Navy's Top Safety Pro Wants South Texas Base Honored As Best

Story Number: NNS170817-11Release Date: 8/17/2017 1:34:00 PM
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By Rod Hafemeister, NAS Kingsville Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR STATION KINGSVILLE, Texas (NNS) -- Safety Joe says being named the top safety professional in the Navy for fiscal year 2016 (FY16) isn't about him, it's about how the base has responded to the needs of the safety program.

He's asking them to sign on to something bigger: getting Naval Air Station Kingsville to be recognized as "Star" certified under the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) which is sponsored by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Joseph Desormeaux - "Safety Joe" to the Sailors and civilians at Naval Air Station (NAS) Kingsville - was presented the FY16 Chief of Naval Operations Safety Professional (Individual) Award earlier this year. And while he calls the honor "humbling," he says his real goal is something bigger.

"The biggest goal isn't for myself," Desormeaux said. "It's for the command to be recognized as the top installation for safety for the year."

A retired chief gunner's mate originally from Lafayette, Louisiana, Desormeaux worked as an explosives safety officer after retirement before coming to NAS Kingsville in August 2015 as the installation's occupational safety and health director.

He credits his two staff members, Charlie Ratliff, a former NAS Kingsville command master chief, and Diana Gonzalez, with helping his transition.

"First and foremost is having an experienced team of safety professionals like Charlie and Diana. And using their knowledge of the 36 safety programs we manage. Those are our foundation for safety," he said.
"The Navy provides you with the guidance to get you where you need to be with safety. Start by following the guidance. Do it, and make it better."

After that, the challenge is getting everyone in the command to buy into making safety a common workplace process.

"Show them why it's important to them and they'll respond," Desormeaux said.

One way that is accomplished is by including representatives not only of NAS Kingsville departments, but also all tenant commands and supporting contractors in periodic meetings to discuss safety concerns and how to take action to correct them.

"Through Joe's tenacity and proactive involvement, he dramatically changed the culture of safety throughout NAS Kingsville," said Capt. Erik Spitzer, NAS Kingsville's commanding officer.

Spitzer added that the results of a more recent inspection wasn't even considered in determining the safety award, which included "significant positive improvement noted across all safety program areas. Of the 36 program areas evaluated, most findings were minor in nature and there were zero programs evaluated as unsatisfactory... This is a remarkable accomplishment."

As a result, NAS Kingsville was asked to consider participating in the VPP, and Team Kingsville has started the process.

Desormeaux explained that while standard safety programs are structured as "top-down" with guidance and instructions from above, VPP is based on an "employee-led" idea, with each worker responsible not only for being safe but helping the command find and correct safety hazards.

"As part of the VPP initiative, [the safety department] has developed a document, 'Eyes On - Common Workplace Hazards' for posting in the workplace," Desormeaux said. "This document will enable employees to identify, correct and report the most common workplace hazards. Who better to identify, correct and report the most common workplace hazards than the workers? We are all part of the safety team and together we can eliminate the most common workplace hazards in order to reduce or, quite frankly, eliminate mishaps."

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