ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- In the workplace, safety is everyone’s business. Without safety, the workforce would shrink due to illness, injury or death, and costly equipment damage could ensue adversely affecting mission completion.
Likewise, the U.S. Army Sustainment Command takes safety very seriously and has embraced a program to address this by asking everyone to take a proactive approach toward it. ASC has chosen the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program as its primary safety management system.
“Safety is vital to our Army mission for a variety of reasons,” said Bob Petty, chief, G4 (Logistics), Safety & Occupational Health Division, ASC.
“As an employer, ASC leaders are mandated by law to provide a safe and healthful workplace for all of our employees. Accident prevention initiatives are paramount in preventing employee injuries and property damage and are critical to maximizing Army readiness,” Petty said. “An active Safety Management System – SMS -- puts systemic programs in place that provide a battle rhythm of recurring leader/employee engagements that enhance organizational command and safety culture.”
OSHA is a regulatory agency of the Department of Labor whose mission is to "ensure safe and healthful working conditions for workers by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance,” its website states.
VPP promotes effective worksite-based safety and health. In it, management, labor, and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces based on implementing a comprehensive safety and health management system, Petty explained.
An SMS is a performance-based, joint effort between OSHA in U.S. locations, Defense Department’s SMSCX -- Safety Management System Center of Excellence -- management, leaders at all levels, and the workforce to continually improve organizational safety and occupational health posture. All organizations located in the continental U.S. to include Hawaii and Alaska are OSHA-eligible for certification.
Petty said there are 28 contractors who are seasoned safety professionals who work directly with DOD organizations that are pursuing an SMS.
“Accidents many times result in lost time/work restrictions, high workers’ compensation and medical costs, and costly property damage,” Petty said. “All accidents result in reduced mission capabilities and adversely affect Army readiness. Armywide implementation of effective Safety Managements Systems will result in significant savings due to the reduction of preventable accidents across our Army.”
In the 2000s, the National Safety Council stated preventable injuries and illnesses cost DOD an estimated $10 billion to $21 billion annually.
Even though OSHA only has jurisdiction over U.S. locations in the continental U.S. along with Hawaii and Alaska, ASC will still utilize the same standards for its four forward-deployed Army Field Support Brigades.
“We will still utilize OSHA VPP standards and online tools to achieve the same goals,” Petty explained. “The only difference in the end result will be ‘who does the final certification’ -- OSHA does VPP Certs and DOD/DA/AMC will do certification for the overseas brigades.”
While the host nation does not play a part in the certification, all U.S. entities must comply with OSHA and many host nation Safety and Environmental Standards that are sometimes even more stringent than OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency standards in the U.S., Petty said.
The VPP process is a program for OSHA to officially recognize the outstanding efforts of employers and employees who have achieved, and maintain exemplary occupational safety and health standards.
Under this system, ASC will expedite implementation timelines by sharing key products, essential information, best practices and lessons learned, Petty said.
ASC will face challenges in implementing the VPP-level standards.
The challenges include implementation of VPP at all 78 Logistic Readiness Centers, many of which have no safety professionals assigned, and will have to implement/manage with our collateral duty safety officers, he said.
While ASC headquarters is largely an administrative environment, and has much less inherent risk of serious accidents, the LRCs, which conduct industrial-related support missions, certainly are a concern.
“The LRCs are directly involved with a multitude of high-risk activities that can result in catastrophic consequences such as death or serious injury,” Petty said, citing ammunition supply points, rail operations, and light/heavy maintenance operations as examples.
But even in an office environment, a health ailment like carpal tunnel syndrome is a concern from the constant use of a keyboard as well as back issues from excessive sitting. In some places, standing desks, ergonomic chairs, and encouraging people to get up and walk around can go a long way in reducing such health-related issues. Close synchronization with the ASC Surgeon Cell and G1 (Human Resources) /Wellness Division teammates as part of ASC’s “All Things People” workgroup has been instrumental in synchronizing wellness initiatives such as these across the enterprise.
