VPP: What's this all about?

  • Published
  • By Vincent Duny
  • Air Force Flight Test Center Ground Safety
The Voluntary Protection Program is one of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's most important safety recognition programs. It examines and validates an organization's safety culture for the purpose of improving workplace safety and health management systems.

Culture is defined as "the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution or organization."

The VPP's goal is to change your attitude toward safety and the safety culture of your workplace.

In 1982, OSHA developed VPP to recognize and promote effective worksite-based safety and health management systems. VPP is a performance-based safety excellence process that focuses on four principal elements:
1. Management, leadership and employee involvement
2. Work site analysis
3. Hazard prevention and control
4. Safety and health training.

The VPP compares our safety and health systems against the nation's best safety and health systems. Initially, a contracting team called DoDCX, assesses our safety programs and identifies any gaps that need to be filled before inviting OSHA to visit our base. This voluntary invitation during the final stages of VPP, results in OSHA's review of our programs to ensure all the elements are completed. Upon meeting their criteria, we are awarded the highest recognition level or Star status.

Current Operations:
The Air Force has a great compliance-based safety and health program. Typically, bioenvironmental, safety and public health specialists perform an inspection at your workplace, provide you with their findings and you correct them accordingly. VPP takes this old concept to the next level. It enables all Airmen and DoD civilians from the lowest level to the top to identify and take action to eliminate safety and health hazards. Everyone has to take action to correct safety deficiencies before a mishap occurs.

In the past years, our Class C ground mishaps (eight hours or more away from work due to a mishap) have stagnated at about 23 per year. Although this is not a bad number for a base this size, one mishap is one too many. Adopting VPP can, and will, assist us in breaking our current trend and allow us to push this number down.

Future Operations:
Under VPP, your group or squadron will form teams to address the four elements of VPP. Each element has a series of questions and each question may have to be answered three times, depending on the status of your workplace in relation to the question. Let me explain: think of the question as a street light, you have red, yellow, and green. Each question has three areas to be concerned with, so let's start by saying, "Do you have a safety policy letter?" If your group or squadron does not, the question will be red until one is created. While the policy letter is being developed, you are in the yellow zone. Once created and signed by leadership, that area turns green. This allows you to "graduate" to the next level of maturity, called Stage II, which is still red initially if your group or squadron is unaware of the policy letter. Once everyone is aware, that area becomes green, allowing you to move on to the final stage (III) of maturity. Stage III would remain red until everyone knows where it is posted and can relate the meaning to themselves or an inspector, and measure its effectiveness.

For those who are willing, you will see a cultural change in the way your peers look at safety. They will not only talk it, but also walk it, whether they are on or off the job. From Robins to Tinker, personnel are taking the time to promote safety at all levels. On- and off-the-job injuries are coming down and VPP has been shown as an effective tool in making this happen.

Remember, VPP takes safety to the next level. It changes your current way of thinking - compliance-based thinking. If employees at all levels get involved with the personal safety of themselves and those around them, our mishap numbers will decrease, needless suffering will be reduced and no one would have to pick up the task of a missing employee due to a mishap.

If you are interested in learning more about VPP, please call 277-7016, talk to your union leadership or speak to your commander. VPP training is offered once a month, with the next training scheduled for Nov. 30 at 1:30 p.m. in the Conference Center.