No matter what you call it, VPP works

Wednesday , July 21, 2010 - 3:19 PM

Frank Barker - Safety Specialist 309th MXW/QPE

I've heard some grumblings about the Voluntery Protection Program.

I understand your complaint.

Who am I to ask you to be careful? You don't want to wear a helmet? That's your right.

Don't want to wear a seatbelt? Fine with me. You can jump out of an airplane without a chute if you want to. After all VPP is voluntary right?

The corporate answer (and the one you may not like) is that the Secretary of the Air Force volunteered us back in 2006. He is, in effect, our CEO and it just became a condition of employment. I know some of you don't like that answer so let's look at it a different way and assume you weren't told to "volunteer."

Who am I to ask you to be careful?

I'm someone concerned about your health and safety and you should be too.

Why would I care if you didn't wear a helmet? Besides the reason given above, have you ever considered rubbing your forehead on the pavement?

Why wear a seatbelt?

Besides the law, flying through the windshield and bouncing off the pavement sounds a bit uncomfortable. Jumping out of an airplane is crazy enough with a chute isn't it?

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration used to only look for compliance and pass out fines if you didn't follow rules. It was great as a money-making venture but didn't stop injuries as much as they'd hoped. OSHA decided to go in another direction and started a new program about 30 years ago, 1982 to be exact. They wanted employees to take some responsibility for their own safety.

It worked.

Participating businesses saw injuries go down drastically.

VPP sites average more than 60 percent below industry standards for injuries and illnesses. Employee morale improves, profits increase and compensation premiums decrease. VPP sites saved more than a billion dollars since 1982! Being safe does pay.

The Air Force took awhile to grasp this concept (20 plus years). At some point we had a few bad years and perhaps that triggered a reaction.

Does anyone remember when we started getting fines from the EPA? We all started taking barrel dumping seriously and we are still cleaning up our past mistakes. It's very possible that OSHA will be able to fine other government agencies in the future.

Hill Air Force Base recently received OSHA violations that we are still trying to fix. If employees spoke up a few years ago and identified the hazards maybe it would have been fixed.

A recent industry trend is looking at safety records before choosing who will get the work. OSHA citations and elevated mishap rates don't help our cause when we try to bring in new workloads. More work means more employment, more overtime and more money in your pocket.

Look at any business that adopts VPP. I'll bet it was the CEO who decided to participate, in most cases. It typically takes a few years to get VPP integrated to the point of being recognized as a Star Site. Over the past few years we didn't make a lot of headway. That is why we are pushing hard now, to make up for lost time.

Call it what you want if you don't like the term VPP.

What matters is your safety. Not only is VPP a workers' safety issue but it's a money-saving issue as well.

I can't speak for everyone but I don't want to get hurt if I can prevent it. Do you? I challenge everyone to look out for each other so you can go home with the same bits and pieces you came to work with. This should have been done all along anyway and some of you probably already are doing it. In the electronics maintenance group, our mishap rates are about half of what they were a year ago. It's too early to say our push for VPP is the cause but it doesn't matter as long as we have fewer injuries. In this case it's like golf, less is better.

Here are the four steps again but in different words. Maybe you'll remember it this way ... If not use your own words.

1.Do your fellow workers and boss care about your safety?

2.Do you look at what might hurt you at work?

3.What do you do to make it safer?

4.Do you teach each other how to be safe?

I'm confident if you're asked the right questions you'll have the right answers.

The results:

•4 percent decrease in absenteeism.

•50 percent decrease in accidents/incidents.

•55 percent reduction in workers' compensation.

•60 percent decrease in injury/illness rates

•75 percent decrease in union grievances

•85 percent decrease in customer complaints

•90 percent of all hourly employees participate in all aspects of the business

•100 percent of worksites reported improvements in the actual versus budget costs

•100 percent of sites realized increased profits

•80 percent of all statistics are false; the other 65 percent are true. Just seeing if you're paying attention.

•All worksites reported an improvement in employee perception of the company.

•The Department of Defense spends $10 billion annually on workman's compensation.

•Hill AFB spent more than $7 million in 2009 for workman's compensation.

•Electronics Maintenance Group lost $60,000 in 2009, not including workman's compensation and incidental losses.

There's more, but I think you get the point.

For more information visit http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/success_stories/partnerships/national/586_altus_success.html.

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