Voluntary Protection Program going strong

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  • By Megan Prather, Staff Writer


Since its inception 13 years ago, the employee-driven Voluntary Protection Program has been the lead safety program for Tinker Air Force Base and the Air Force Sustainment Center.

VPP is an Occupational Safety and Health Administration initiative that promotes worksite safety and health through hazard prevention and control, worksite analysis, training and cooperation.

“The importance of VPP is that it’s a safety program that actually provides rights to employees so employees can actually drive the program for mutual benefit amongst them,” 72nd Air Base Wing Commander Col. Paul Filcek said. “They have ownership and they have rights.”

Carl Dahms, Tinker Air Force Base Union President said VPP has been an enhancement of Tinker’s safety management system.

“One of the things that made the program work was the willingness of leadership to buy into the program. It took several years to build that culture change, but we’ve been successful in most areas in achieving our status as far as safety goes,” Dahms said. “With all the different partners, leadership, the employees, the union and OSHA, it’s been a team effort to actually change the culture and save the Air Force a lot of money on injuries and time off.”

To participate in VPP, employers submit an application to OSHA and complete an onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals with union support. VPP participants are reevaluated every 3-5 years in order to ensure they are maintaining the safety standards of the program.

“It was a hard sell at the beginning because the employees thought this was just another initiative that was going to be around for a couple months and then gone,” Dahms said. “VPP is not a program that’s pushed down from the top. It’s intended to be a grassroots program and that’s what it takes to achieve the culture change that we did with this program, was involving the people on the floor.”

VPP empowers TiAFSC employees to take action in reporting incidents and acknowledging hazards in their work area. Supervisors will document the various hazards reported by an employee and track the process of fixing it.

“For years it was standard to walk by and pretend it’s not there,” Dahms said.  “Now the culture is reporting these things to supervisors and documenting them on an employee involvement board which highlights that problem and shows where they are in the process to fixing that problem.”

There are three different programs under VPP including demonstration, merit and star status. In order for a worksite to achieve star status, employees and employers must 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.

“The star status is nice, it’s a little bit of recognition, but the biggest thing that should be highlighted with this program are the culture changes that have happened, not only with employees, but with management all the way up,” Dahms said. “Without that culture change we wouldn’t have any stars out there.”

Tinker isn’t the only AFB that has found success with the program.  Union president at Hill Air Force Base, Troy Tingey, says the program has given employees the power to truly engage in how safety impacts their everyday lives at work.

“Every time an employee has a concern with a safety matter it’s taken to the right force, the VPP group, and they’re obligated and committed to get back with those employees within hours to address the concern, whereas if they address it with the safety office sometimes it can take days,” Tingey said. “I encourage people to support it and give their 100%. We want our people to want to come to work, and we want them to be safe when they go home.”

Robins AFB union president Marion Williams said he believes that the coming year will be a successful one for their program.

“With the support of our senior leadership, we have been able to enter into memorandums of agreements that allow us to energize our VPP base to reach our diverse organizations,” Williams said. “I feel FY 2020 will be the year the Robins Family truly shines in the VPP community.”

He said they plan to continue employee driven programs such as Fostering Leadership, a program which involves employees recognizing their peers for things such as safety or outstanding leadership. This also includes a monthly event in which senior leadership along with union leadership visit the worksites of the award recipients to speak more on VPP.

“Our new growth is driving us to be better, stronger and smarter,” Williams said. “By implementing VPP and embedding the thought process into our family members, it will pave the way to our next milestone of excellence.”