PORTSMOUTH Va, -- Safety measures at the Norfolk District took a step forward with alignment into an Occupational Safety and Health Administration program at the Corps' Craney Island Dredge Material Management Area here.

District Commander, Col. Paul Olsen, held a signing ceremony affirming his support for the district to be fully approved into the Voluntary Protection Program, which according to the OSHA website http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/vpp/index.html promotes effective worksite safety and health.

"You build safe, you've instituted a program that is commonly executed in the private sector here at Craney Island, and it's no easy task; it is very rigorous and it has a lot of gates you have to pass through in order to be in compliance," Olsen said, addressing the personnel at Craney.

For the managers directly responsible for complying with the VPP like Sam McGee, Craney Island's facilities manager, it means a much more focused look at safety.

"For years we have operated under one bible, and that is the Corps of Engineer's Safety Manual; if you look at the OSHA requirements you will see it is a lot bigger book than the Corps', so it raises the bar," McGee said.

McGee also said that, unlike the Corps' safety manual, the VPP requires employees to document items like near-misses so that a proper database is established and potential corrective actions can be taken to avoid an actual accident.

"The program uses different models and tools to try and identify problematic areas so we can attempt to minimize and eliminate as many accidents as possible," said McGee.

The VPP uses performance-based criteria and requires extensive documentation in order to be in compliance, but according to Oscar Harts, the district's safety manager, the work put into the program is worth the effort.

"It brings together all the elements together, the employees, the commander, and everybody in between working towards one goal, and that is making the work environment as safe as possible," Harts said.

For personnel at Craney Island there is one more step to go through before being completely accepted into the Voluntary Protection Program, which is having OSHA representatives visit the site and approve the processes the employees at the facility are doing.

McGee said the initial compliance is only the beginning; each year the office must pass an annual inspection to ensure they remain in compliance.

A record that even before VPP shows a staff that is committed to operating safely.

"At the end of the day it's about being safe, and Craney Island has a fantastic safety record, even when consider what they do, moving millions of tons of material from point A to point B with very large pieces of equipment," Olsen said.