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FRCE safety record recognized by North Carolina Department of Labor Safety Awards Program

28 November 2022

From Joseph Andes

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) was recognized by the North Carolina Department of Labor Safety Awards Program for its efforts in keeping the workforce safe this year. 

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) was recognized by the North Carolina Department of Labor Safety Awards Program for its efforts in keeping the workforce safe this year. The depot received its fifth consecutive Gold Award and two Million Hour awards.

“This highlights the commitment found throughout the depot’s workforce to delivering capable and quality aircraft to the fleet while at the same time ensuring we maintain a safe working environment,” said FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. James Belmont. “Sustaining a culture of safety is a priority here and something that requires an all-hands effort. I am extremely proud of the depot’s safety record, which is made possible by the efforts of our safety specialists as well as the employees and supervisors on the work floor.” 

The North Carolina Department of Labor (NCDOL) Safety Awards Program recognizes private and public firms throughout the state that achieve and maintain good safety records. The program is designed to stimulate interest in accident prevention and promote safety in the workplace.

The program began in 1946 and now extends to more than 5,000 firms.

According to FRCE Compliance and Quality Department Head Amy Morgan, NCDOL took interest in FRCE as the depot is the state’s largest technical services provider and employs a workforce of more than 4,000 people.

“Because we have such an impact on the workforce here in eastern North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Labor wants us to participate and provide metrics,” Morgan said. “We are happy to do that. Participating in the program is a great opportunity to showcase the great work we are doing and to highlight how we're protecting the people who work here.”

FRCE Safety Director Angelo Owens said that the recognition is a result of a workforce where each employee is actively engaged in maintaining a safe workplace. He said the depot has invested many years in creating a safety-focused culture.

“There are more than 53 safety and occupational health programs that we oversee,” said Owens. “These run the gamut from radiation safety to fall protection. Maintaining a safety record like we have at the depot, where there is so much going on, requires everyone’s engagement. Over a period of many years, the Safety and Occupational Health Division at FRC East has worked closely with managers, supervisors and employees to ensure everyone knows their responsibilities and everyone does what they should be doing. This award is a testament to that.”

To qualify for an annual safety award, an employer must have had no fatalities on site during the calendar year for which the award is given and also maintained an incidence rate at least 50 percent below the average for its particular industry group.

The Million Hour safety awards are given to employers each time they accumulate one million employee hours with no injuries or illnesses involving days away from work. FRCE earned two this year.

Morgan said this is an impressive achievement, considering the nature and complexity of the work performed at the depot.

“The Million Hour awards speak volumes about the quality of our workforce and the amazing things they are doing,” said Morgan. “When you consider what we do here, this often involves incredibly complex and difficult work, yet they still manage to do it following the proper procedures. They do this amazing work in support of the warfighter. They give them a quality product and do it in a safe and efficient manner.”

FRCE also received the Gold Award, marking the fifth consecutive year that the depot has achieved this feat. Snow said the award highlights the emphasis FRCE places on workplace safety.

“The Gold Award is important to us because it shows the state of North Carolina that we're being responsible stewards in regards to our employees,” said FRCE Assistant Safety Director Brian Snow. “It shows we are treating them in a way that that's respectful, that we care about their health and their safety, and it demonstrates to our employees that we're committed to keeping them safe.”

To meet the Gold Award standard, an organization must meet the criteria for a safety award and achieve a days away, restricted or transferred (DART) rate at least 50 percent below the industry average. The DART rate includes cases of days away from work, restricted activity or job transfer. Snow said reducing DART cases is a priority due to the impacts on workplace productivity and to employee well-being.

“If a mishap has lost time, or if the employee is restricted in any way, shape or form from doing his or her job, then it's considered a DART case,” said Snow. “A DART case impacts us the most because it causes an employee to lose time at work. Even worse, it could affect their physical ability in some way, shape or form. These are the cases we really want to avoid.

“We have a responsibility to these employees,” continued Snow. “The expectation is, and the expectation of their families is, that they're going to come here and be safe. We have that responsibility and we take it very seriously.”

In addition to protecting employees, FRCE’s safety efforts are also reducing costs. Morgan said FRCE has documented safety-related cost savings of more than $30 million since 2009.

“That's just related to medical costs and doesn’t even consider lost work days,” said Morgan. “So the true number is actually much larger and it's also not re-calibrated for inflation.”

Morgan said these impressive results did not occur overnight. She described the depot’s safety successes as part of a gradual process that began many years ago.

“Our safety journey has been a long one,” said Morgan. “It started more than 20 years ago when we decided too many people were getting injured and we were going to do something about it. This led to implementing safety management systems and other initiatives aimed at making the workplace safer. It takes time and effort. You can’t change the culture of a workplace overnight.”

Both Morgan and Snow cited the depot’s participation in the OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) as an important catalyst in establishing the safety culture that exists at the depot.

VPP is a federal program recognizing employers and workers in private industry and government agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems. FRCE submitted its first VPP application to OSHA in 2006.

According to Snow, the VPP evaluation process necessitated workforce involvement in safety processes. To participate, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals.

“Just implementing safety management systems won’t get you certified,” said Snow. “You have to get people engaged and on board. VPP gets everyone from employees to management actively involved. It's a demanding process but it’s a win-win for everybody.”

FRCE achieved the OSHA VPP Star Site status in 2019 in two of the depot’s application areas, becoming the first naval aviation command to reach that level. The depot is one of only 21 VPP Star Sites recognized sites in the entire Department of the Navy.

Owens said the depot is preparing to be re-evaluated for VPP Star status in January of 2023. He said the work involved goes beyond the confines of the VPP program and has benefitted the depot’s overall safety efforts.

“It takes a lot of hard work to achieve VPP Star status,” said Owens. “It also requires that same level of hard work to keep it. You have to be proactive. You can’t look for shortcuts. That approach applies to all aspects of our safety program, not just VPP. We are always looking forward and looking for ways to refine or improve our processes. I think the depot’s safety record reflects this.”

Since earning the VPP Star Site designation, FRCE has continued to garner accolades in the safety arena. The last 12 months alone have seen the command achieve a number of milestones.

In 2021, FRCE closed out the calendar year with the lowest number of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable mishaps in the depot’s history.

In August of 2022, FRCE was recognized by the Department of Defense (DoD) as the best of the best in terms of safety and occupational health and presented with the DoD Safety and Occupational Health Management System (SOHMS) Achievement Award.

Morgan, who describes safety as a “team sport,” credited these accolades to the FRCE workforce and its commitment to safety.

“Our number one priority here is that we want every single person that works here to go home to their families safe and sound at the end of the day,” said Morgan. “The safety staff cannot do this alone. They can be teachers and educators and they can walk around and be the eyes and ears of the command but it takes everyone learning, listening and doing their part. Our success is the result of our workforce doing the right thing.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

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