CHERRY POINT — The N.C. Department of Labor recognized Fleet Readiness Center East for the depot’s exemplary safety record during a regional awards luncheon held June 12 in Kinston.
FRC East received three awards during the ceremony: the Gold Award and two Million Hour Awards. The depot earned the Gold Award and one Million Hour Award in 2017, making the 2018 award period the second year in a row FRC East has qualified for the honors. FRC East is the only U.S. Department of Defense organization to earn this recognition from the state.
“We’re honored the state has recognized Fleet Readiness Center East for excellence in safety, and we’re proud to lead the way as the first Department of Defense entity to earn these awards,” FRC East Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Nieto said. “Being recognized by the North Carolina Department of Labor two years running is a significant achievement for us; it shows our commitment to workplace safety is recognized not only by our superior commands in the Navy, but also by our partners in the state. This demonstrates that our safety standards are just as high – if not higher than – our counterparts in the aircraft maintenance industry.”
Assistant safety director at FRC East Brian Snow agreed.
“It’s a really big deal. We had never qualified for the Gold Award until last year,” he said. “Now, our safety metrics are where they need to be to earn the award, which says a lot. With all of the companies and industries located within the state of North Carolina, not everybody can do that.”
To meet the Gold Award standard, an organization must have had no fatalities during the award year, and also post a days-away, restricted or transferred rate at least 50% below the industry average. For FRC East, that means the aircraft maintenance industry.
A combination of factors led to the depot’s excellent safety record, Mr. Snow said. These include the implementation of internationally recognized safety standards in 2004, and the implementation in 2006 of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s Voluntary Protection Program.
VPP focuses on preventing worksite fatalities and injuries through a four-pillar system built on a foundation of management commitment and worker involvement. With these programs now firmly rooted in the facility’s safety culture, FRC East is seeing results in the form of improved workplace safety, the organization said in a release.
“From our artisans to our leaders, every single worker at the depot plays a role in workplace safety, and that responsibility has really become part of the culture here. Safety isn’t someone else’s job – it’s everybody’s most important job,” Capt. Nieto said. “We can easily make safety a priority on paper, but we couldn’t meet these safety milestones without a real-world, organizational commitment to safety, made every day at every level.”
The changing workplace culture and safety-focused leadership have resulted directly in an improved process of identifying hazards and removing them before they cause mishaps, Mr. Snow explained.
“Employee involvement, and management and leadership doing what they need to do to make a safer work environment are factors,” he added. “That combination allows us to eliminate hazards before they cause an incident. Of course, it costs money to eliminate hazards, and our command was willing to spend the money it took to accomplish that.”
That people-first leadership philosophy makes it easy to place the focus on safety, Mr. Snow said.
“The commanders have said, many times, that our most important resource is our people, and we want them to be safe,” he said. “We do not want them going home with some sort of disabling injury that is going to cost them for the rest of their lives.”
Having safety protocols in place and focusing on people as a resource have changed the safety culture at FRC East, according to the organization. The state presents Million Hour Safety Awards to firms that accumulate 1 million employee hours, or multiples thereof, with no lost-time accidents. FRC East was one of just three recipients of Million Hour Awards in the region, earning two Million Hour Awards for periods in 2018.
“At FRCE, we work over 6 million hours in a year,” Mr. Snow said. “So these awards represent almost four months of operations with no lost days due to mishaps. I don’t think people realize how important this is. It’s huge.”
NCDOL Commissioner Cherie Berry, who presented the awards, noted there is a 19-year trend of decreasing workplace injuries across the state, with the injury rate currently at its lowest-ever levels. She went on to make a point that it was because of an increased focus on safety and workers in North Carolina caring about each other and being their “brother’s keeper” that they stay safe throughout each work day and can go home and say, “Honey, I’m home!”