By Chuck Gordon
USAG Public Affairs Officer

The Fort Detrick safety team gathered July 27 to help celebrate as the installation received official honors as the first Army garrison to achieve Star Status in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program.

"I hope you realize the significance and magnitude of your accomplishment today," said Ed Selker, Deputy Regional Director, Region III, OSHA.
"The flag and plaque you're receiving today are symbols of your accomplishment, hard work and dedication."

The program is based upon employee empowerment, visible management, leadership, and accountability.
"VPP is strictly voluntary," said Selker, "and it's a program where management, labor and OSHA establish a cooperative relationship to create and implement a comprehensive safety and occupational health management system."

In 1982, OSHA implemented the pioneer Voluntary Protection Program, and over the years, it has been recognized as one of the agency's most successful initiatives.

Fort Detrick's journey to Star Status began in 2004 under the guidance of Installation Safety and Occupational Health Manager Rudy Spencer.

"In 2004, Army identified twenty installations with the highest accident lost time days and established a partnership with OSHA to improve safety and health for the workforce," said Spencer.

"We were not one of those 20, but I saw that VPP provided performance-based criteria we could use to assess and improve our current safety and occupational health programs and asked to be part of the first wave of the Army/OSHA partnership."

Star Status means Fort Detrick is ranked in the top 1 percent of U.S. businesses and industries for safety and health - 1 percent of some 7 million workplaces. Using the tools found in the VPP, according to the Safety Office, the garrison has reduced time off due to work-related accidents by 75 percent; reduced costs associated with work-related absences; and increased employee participation in enhancing safety.

Over the past eight years, according to figures from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center, the Army paid more than $1.5 billion in workers compensation claims.

"That's why VPP is important," said Addison Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health. "The bottom line is that we care, we care about our employees, we care about health and safety and we care about saving tax dollars.

The National Safety Council has estimated that the average per incident cost of a workplace injury is about $28,000 in direct and indirect costs.

"Your efforts are paying off," said Selker. "The Fort Detrick total case injury rate is 6.2 - that's 56 percent below industry averages for similar workplaces. You have reduced Workers Compensation costs by 17 percent when Army-wide compensation costs have increased."

"VPP Star represents the culmination of efforts under the oversight of three different garrison commanders and at least that many MRMC commanders," Maj. Gen. James K. Gilman, commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick, told the assembeled crowd.

"Today's recognition ceremony attests to our ability to identify a proper strategic azimuth, get employers, employees, and safety managers on board to move all in the same direction, and maintain focus in spite of multiple changes in leadership until we achieve our goal. I would state for your consideration that the Fort Detrick garrison also demonstrates this same long-term commitment in its sustainability and environmental programs as well," Gilman said.

Garrison commander Col. Judith Robinson has stressed the importance of VPP from her first days in command.

"We've taken the standard management model and turned it upside down," Robinson said. "We've empowered employees and made safety a top priority in this garrison not just for managers, but for the folks doing the work on the ground, in the pipe shop, and in the offices," she said.

As a Star Status site, the garrison joins a select and exclusive group of workplaces.
"Consider that there are roughly 7.5 million worksites in the United States," said Selker. "Today, Fort Detrick becomes one of just over 2,400 of those worksites."

Selker presented a VPP Star Status plaque to Robinson and then unfurled and presented a Star Status flag to the past and current chairs of the Fort Detrick VPP Steering Committee, Vincent Fiammetta and Kristen Haga.

"VPP is truly an employee driven initiative," said Haga. "Being under the leadership of those who allow and encourage workforce to communicate safety needs, issues, and suggestions gives makes me a great sense of pride."

A key feature of VPP is that employees have a voice and that voice is heard by leadership and acted upon.

"Being a VPP Star Site clearly illustrates our leadership commitment and employee involvement in working and living safe-tastically!" she said.

While the safety of the workforce is a Command responsibility, VPP is a tool designed to empower the workforce and give them a voice in the command safety program.

"VPP involves the workforce in all its four elements and gives them a sense of ownership and pride in their efforts to make their workplace a safe and productive environment," Fiammetta said.

"It's that sense of ownership and pride that I really feel VPP sets itself apart from other safety programs."