ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The 402nd Maintenance Support Group has been recertified as a Star Site by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following a visit in August.
The group was awarded the prestigious OSHA Voluntary Protection Program Star Site accreditation in 2013 for its ongoing commitment to workplace health and safety. It was the first industrial work site in Air Force Materiel Command to do so.
The 402nd MXSG is comprised of more than 400 employees at 12 work sites, providing industrial and engineering services for the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex’s maintenance production groups. Those employees enable the complex to deliver quality depot maintenance, on time and on cost.
These services support production partners in more than 140 locations across Robins.
Johnny Jones, 402nd MXSG deputy director, said that since the group’s VPP journey began in 2008, it’s been about sustaining efforts that have been put in place. The next OSHA Star Site recertification will take place in three to five years.
“You can’t let your guard down because things don’t stop. People keep working and things happen,” he said. “We’ve been working hard on this since 2008. It’s part of our culture and everyone has to be part of the team.”
The journey has had its challenges, among them a reorganization of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex, key leadership changes within the 402nd MXSG, and the addition of dozens of personnel who had to be educated about the group’s various VPP programs.
“MXSG VPP teams specialize in the four tenets of VPP, visiting work sites and performing annual VPP cultural assessments,” said Sean Johnson, 402nd MXSG VPP program manager. “That’s a big piece of our sustainment process.
“Employee-led teams perform these assessments in addition to their daily job requirements,” he added. “They care about this program and want to see this group succeed – it’s taken very seriously. What we’re striving for is safety excellence.”
The four tenets of VPP are management leadership and employee involvement; work site analysis; hazard prevention and control; and safety and health training.
A crucial area is employee involvement. Across the group there are nearly two dozen different opportunities for employees to actively engage in making their work areas safe and successful.
Some of those opportunities include ergonomics, CPR or automatic electronic defibrillator training. They can also engage by performing monthly safety inspections or serving on the VPP steering committee.
Assisting in mishap investigations or participating in wellness activities are a couple of other areas the employees can get involved in.
There’s also the popular weekly VPP Cross-Talk discussions that have brought employees together over the years, giving many a unique opportunity to brief interesting topics related to safety and health.
“The key part of our success is management support,” said VPP steering committee member Chris King.
Randy Bickley, also with the VPP steering committee, agreed, adding that the VPP Star program is about employees owning the program and being enabled to do so by management.
“That’s where the partnership comes in and what it depends on,” he said. “We talk about sustainment, which means we have to be constantly improving to make things safer and better. It’s been a very effective program because it’s employee-owned.”
He continued, “With us in over 140 facilities on base, it’s not just about keeping us safe only in the 402nd MXSG, it’s about keeping the entire base safe.”
Russ Mills, who had been the group’s VPP manager since 2008, recalled that one of the first things their team did was to assess the organization’s safety and occupational health ‘DNA,’ referring to historical injury and illness rates, safety violations and current safety program support structure.
After all, it’s vital that you understand the history and current state before you can establish realistic VPP program goals and objectives, as well as get buy-in from the workforce.
“I can say for certain that the primary keys to success in obtaining and sustaining OSHA’s VPP Star Work Site is to first establish realistic but challenging VPP/safety goals with supporting objectives, implement an aggressive communication campaign, identify the internal ‘on-the-floor’ employee leaders within your work force, and build strong partnerships (management/employees, the safety team and AFGE),” said Mills.
“Also, perform aggressive self-assessments which we accomplish with our benchmarked VPP Cultural Assessment Process,” he said. “And most importantly – provide opportunities for involvement and engagement throughout your VPP program.”
As evidenced by a successful partnership between management and employees, employee ownership, accountability, involvement and engagement, creating and sustaining a successful VPP program doesn’t happen overnight.
Along with the VPP group steering committee, there are unit safety representatives, a job safety analysis team, employee involvement board working group that resolves employee concerns, an awards program team and cultural assessment team.
“Our job has always been about safety; it’s just that VPP has brought it all home,” said Barry Hill, VPP steering committee member.