Air Force leaders advocate Voluntary Protection Program

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Julie Weckerlein
  • Air Force News Service
Air Force leaders here are advocating an enhanced safety program that focuses on developing and caring for the safety of Airmen, civilians and their families.

The Voluntary Protection Program originates from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and focuses on incorporating the Air Force's culture of safety in the air, on the ground, at work, at home and at play.

"This is an integral part of our everyday operations, especially as we lean our forces," said Maj. Gen. Stanley Gorenc, chief of Air Force Safety here and Air Force Safety Center commander at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M. "We need to make sure our productivity is as strong as ever, if not better, and VPP helps enhance that, and is fundamental to the way we do business."

In June 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld established an accident reduction effort, charging all services to reduce preventable mishaps by 50 percent. In 2005, he challenged the services again with a 75 percent reduction. To meet these goals, the Navy and Army, along with the Air Force, embraced VPP. The program sets performance-based criteria for a managed safety and health system. Training is provided to introduce VPP into workcenters, and emphasizes accountability at all levels.

William Anderson, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installation, Environment and Logistics here, said that when an Airmen or Air Force civilian is injured, it affects everything from quality of life to the mission.

"VPP is really a quality-of-life issue," he said. "We want all of our Air Force members to return home in the same shape as when they arrived at work. We care about our people and want to keep them safe, healthy and productive."

Workers sidelined by preventable injuries and illnesses also cost the Air Force money, he said.

"In our civilian workforce alone, we experienced more than 2,200 injuries or illnesses last year that corresponded to 33,000 lost workdays," he said. "That's comparable to having 132 civilian full-time equivalents on the payroll who couldn't show up for work because of preventable workplace mishaps."

Nine Air Force installations were established this year as a baseline for service-wide implementation: Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio; Altus AFB, Okla.; Holloman AFB, N.M.; Eielson AFB, Alaska; Los Angeles AFB, Calif.; Hanscom AFB, Mass.; Tinker AFB, Okla.; Hill AFB, Utah; and Robins AFB, Ga. The program will gradually expand to all major commands and bases.

Fiscal year 2006 was the best ever for aviation safety based upon a significant drop in mishaps and fatalities. However, ground safety, which includes workcenter and vehicle mishaps, requires a more concentrated effort to reduce its number of mishaps.

"Everyone, from the top leadership at the Pentagon to the Airmen on the base flightline, has a role in this program," said Mr. Anderson. "If an Airman sees something wrong in his workcenter, or comes up with a safer way to do things, we want him to come forward and bring it to his leadership's attention. This will increase our combat capability and help eliminate waste, reduce cost, strengthen value and get the job done better and more safely."

General Gorenc agreed everyone plays a part in the program.

"There are consequences with everything we do," he said. "Our goal is to educate people to recognize that and motivate and activate them to make the safest choice for themselves and their fellow Airmen. We need to include these concepts in all areas of our lives, on duty and off."