Team Kaiserslautern earns ‘Star

by Christine June
USAG Kaiserslautern

Employees making sure they are safe at work played a major factor in U.S. Army Garrison Kaiserslautern earning Star Status, or highest level, June 12 by the Department of Defense Voluntary Protection Programs Center of Excellence.

“Kaiserslautern is the first Department of Defense and Army site overseas to achieve Star-site validation of the installation safety and health management system comparable to the (U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration) criteria,” said Jerry Boland, a principal VPP specialist with the Concurrent Technologies Corporation, a contractor operating the DOD Voluntary Protection Programs Center of Excellence.

Mr. Boland serves as the Army’s contact for this effective worksite-based safety and health program. He was the leader of the four-member assessment team that evaluated and recommended Kaiserslautern for the VPP Star Status.

Melissa Hastings, the garrison’s safety manager, said the final assessment visit conducted June 8 to 12 was “pretty intense.”

“(The assessment team) looked at our whole program – accident statistics, our follow-up procedures, how we track and mitigate hazards, and even how we work with our (base maintenance) contractor,” she said.

Assessment team members visited garrison worksites and conducted formal and informal interviews with garrison personnel.

“My feedback was, since I’ve been here, this is the best safety program I have ever seen in my 25 years of government service,” said Mimi Azcarraga, the garrison’s human resources director, who participated as a manager for the VPP interviews. “Safety is very well incorporated in everybody’s work place. Our safety program is going to be looked at for years to come.”

This is the fourth year the DOD has participated in the program, which was created by OSHA to recognize industries exhibiting the best safety programs for their business sector.

Defense officials said DOD has already seen that VPP improves safety records and readiness of its military and civilian personnel.

Kaiserslautern was first evaluated in May 2007 for the program by the DOD’s in-house Center of Excellence, which assists defense installations and agencies in achieving and maintaining OSHA Volunteer Protection Programs Star Status.
“Kaiserslautern is the sole installation to achieve Star Status in the shortest time – 24 months since baseline,” said Mike Schwarz, Installation Management Command-Europe chief of safety.

He said the DOD has set a national target for all sites starting the process at 30 months.

“A general rule of thumb for any management system development implementation is three to five years,” Mr. Schwarz said.

Requirements include a high degree of management support and employee involvement, a high-quality worksite hazard analysis, prevention and control programs, and comprehensive safety and health training for all employees.
“Each of these elements must be effective, in place and in operation for at least one year before an installation can even apply to join the VPP,” Mrs. Hastings said.
She added that 243 action plan items had to be accomplished before the garrison could apply for the program.

“We had to put together a comprehensive documentation system to track training, employee involvement … hazard and accident reporting and follow-up procedures,” Mrs. Hastings said.

Employee involvement was also crucial.

“Every department had to participate or we would not have accomplished Star Status,” she said.

Mrs. Hastings said the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation’s free vehicle inspections, which were initiated two years ago and are held twice a year, are a shining example of employment involvement.

A total number of 598 U.S. and local national garrison employees were involved in the VPP effort, Mrs. Hastings said.

Because leadership and employees are active partners in VPP, defense officials said they hope ultimately to prevent injuries, preserve productivity and save the DOD money, enhancing readiness across the board. Results have already happened in Ramstein as the garrison was accomplishing the action-plan items, Mrs. Hastings said.

“We have seen a huge decrease in the local national accidents, from 14 in 2007 to five in 2008. That’s a 64 percent decrease,” Mrs. Hastings said. “On the U.S. side of the house, there were 35 lost work days in 2007, and we had 16 in 2008.”
Mrs. Hastings said she expects to see even greater results in the future because employees are now reporting near-miss types of accidents – ones that don’t actually involve time off from work.

“Because they are reporting these near misses or minor accidents, we can hopefully avoid something major from happening,” she said.

She added that reporting these near misses is a direct result of the garrison being involved in VPP.

Success is most likely to continue, Mrs. Hastings said, because VPP is a continuous improvement program.

“We don’t just get Star Status and drop it,” she said. “We now have to maintain this