VPP promotes safer, healthier work environment

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. Armstrong
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Tinker Air Force Base is one of nine Air Force installations that will implement the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Program in an effort to reduce the number of work-related injuries and illnesses.

Recently mandated by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the program is a cooperative relationship between OSHA, management, union and employees working together to ensure a better level of safety and health protection.

"Though we already have a good safety record, I am convinced VPP will make us even better," wrote Robert J. Conner, Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center director, in a recent memorandum to all Tinker employees. "VPP is already in use in many federal and private organizations, producing significant injury and illness reductions."

OSHA's VPP program was established in 1982 and Tinker officials said they hope to begin implementing the program here before 2007.

"This is not an overnight process," said Daniel Gamboa, OC-ALC Safety manager. "It's about changing cultures. This program gives management and laborers an equal voice and opens doors for communication."

James Ergenbright, OC-ALC safety engineer, agreed.

"OSHA's VPP program is an emphasis on trust and cooperation between OSHA, the employer, the employees, and the employees' representatives," Mr. Ergenbright said. "Employees must be involved and management must be involved."

Program elements include management leadership and employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, safety and health training, according to OSHA's Web site.

Tinker officials saw the program in action earlier this month when they visited the Xerox Corporation near Yukon.

Xerox, which launched the program about three years ago and has roughly 150 employees, reached the VPP "Star program status," which is the program's highest honor and means OSHA recognized and praised Xerox's measures to ensuring a safe and healthy worksite, Mr. Gamboa said.

Xerox also offered an official VPP mentorship to Tinker, which has a work force of approximately 26,000, Mr. Gamboa said.

"It's the big guy learning from the little guy," Mr. Gamboa said. "We worried about size and we walked away thinking, 'That was great.'"

Tinker officials said they are already looking forward to reaping the benefits of the program.

"It's a refreshing way to do business," said James Schmidt, American Federation of Government Employees Local 916 president, who represents Tinker union employees. "It's getting away from the mindset of accepted risk to (enabling an employee) to have a 30-year career and enjoy retirement."