Program takes safety, occupational health to next level

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
In the last 17 years since operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 82 Airmen have died in combat, and 1,370 Airmen have lost their lives in the same timeframe in off duty incidents-- in their homes, in their cars or during recreational activities.

William C. "Bill" Anderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, presented this very statistic before an audience of approximately 2,000 civilian industry and Air Force members from across the U.S. during a speech Aug. 29 in the nation's Capitol.

Mr. Anderson was the keynote speaker at the 23rd Annual National Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association Conference where participants gathered to share safety, health and environmental best practices and programs.

"The Voluntary Protection Program takes occupational safety and health from a compliance-based program to a participation-based program," Mr. Anderson said. "It drives partnerships between management and labor, and industry and the federal government and, much like our Air Force wingman concept, it's focused on each person looking out for his or her co-worker."

VPP, administered by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, focuses on improving safety and occupational health performance. So far, 18 Air Force bases are participating in VPP, and Air Force officials plan to take the program servicewide within two years.

Under VPP, employees from civilian companies who have achieved the highest levels of health and safety performance, called VPP Star sites, mentor employees at other locations, including the Air Force, to improve safety and occupational health performance. Statistics have shown that VPP sites have 30 percent less injuries than non-VPP sites, Mr. Anderson said.

"In the past, (Air Force bases) relied heavily on instructions and regulations to provide guidance for safety matters. With VPP, we rely more on the people who do the job," said Dan Gamboa, the base safety manager at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. Tinker AFB was one of the first nine bases to participate in VPP in the Air Force.

VPP is a true partnership that promotes open communication between commanders and Airmen, Mr. Gamboa said. As a result, more employees are identifying hazards and safety issues, and taking action themselves to correct them.

"Before, we had a responsive dialogue with workers after someone was hurt, but now we're seeing paperwork (identifying potential hazards) before anyone gets hurt," he said. "Workers feel confident that there will be no reprisals from reporting hazards, because it's for the betterment of the work environment."

The Air Force's ultimate goal is to make VPP an on- and off-duty priority for all Airmen, Mr. Anderson said.

"As long as we have one non-battlespace injury in the Air Force, we can improve," he said. "Every illness, every injury and every fatality is unacceptable in the non-battlespace workplace. As leadership, I feel it's our responsibility to give our Airmen the safest possible environment in which to work, live and play. I believe VPP can help us achieve that."