Eielson prepares for DoD safety program

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Eielson will be having a visit from DoD authorities Sept. 17 to 21 to evaluate Eielson's usage of the Voluntary Protection Program.

Do you know what the VPP is? Do you know your role in the VPP? The Department of Defense's Voluntary Protection Program is designed to promote effective worksite-based safety and health. 

This program is a spin-off from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's. The DoD adopted OSHA's program based on concerns of high rates of occupational injuries and illness throughout the department, on- and off-duty.

The VPP is designed to promote effective worksite-based safety and health. So, is the VPP a new program for the Air Force? Is this yet another great idea to do a lot more with less? In all reality, the answer is no.

The occupational safety and health program is not new for the Air Force. We have had the Air Force Occupational and Environmental Safety, Fire Prevention, and Health (AFOSH) program for many years.

Is the VPP different than ORM? The answer again, is no. With ORM we identify, assess, and analyze the risks and make controlled operational decisions based on them; while the VPP tracks near misses, analyzes them, and tries to eliminate the risks via engineering or administrative controls.

The VPP is an accident and hazardous exposure prevention tool in the workplace rather than an injury and illness reaction tool. The program determines whether the "potential" for accidents or exposures is critical.

When the Air Force first announced the VPP in August 2006, the program had its share of skeptics, including myself.

Why would we want to "voluntarily" contribute time, personnel, money, expertise, and energy in a time when we are losing manning and resources to revamp our safety and health program, especially when compliance with OSHA standards is already being surpassed by applicable Air Force standards?

And who, in their right mind, would voluntarily open themselves up to regular OSHA visits? This program does not levy taskings for additional manning. So far, results have shown that we can do more when we do it more efficiently.

Since last October, we have been able to assess the hazards, evaluate controls, recommend solutions, and provide documentation and training to the shops we have visited. We have done it without putting additional burdens on the workplaces such as cuts in manning or increased computer-based training.

So what is next? VPP has three requirements that each workplace will have to implement:

One--An effective, ongoing safety and health program.

Two--Cooperation between workcenters.

Three--Good performance.

The shops are expected to use a comprehensive system geared toward each worksite's needs.

Unit leadership, employee participation, and shop self-evaluations are the key elements of this process. Annual self-evaluations of all areas measure success and identify areas requiring improvement.

The VPP emphasizes trust and cooperation among OSHA, the employers, and employees. The squadrons should develop a system or a forum for all employees to have the opportunity to raise their concerns with no fear of reprisal.

Program participants are selected based on their written safety and health management system and ongoing performance. Careful documentation of the safety improvements guarantees a process of steady progress towards an efficient working environment.

In summary, have we gained anything since we started? The answer is a resounding "Yes" and recent ESOHA assessments prove it.

The last step is the application for the VPP Star Status with OSHA. Star Status is only awarded to workplaces that are committed to a safe workplace for their employees. With your help and commitment to safety and health, we can do it!