TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, PA. - The success of Tobyhanna's safety program is the result of employees putting their own spin on an age-old favorite - the buddy system.

Workers demonstrated they have what it takes to sustain the rigorous standards necessary to maintain the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star Site status during a three-day inspection April 20-22.

"We are fortunate to have a strong management commitment to safety programs as well as employee involvement," said Russel Dunkelberger, Safety Division chief. "It's important for the employees to take responsibility for themselves and the safety of their coworkers."

Members of the audit team conducted a physical inspection of various work areas around the facility and performed formal and informal interviews with employees. VPP recertification audits generally occur every three to five years.

The audit team noted areas of excellence such as a proactive network of Safety Star Points, use of master hazard analyses and the Safety Hazard Prevention and Control Charter demonstrating cooperation between management and the union.

Recommendations for improvement included accident investigation procedures, online safety training, fire drills and obtaining and reviewing injury logs for all contractors. In addition, there were six items listed for correction within 90 days.

"Safety is an ongoing process," said Paula Mesaris, VPP manager. "The audit measures the things we do every day to ensure we're still at that high-quality level to stay in the program."

OSHA created the VPP to recognize and encourage excellence in occupational safety and health program management. Requirements for VPP participation are based in part on worksites establishing comprehensive safety and health management systems that follow rigorous criteria published by OSHA. At VPP sites, employees are involved in anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling safety and health hazards.

"The Safety Division really does a commendable job providing an atmosphere where a program like this can flourish," said Adam Walski, management analyst in the Resource Management Directorate. "They are always quick to address any concerns that are brought to their attention and keep everyone up to date with the most recent safety related information."

According to Dunkelberger, Tobyhanna was the first Department of Defense organization to achieve VPP status in 1999. In 2000, the depot earned Star Site status.

"One of the auditors who was here when the depot received its initial star certification commented on all the improvements and changes we've made throughout the facility," remarked Dunkelberger.

Cooperation between management and the local union is vital to providing a safe environment for depot employees. Several union members commended management's commitment to safety programs.

"It's a strong partnership working toward the same goals-reduced injuries and improved morale," said Tony Ferreira, American Federation of Government Employees Local 1647 president, explaining that the union is represented on all the safety committees. "We want people to go home in the same condition as when they started their shift."

As a VPP Star Site, Tobyhanna boasts improved employee motivation to work safely and together, leading to better quality and productivity, reduced workers' compensation costs, and recognition by customers, business peers and the community.

Safety experts note that Star Sites generally experience from 50 percent or better fewer lost workday injuries than would be expected of traditional sites of the same size in their industries.

"I was pleased with the audit," said Derek Dalbo, star point for the Industrial Modernization Division. "The environment was very relaxed and there was a lot of good discussion through the audit. Based on that discussion, I also think Tobyhanna's VPP excels above others in the program."

Dalbo works in an office environment and deals mostly with safety issues such as carpel tunnel syndrome, eye strain and back injuries. However, there is a work area within the division that deals with hazardous chemicals where spills and burns are the most common hazards, he added.

Paul Williams said the enthusiasm of fellow interviewees was impressive.

"They quickly answered any question posed and added anecdotes based on personal experience," he said. Williams is the star point for the Quality Management Division.

Another employee believes everyone plays an active role in ensuring that safety is a number one priority at work and at home.

"I was extremely pleased with the overall outcome of the VPP audit," Walski said. "It's a good feeling knowing just how important this program is to the depot and all of its employees."

Furthermore, the VPP program definitely fosters a sense of community among all employees, which plays a big part in the success of the safety program here, according to Walski, adding that he feels safe working in an environment where everyone is looking out for one another.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is the Defense Department's largest center for the repair, overhaul and fabrication of a wide variety of electronics systems and components, from tactical field radios to the ground terminals for the defense satellite communications network. Tobyhanna's missions support all branches of the Armed Forces.

About 5,600 personnel are employed at Tobyhanna, which is located in the Pocono Mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tobyhanna Army Depot is part of the U.S. Army CECOM Life Cycle Management Command. Headquartered at Fort Monmouth, N.J., the command's mission is to research, develop, acquire, field and sustain communications, command, control computer, intelligence, electronic warfare and sensors capabilities for the Armed Forces.

Page last updated Mon June 21st, 2010 at 16:50