Two WSMR organizations were awarded the VPP Star rating
April 22, 2013
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M., April 11, 2013 - The Volunteer Protection Program, an Occupational Safety and Health Administration cooperative program, awarded its highest rating to two White Sands Missile Range organizations that are the first to receive the rating within the Army Test and Evaluation Command and Installation Management Command.
A Star rating plaque and flag will formally be presented to WSMR's Systems Engineering and Fire Department on April 16 during the Safety Stand-Down event .
"VPP is above and beyond your standard safety program," said WSMR Installation Safety Director Randy Grunow. "How I tell people is, we have reached a level and we want to take it to the next level."
The two organizations took part in a five year journey for the VPP program in order to excel in every aspect of safety within the program. Both organizations worked in conjunction with the WSMR Safety Office, and Ron Kunkle, a mentor and Environmental Health and Safety manager from Raytheon. Kunkle played a major role with both organizations and shared input from his own organizations' Star rating accreditation back in 2009.
"We built a relationship and a partnership when we received our star," Kunkle said. "This is Raytheon's first customer mentorship that we've had."
Kunkle coached the two organizations on how to prepare to be audited on several safety elements that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration looks for when conducting their final inspection. Kunkle said OSHA requires for a mentor to work with the organization in order to ensure that all VPP elements were covered and they were prepared for the OSHA VPP audit.
"One of the biggest things that OSHA looks for is actual employee engagement," Kunkle said.
OSHA graded both organizations on four major elements: Management Leadership and Employee Involvement, Work Site Analysis, Hazard Prevention and Control, and Safety and Health Training. Within each of those elements are at least six sub-elements that each organization must comply with in order to meet the standard for the star rating. Jamie Cannady, a firefighter for the WSMR fire department and safety coordinator said he wasn't optimistic about obtaining the star rating from OSHA.
"In the beginning it was kind of scary. If every single person didn't buy into it then it was all for nothing," Cannady said. "When we went to the VPP conferences there were companies like Shell and Chevron that had a dedicated team of Safety professionals working with them and they only received a merit."
The OSHA grading consists of either a merit or a star rating. A merit is given when the company falls short and does not meet the 17 minimum requirements. The company then has a year and half to fix the issues in order to receive their star rating. Kunkle said neither organization had a problem obtaining the star rating, in fact, there were no identified issues during the inspection. Kunkle attributes both organizations' successes to being able to follow directions well and doing what was required. On top of that, Kunkle said he had each organization participate in three mock audits that were similar to OSHA's final inspection in September of last year.
"When employees began to take ownership and understood what VPP was, they began to know what they were doing," Kunkle said.
Cannady said prior to the program the Fire Department was at a 60 percent compliance rate for their safety standards. After the end of the program they have now reached a 90 percent compliance rate. Cannady admits that the Fire Department was a bit arrogant when they began the program thinking they were the definition of safety and prevention after all. However, Cannady said it was through the VPP process that the department realized that they would look over the small safety hazards that could potentially mean the difference between an employee having an accident, and an employee going home at the end of the day unhurt.
"We realized early on that it's not a sprint it's a marathon. We needed everybody to buy into it," Cannady said. "It really changed the whole culture of the Fire Department. It made a good thing better."
Denise Garcia, safety coordinator for Systems Engineering, said the process to engage in the VPP program for employees became easier once they became more involved. After they understood the process and added a value to it, the employees began to embrace the program, which caused a cultural change throughout the organization.
"I learned that people do actually value safety once they realize the importance of it," Garcia said. "The more we all worked together with VPP, the more it clicked."
Garcia compared the program to having your first child, you don't know what to expect before the baby is born, but once the baby comes everything comes naturally to you. Garcia said the five year commitment to the program was worth the recognition the organization has and will receive in the future. Currently, the organization has the letter from the U.S. Department of Labor advising them of their approval for VPP Star framed at the front entrance of their building.
"Once you finally see something you can hold with your hands, it makes it worth it," Garcia said.
Gilbert Harding, who was System Engineering director at the time, attributes the success of the organization to all of the directorate staff for their hard work and dedication. Harding said the organization had great support from their mentor, Ron Kunkle, the Test Center, and Garrison Safety office.
"They are the real stars of the VPP star award for SE; they all deserve a lot of recognition. Until we entered the process we were somewhat unaware of the issues," Harding said. "It was a cultural change and that's what it takes to make the VPP program a success."
"It requires 100 percent participation from everyone in the directorate," Harding added.
Though both organizations have officially been awarded their star ratings, the process has not ended. OSHA will continue to follow up with inspections three to five years down the road to ensure that the change was a cultural one rather than a goal oriented one.
"Everything they were doing is to keep all of the employees safe and have them go home at the end of the day unhurt," Duran said.
"The reason we use the term journey is because it never ends. We need to continually identify hazards in the workplace and when we do not, I call it the tired eye syndrome when you see something that's unsafe and take no action, it becomes the norm," Grunow added.
Grunow said the goal for the Safety Office is to have every organization within the installation certified with a star rating. The Survivability and Vulnerability Directorate and the Department of Public Works are the next two directorates to undergo the 'journey.' Grunow describes SV as a package for two organizations, SV itself and Site Defense Guard Force. Kunkle will also serve as the mentor for the two organizations.
"The SE Directorate and the staff are standing by to help other organizations within the range to receive the same recognition," Harding said. "Our number one resource out here is our personnel. We owe it to our employees to have a safe work environment."