and health," Colonel Palo said. "The working groups will integrate people from various career fields around the base to run the program; the safety office will take on more of an advisory roll."