MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (NNS) -- Fleet Readiness Center East has long demonstrated a strong commitment to workforce safety – and now the depot can fly a flag that proves it.
Officials from the U.S. Navy and Occupational Safety and Health Administration gathered Dec. 3 at Miller’s Landing for a ceremony recognizing FRCE’s designation as an OSHA Voluntary Protection Program Star Worksite. Kim Morton, OSHA area director for North and South Carolina, presented FRCE Commanding Officer Capt. Mark Nieto with a plaque and the coveted red, white and blue flag that indicates FRC East’s Star status.
“The VPP Star status is OSHA’s highest level of recognition for safety and health excellence,” Morton said. “You have reached this elite level by demonstrating that the best way to protect each other on the job is by preventing injuries and illnesses.”
Rear Adm. Michael Zarkowski, commander, Fleet Readiness Centers, noted that fewer than 60 facilities in the Department of Defense have earned VPP Star status. The admiral praised FRCE’s leaders and employees for taking on the challenge of pursuing VPP Star recognition.
“The evaluation was rigorous, and I applaud the FRCE workforce for your dedication and willingness to undergo such an intensive assessment,” Zarkowski said. “You all believed in your safety processes and were committed to them and to each other, and it shows.”
FRCE has pursued VPP Star status for its safety program for more than a decade. In 2002, leadership saw the number of recordable injuries as unacceptable and looked to the VPP program as a way to reverse this trend.
The Voluntary Protection Program highlights employers with effective safety and health management systems that record injury and illness rates below the average for their industries. In beginning its VPP journey, FRCE pursued three goals: reduce the number of workplace injuries, improve the perception of its safety program, and create a safety culture within the FRCE workforce. By 2017, these efforts had resulted in a 95 percent reduction in FRCE’s injury rate.
Kyle Ketchum, acting deputy assistant undersecretary of the Navy for safety, told the audience the Navy is encouraging other commands to pursue VPP as a way to drive down workplace injury rates.
“One thing that we have noted is that commands that have a strategic approach to safety, such as VPP, are 30 percent less likely to have an incident compared to similar commands without such an approach to safety,” Ketchum said.
Brian Snow, assistant safety director for FRCE, said the VPP process has been good for the depot’s employees and the customers it serves.
“Mishaps or injuries are very expensive. They cost the facility a lot of money. Of course, we want our workers to go home as safe as they came to work,” Snow said. “But we also want to use the taxpayers’ dollars wisely.”
FRCE is divided into nine application areas; so far, two areas – Charlie and Golf – have been recognized as Star Worksites. Now, FRCE will focus on earning Star status for application areas Delta and Foxtrot.
Nieto said the key to FRCE’s continued success on its VPP journey is ensuring all employees take responsibility for workplace safety.
“It wasn’t the safety department or the (commanding officer) who said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this, and you shall do it because I said so,’” Nieto said. “It’s the workforce saying, ‘Hey we’re going to do this to make this place better, to make sure we look out for each other.’ And we’re going to make this a safer, better place to work.”
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 $720 million. The depot generates combat air power for America’s Marines and Naval forces while serving as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.
For more news from Fleet Readiness Center East, visit www.navy.mil/local/FRCE/.