TOBYHANNA ARMY DEPOT, Pa. -- Pennsylvania officials named Team Tobyhanna's safety program one of the best in the Commonwealth.

Stressing safety at Tobyhanna Army Depot secured the 2013 Governor's Award for Safety Excellence (GASE). Ten organizations across the state were chosen from 56 competitors to receive the annual award, which will be presented during a ceremony at each location.

"Tobyhanna Army Depot is a great example of an organization that has a strong management-union commitment, to provide all employees a safe workplace while producing quality products for our warfighter," said Bill Keefer, manager of the Report Audit Section of Pennsylvania's Health and Safety Department, Labor and Industry.

Any Pennsylvania employer is eligible for the award; nominations for the award are voluntary. Information and criteria used to determine finalists included workplace injuries/illnesses versus industry standards, and innovation and strategic development of safety policy and approaches. Written nominations and on-site visits are used to determine winners.

The information gained from these nominations provides valuable best practices that are shared across the state, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry website.

"The review committee was very impressed by our presentation, our safety culture and the participation of our employees in the safety program," said Russel Dunkelberger, Tobyhanna Army Depot's Safety Division chief. "This is a testament to the dedication of the entire team, and reinforces what we already knew -- that Tobyhanna has a world-class safety program based on the hard work and commitment of the entire work force."

The depot's robust and extensive safety program outlines personnel responsibilities and provides implementation instructions, goals and methods to monitor its success.

Tobyhanna is certified as a U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star site and under the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) 18001, which governs management systems.

Tobyhanna's commitment to safety is evident in the many working groups that track and reinforce the dedication and commitment of the commanding officer to the safety of all employees on the depot. For instance, dozens of people participate in the Risk Management Committee, Mission Safety Council and Safety Star Point Program.

These and other meetings provide an open forum to discuss safety issues or concerns. Active participation in the depot's comprehensive programs provides a continuous exchange of information between leadership, employees, tenant organizations, various contractor activities and union officials.

"What establishes Tobyhanna's safety program as elite, and sets it apart from the others, is our proactive approach," Dunkelberger explained. "The Safety Hazard Reporting Program, for example, allows employees to report potentially unsafe conditions so that they can be corrected in a timely manner, preventing injuries from occurring. The Red Card Program reminds employees of their empowerment and responsibility to stop and correct unsafe acts and conditions. Employees routinely incorporate safety into their everyday routine and are happy to share their observations and ideas with others."

Tobyhanna maintains an injury/illness rate that is 70 percent below the North American Industrial Classification System Rate in the Repair and Maintenance Category 811. Dunkelberger remarked that this consistently low rate, combined with a continuing application of Lean principles and tools, makes Tobyhanna a "world-class, safety-first organization."

Lean Manufacturing is an operational system derived from the Toyota Production System. Its key objective is to eliminate waste and reduce work that does not add value in the eyes of the customer. Lean Manufacturing often reduces the cycle time of an asset and aims to decrease the time between a customer order and actual shipment. The benefits of Lean are improved profitability, higher customer satisfaction rates, and, most importantly, higher quality.

Safety awareness is incorporated into all aspects of the depot's business. Increased emphasis on wellness programs has increased employee participation and knowledge of health and safety. More employees are taking advantage of activities and services such as the "Get Up and Move" campaign, weekly lunchtime wellness classes, health screenings, ergonomics and worker conditioning programs.

"The workers who participate in the worker conditioning program have shown remarkable strides in improving their overall health," said Marti Verbonitz, acting director of the Industrial Risk Management Directorate, referencing recent survey reviews. "Many employees participating regularly over an average of 12 weeks have shown significant weight loss, lower blood pressure and better dexterity."

Tobyhanna's designation as a VPP site represents excellence in Occupational Safety and Health. For seven years, Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series (OHSAS) audits have repeatedly identified best practices. And safety award programs help motivate team members toward excellence in safety on a continuous basis.

"Safety at Tobyhanna is not just a management system or a single objective," said Verbonitz. "It is a way of life that addresses safety at work, home and in the community."

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 3,500 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 Communications-Electronics Command. Headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., 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.