Voluntary Protection Program – Meaningful Employee Involvement

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Darin C. Driggers
  • 319th Air Refueling Wing Safety
Be your own safety manager! It was the theme for the 2008 "101 Critical Days of Summer". It is also a key component of the Voluntary Protection Program. VPP is the OSHA recognition program aimed at improving your workplace safety and reducing injuries and illness.

It's a really nice slogan, right? Honestly, who cares more about your safety and health than you? No one likes getting injured or ill on the job so you need to take an active role in keeping yourself healthy. Start by gaining an awareness of the safety and health hazards in your work area. This is the first and most important step you can take in becoming your own safety manager.

The Air Force hires experts who provide guidance and recommendations in areas such as operational risk management, motorcycle safety, flight safety and occupational safety and health. However, employee involvement is a critical component required to effectively leverage these health and safety programs. Without your help preventable injuries and illnesses will continue to occur.

Are you adequately involved in improving your own safety and health at work? Results from Environment and Occupational Health Compliance Assessment and Management Program and VPP assessments show that airmen may not be fully aware of or understand the occupational hazards and controls they work with every day. Add in the increased rate of deployment and decreasing manpower, and our worksites can quickly become unsafe. That is why now is the best time to actively pursue your personal awareness, interest, understanding and involvement in our safety and health program.

So how do you learn about your workplace hazards? Bioenvironmental Engineering (BE), Fire and Safety personnel routinely visit worksites. They are looking for hazards that could cause occupational injuries or illnesses. They evaluate electrical requirements, fall protection, fire exits, eyewash stations, mechanical equipment, personal protective equipment and much more to ensure potential risks are assessed and controls are in place to minimize injuries. After a worksite visit, these safety and health experts write a report concerning any findings and discuss those findings with the worksite supervisor during the exit interview. These reports should be shared, understood, and used appropriately by all the worksite employees.

Personal involvement is a fundamental tenant of the VPP. There are four major principles to VPP: (1) Management Leadership and Employee Involvement, (2) Worksite Analysis, (3) Hazard Prevention and Control and (4) Safety and Health Training. One requirement under Management Leadership and Employee Involvement is that employees are involved in at least three meaningful ways. Some ways that employees can get involved include safety meetings, self-inspections and job safety analyses .

Safety meetings should not be something new to a worksite and they may be the simplest way for airmen to get involved. Many worksites have roll call, shift or daily meetings. These regularly scheduled meetings are a great time to include safety reminders or discuss hazard controls, such as PPE. Remember that written report from BE, Fire or Safety? Have the worksite personnel report on a portion of the reports. Asking the workforce where the next incident may occur is another way to involve the employees. This forces everyone to take another look around the shop to see if they can identify hazards or improper use of equipment or PPE. The 860 MXS at Travis AFB instituted a great new program called Freedom-III. The newest members of this unit are asked to brief the shop personnel on PPE and other safety requirements for the shop during a regularly scheduled Production Staff meeting. Thus, Freedom-III reinforces the safety training of both the new members and those who have been in the shop for a while. Travis AFB senior leaders have seen this program and others like it improve the safety and health of the Maintenance Group. Freedom-III's 14 teams have identified 179 discrepancies of which 98 percent were corrected on the spot.

Another critical component of employee involvement is performing self-inspections. Self-inspections are required and allow for more eyes than those of our safety and health professionals to look in depth at equipment, PPE and overall worksite safety. Every airman should be proactive in preventing the simple stuff like blocked fire doors, extinguishers and eyewash stations. Airman should be able to properly identify, use and store appropriate PPE for specific processes or activities. The key here is that the more eyes that are identifying and fixing hazards on a regular basis, the safer each worksite becomes. Airmen in the Freedom -III program at Travis AFB spend a week reinforcing their safety and health awareness by looking for compliance findings which must be supported by AFOSH, AFI and safety regulations. Can't see any hazards in your area? Then trade worksites; you look at a different shop and have that shop's personnel look at yours. At times we all become accustomed to the hazards in our area and need fresh eyes to see the hazard that has been staring us in the face. Your self-inspections do not replace the annual inspections performed by the safety and health experts. Rather they intensify the scrutiny of the worksite allowing the safety and health professional to look more comprehensively at the worksite.

Another way for you to get involved is to help perform a job safety analyses . JSAs are aimed at processes or activities that are not already evaluated by technical orders, manufacturer instructions or operation manuals. JSAs should be written by those actually performing the work and their supervisors. Safety and health professionals are available for consultation during the writing process and for review of JSAs for completeness prior to use.

The fundamental premise of VPP is to encourage all airmen to be proactive in preventing and controlling occupational hazards. In an era where we all need to work more efficiently, every airman is encouraged to participate in the occupational safety and health programs. Safety meetings, self-inspections and JSAs are three examples of meaningful ways you can get involved. By educating yourself and increasing your awareness, you become a better safety and health manager for yourself and your wingman.