April 28 marks World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and this year, Fort Knox, Kentucky has a lot to be proud of.
A well-known resource for American armed forces, Fort Knox is keen to the need for reliable communication and logistical efficiency for people both stateside and abroad. Safety is a clear priority at this operations base. But with more than 30,000 to serve, its utility system needs to remain operational at all times and under any conditions.
Fort Knox started working with Veolia to increase efficiency. It was recently recognized by the Federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) with Star status, the highest honor of the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).
Safety at the National Level
In the United States, the VPP recognizes employers and workers in private industry and federal agencies who have implemented highly effective safety and health management systems that meet or exceed OSHA standards. It’s a direct reflection of the principles that companies across the globe are upholding on World Day for Safety and Health at Work.
"VPP Star is designed to raise safety awareness for all employees," explains Rich Finnegan, Health & Safety Manager at Veolia, which works with 13 sites including Fort Knox that currently hold VPP Star status. "It's a commitment to cultivating and maintaining best practice safety standards throughout an organization, so that everyone from senior management to entry-level employees go home the same way they came into work."
Reaching High Standards
Fort Knox began this focused effort with its wastewater and stormwater systems, both of which require maintenance that can be hazardous to the personnel involved. For it to be considered for VPP certification, however, it needed to pass inspection.
OSHA brings in a group of OSHA and Special Government Employee (SGE) auditors to a specific company's individual work sites. These SGEs come from industries that volunteer their time to assist OSHA with in-depth reviews focused on every aspect of safety in a site's operations, including work site inspections, project documentation, safety statistics and employee interviews.
Many of Fort Knox’s operations take place in its sewerage network, and despite the inherent safety risks of working underground, the basecamp impressed OSHA’s appraisal team.
A Culture of Caution
"It's not just an EHS manager responsible for all of this. Companies need to gain and maintain a lot of buy-in and spread out the responsibilities,” says Finnegan. "Employees from all areas of business need to be encouraged to look at previous safety incidents, develop and implement new strategies to improve safety, and help cultivate an open dialogue so safety issues can be addressed."
With this in mind, Fort Knox didn’t find this success by just checking off boxes. Jordan Barab, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA, sees VPP Star recipients as truly committed to their employees, and that sense of respect can naturally exceed the expectation of the program.
"In our experience, employers who qualify for VPP generally view OSHA requirements as establishing a minimum level of safety and health performance,” he stated in a Congressional committee meeting. “They often go beyond OSHA requirements in protecting their workforce and involve their employees in all aspects of the health and safety process."
Success Through Teamwork
Engaging employees to collaborate and proactively build a strong workplace safety culture isn't just important to Fort Knox’s well-being; it's a critical component of its operational excellence. The U.S. Department of Defense, for example, has drastically reduced workplace injuries, costs and capability losses since embracing the VPP. The Department estimates it saves between $73,000 and $8.8 million for each VPP site it maintains.
Only about 2,300 companies and work sites across the United States have earned the VPP Star designation, and they must remain proactive with their safety and health programs to attain or maintain certification. Policies like anonymous reporting of safety incidents and granting stop-work authority when employees recognize a potential safety hazard are some of the best ways to improve safety and facilitate a culture that facilitates innovation without sacrificing care every step of the way.
The World Day for Safety and Health at work spotlights the importance of safety and involving all employees in best-practice safety habits. With a similar mindset, the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program provides a systematic approach to improve workplace safety and provides national recognition to those companies and federal entities that meet and uphold stringent VPP standards.
Read more about Fort Knox’s recent VPP Star award here.