Star quality: DOD visit assesses 42nd Air Base Wing’s health, safety program

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

12/3/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The 42nd Air Base Wing is reaching for a star by staying grounded in health and safety.

A five-person Department of Defense Voluntary Protection Program, or VPP, assessment team begins a visit here Monday to assess safety and health programs at the 42nd ABW, said Mark Garner, the wing's ground safety manager. This visit starts the process of attaining Star certification with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's VPP, which "recognizes the safety and health excellence of the work site" by certifying the vitality and success of the health and safety programs in place, said Mr. Garner.

The team's visit includes: An initial briefing with group and wing commanders; site walkthroughs; interviews with about 50 people preselected by their squadron commanders; a gap analysis of the data the team collected; and an out-briefing.

While they are here assessing the health and safety program, the team will also raise base personnel's awareness of the VPP, providing training on the basics as needed.
Once the assessment is completed, an application will be submitted to OSHA, who will conduct an audit of the facility. The unit will be placed on a one-year conditional status before being approved for Star status.

According to Air Force data on the VPP, program sites must go above and beyond OSHA standards when it comes to health and safety.

"This extension beyond compliance is one aspect of the program that is 'voluntary,'" according to Air Force program guidance.

The safety and health management system must meet rigorous standards in addition to the OSHA compliance standards. OSHA will verify a unit's qualifications through a comprehensive on-site review process that is re-evaluated on a three- to five-year basis.

According to OSHA, "Star Demonstration Programs enable OSHA to work with companies and industries to demonstrate the effectiveness of methods for achieving excellence in safety and health management systems that are potential alternatives to current Star requirements." The Star level is the highest level, and serves to highlight those organizations with exceptional health and safety programs.

"The Air Force is encouraging each base to implement this program," said Mr. Garner. He noted that it is also currently beginning to be implemented in units within the Air Education and Training Command, as a team will be visiting Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., at the same time as the Maxwell visit.

Mr. Garner stated the base is implementing the program at the 42nd ABW level before involving other units and mission partners base. Several units Air Force-wide have implemented the VPP, but only one base,
McGuire AFB, has it "fence to fence," said Mr. Garner.

"While achieving OSHA VPP Star status (the highest level of recognition) is desired for each installation," according to Air Force directives on VPP, "the ultimate goal is to produce and sustain a world-class safety and health program, one where occupational injury rates are well below average and where employee participation and ownership are the hallmarks of the program."