"Safety rules are your best tools" is the safety phrase that pays as Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) puts the final touches on an already-stellar safety program, which was recently validated by the Department of Defense Safety Management Center of Excellence.

"I am very excited about our success in the safety arena," said Sheila D. Johnson, BGCA deputy commander. "The Safety Management Center of Excellence found only a few small areas to fine-tune before we take the next and final step toward Voluntary Protection Program star status."

Johnson has led the charge to attain star status in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) since 2014. VPP recognizes employers who have implemented effective safety and health processes and maintained injury rates below national industry averages.

BGCA's outstanding accident statistics are the result of years of refining safety processes. The total case incident rate - the number of work-related injuries per 100 full-time workers in a year - has been 35 percent below the U.S. Bureau of Labor average for three years. The number of workplace injuries and illnesses that caused employees to stay away from work, restricted work activities or resulted in transfer to another job during a calendar year has improved by 27 percent.

How did the organization get to this point?

"We have worked diligently to reshape the safety culture at the activity," Johnson said. "In addition to the creativity and perseverance of our safety team and employees, our partnership with the union was an important first step in making this happen."

The International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 859 leadership joined the endeavor to ensure BGCA employees are working in safe environments and that issues are resolved at the lowest level. As a result, no safety issues have been referred to the union.

The safety team implemented several programs to encourage employees to keep safety in mind during daily operations. Before each meeting, an employee volunteers to share safety tips with co-workers. Every year BGCA has a safety stand down, a day of activities and training geared toward employee safety and health. All employees must take the OSHA 10-hour general industry course, which sharpens their ability to identify hazards.

Hazards are tracked in a locally-developed database. Regular meetings are held to assess problem areas, provide direction and discuss resource requirements. This keeps the issue visible to the commander and supervisors until the hazard is resolved.

The effectiveness of the process was demonstrated when a recent inspection revealed a safety issue with the real-time analytical platforms, which monitor the chemical weapons storage areas. Because of the size and shape of the vehicles, it is best practice to have a ground guide when the vehicle is backing up. However, ground guides are not always available, so the issue was recorded in the database. The item was closed within two months after the budget officer, logistician, inspector and vehicle operators worked together to purchase and install back-up cameras.

The safety team made reporting hazards easy. The employee safety committee, with volunteers from each section, provides a forum for employees and managers to work together to solve health and safety concerns.

"We have implemented a rewards system for reporting safety issues and participating in VPP activities," said Susan K. Kinmon, committee chair. "As a result, employees are more engaged and empowered to identify hazards and near-miss incidents."

The U.S. Army Materiel Command conducted a surety management review and cited BGCA's progress toward VPP star status as a best practice for other installations to implement. The 2018 review showed no observations or deficiencies related to safety. According to the evaluators, this is extremely rare.

"I am very pleased with the progress this unit has made toward safety improvements," said Lt. Col. Rodney D. McCutcheon, BGCA commander. "We will continue to persevere until we reach VPP star status."