Embracing VPP, however, does not happen overnight.
The U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Materiel Command – ASC’s higher headquarters – are giving organizations until September 2028 to be fully compliant.
This may seem like a long time, but it’s not, Petty said.
“The suspense appears to be non-aggressive to an outside source, but when taking into account that the organizations targeted involve Army units down to the battalion level, this is quite a challenge due to the nature and scope of the task,” he explained.
In a best-case scenario, with full command support and resourcing, this process takes two years from start to finish, he said.
After receiving orders from AMC, Maj. Gen. Dan Mitchell, former ASC commanding general who retired in May, mandated that ASC would begin OSHA VPP prior to his departure, with HQ ASC and the seven AFSBs establishing implementation plans in fiscal 2021. His replacement, Maj. Gen. Chris Mohan, also emphasized execution at his first ASC Safety Council meeting in August with AFSB commanders providing the way ahead at the December ASC Safety Council.
Consequently, ASC has had a big jump in participation, with 46% of its organization sites actively involved and in various stages of completion, Petty said.
“ASC does not have the resources to enroll/support every AFSBn/LRC at the same time, so our current plan is to stagger our efforts across the ASC enterprise over time, with a focus on most mission critical locations first and foremost with other locations being brought into the mix later in the process,” Petty explained.
As it turns out, ASC has some experience in achieving OSHA VPP certification at Army Field Support Battalion-Hood and AFSBn-Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Petty pointed out.
Because of a workplace maintenance fatality in 2010, Bob Bishop, the then-LRC-Hood director, initiated OSHA VPP and received “Star” status to ensure a tragedy like this was never repeated, Petty recalled.
AFSBn-JBLM began the VPP journey in 2010. The 404th AFSB expanded VPP initiatives across their footprint and is currently the most active brigade within ASC, thanks in part to Scott Nelson, the Occupational Safety and Health manager. Petty said that Nelson has been instrumental in providing VPP-specific assistance to ASC by sharing a multitude of VPP-related products and invaluable SME-guidance across the ASC enterprise.
While most units implement safety programs down to the battalion level, ASC has taken it a step further by targeting some key company level commands.
In a proactive move, Maj. Rylie DeLong, ASC’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander, has embraced VPP, and has started implementing it throughout the company. She was first made aware of VPP not long after taking command in June.
Petty said that Delong participates in quarterly ASC Safety Councils, and recently attended a DOD OSHA VPP Overview -- VPP 101 class -- provided to ASC’s chief of staff, Col. Scott Kindberg, and AFSB safety managers.
“She decided then, after follow-ups with Randy Upton, my VPP lead here at ASC headquarters, to pursue at the HHC level. She currently has a very aggressive implementation plan with a goal to complete by 2022,” Petty said, and receive OSHA VPP “Star” recognition.
OSHA recognizes qualified sites through one of three programs:
0 Star: Recognition for employers and employees who demonstrate exemplary achievement in the prevention and control of occupational safety and health hazards through the development, implementation and continuous improvement of their safety and health management system.
0 Merit: Recognition for employers and employees who have developed and implemented good safety and health management systems but who must take additional steps to reach Star quality. Most organizations do not go for Merit recognition as most work toward Star certification.
0 Demonstration: Recognition for employers and employees who operate effective safety and health management systems that differ from current VPP requirements. This program enables OSHA to test the efficacy of different approaches.
DeLong said her plan would be conducted in three phases, with stage one completed in April, stage two in July, and stage three by October. Stage three is when an assessment is conducted.
Stage one “is essentially the development of policies and procedures, essentially establishing essential policies and documents,” DeLong said. Stage two is “communicating policies and requirements to all employees and ensure understanding”, with stage three being “policies and requirements being in place and effective for one year and a final OSHA assessment to verify full VPP implementation and a plan in place to assure continuous improvement.”
Despite a deadline of 2028, ASC continues to take steps ensuring that its employees are aware of, and actively engaged in, efforts to keep workers safe and healthy, in all aspects of its operations worldwide.