By Joe Andes, Fleet Readiness Center East public affairs
CHERRY POINT —Fleet Readiness Command East closed calendar year 2021 with the lowest number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration recordable mishaps in the depot’s history.
“This is a fantastic accomplishment and speaks volumes about our safety specialists, our safe site leaders and the attentiveness of each member of the FRCE team in mitigating risks,” FRC East Commanding Officer Col. Thomas A. Atkinson said. “At the depot, safety is more than a program or a process, it is a core value. Our people, they are our warfighting capability. Protecting them and maintaining a safe work environment is not only the right thing to do, it is absolutely crucial to our mission.”
OSHA defines recordable injuries or illnesses as those that result in days away from work, restricted work or transfer to another job; medical treatment beyond first aid; or loss of consciousness. A case also meets the recording criteria if it involves a significant injury or illness diagnosed by a physician or other licensed health care professional.
In 2021, FRC East recorded 36 mishaps, a 27% reduction compared to the previous year and a more than 60% decrease compared to mishaps recorded in 2016.
“Throughout the years, the Safety and Occupational Health division at FRC East continued to educate employees, develop policies and procedures, and implement them,” said Angelo Owens, the safety director at FRC East. “All of that, after a certain number of years, comes together to have positive effects. I believe that’s what we are experiencing here.”
Mr. Owens and Brian Snow, the assistant safety director at FRC East, both cite participation in the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program as an important catalyst in forming the safety culture that exists at the depot. VPP recognizes employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries.
To participate, employers must apply to OSHA and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals.
“We started on this road in 2006 with our involvement in VPP,” Mr. Snow said. “Just getting the command into the mindset to do it actually got us on the right road to reducing injuries. The application process in itself is a huge undertaking. They came in to evaluate and we did it.”
In 2019, FRC East achieved the OSHA VPP Star Status in two of the depot’s application areas – smaller subsections of the expansive facility, each consisting of no more than 500 employees – becoming the first naval aviation command to reach that level.
“VPP Star is the highest recognition you can achieve with OSHA,” Mr. Owens said. “When you say you are a VPP Star site, it states that your safety and health programs exceed OSHA regulatory requirements in an exemplary manner.”
VPP participants are reevaluated every three to five years to remain in the program.
“We’ll be re-evaluated in January of 2023,” Mr. Owens said. “What that means is that representatives from OSHA out of Atlanta, Georgia, will come to our facility for a week. They’ll bring with them a team of people who will be walking around and asking to see our programs, see our documentation of trainings, and conduct periodic inspections. They’ll be going out talking to our supervisors and employees to substantiate that what we are doing on paper is what we are actually doing within our facility.”
FRC East’s participation in VPP has not gone unnoticed. The Department of the Navy is now collaborating with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on a study aimed at evaluating VPP’s effectiveness in reducing noncombat injuries. This study will evaluate five VPP establishments by comparing VPP units to non-VPP control units matched on size and function. The Navy chose FRC East as one of the five VPP participants to take part in the study.
The command was also recognized by the N.C. Department of Labor for its efforts to keep the workforce safe by being presented two Million Hour awards and the depot’s fourth consecutive Gold Award.
To meet the Gold Award standard, an organization must have had no fatalities during the award year, and post a days away, restricted or transferred, or DART, rate at least 50% below the industry average. For FRC East, that means the aircraft maintenance industry.
Million Hour safety awards are given to firms which accumulate one million employee hours with no injuries or illnesses involving days away from work. Subsequent awards are given for each additional one million employee hours with no injuries or illnesses.
FRC East also recently completed International Organization for Standardization ISO 45001 recertification. ISO 45001 is the world’s international standard for occupational health and safety, issued to protect employees and visitors from work-related accidents and diseases.
“You can never let up,” Mr. Snow said. “Often, you reach a goal, and the tendency is to take your pack off, but we haven’t been doing that. We just continue to press forward. It’s a continuing effort.”