NORFOLK NAVAL SHIPYARD, Portsmouth, Va. —
Norfolk Naval Shipyard achieved a significant step in its journey to recertify as a Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) Star Site, submitting its application to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) July 27.
“We achieved a significant milestone and this effort was not a small one,” said Jill Wild, NNSY, Safety, Health and Environmental Director. “I would like to thank everyone for their support of taking the right actions in educating employees, correcting some issues and improving areas to ensure our workplace is as safe as it can be. This is a big step in the process, signifying a combined commitment by the shipyard and our labor partners to have a safe workplace for everyone.”
A VPP Star Site since 2006, NNSY voluntarily withdrew from the program in 2018 to address areas for improvement in employee risk communication of occupational health issues, and injury reporting to OSHA. Resolving these concerns was a priority given that during its 12 years as a star site, NNSY’s injury rate was reduced by more than 50 percent, well below industry rates.
Since suspending its star site status, NNSY continued to mirror the VPP model for safety and health while implementing improvements to several occupational risk areas including fall protection, electrical safety, confined space work, and hazardous energy controls. The shipyard has also prioritized thorough investigations of employee mishaps and injuries to prevent similar instances in the future.
In addition to addressing those concerns, NNSY has contended with an unprecedented threat in recent months to worker safety and health—COVID-19. Despite the bevy of challenges surrounding that—from reducing personnel available to implement corrective actions to limiting in-person meetings for the safety committees--NNSY’s VPP team has been able to largely stick to its schedule established in late 2019 of implementing improvements and submitting the application.
Safety leaders cited a big reason for VPP progress this year has been the collaborative effort across all levels of the NNSY workforce in committing to a safe work culture. For the past several months, shipyard senior leadership has been engaging NNSY labor leaders as part of a joint commitment to VPP. This is particularly important as employee ownership in ensuring a safer shipyard benefits training, hazard reporting, and ultimately a reduction in injuries and lost workdays. “The way you get answers to the safety issues in your organization is you go to where the work happens, because the employees who do the work are the ones who have the answers,” said VPP Program Manager Brian Olson.
NNSY Safety Manager Jeff Medrano, who has been a leader in the VPP effort, pointed out that while a significant step has been taken on the road to recertification, there must be a continual focus on the way ahead. “Our focus is continual improvement and there are still areas we need to stay on top of, such as machine guarding and preventative maintenance,” he said. “We have to find every opportunity during the workday for what we call ‘taking a minute for VPP,’ helping to keep both our workforce and management engaged and invested in our shipyard’s safety.”
Following submittal of the application, NNSY is preparing for an on-site assessment from OSHA representatives on its commitment to a safe working environment and employee knowledge of VPP. In the meantime, NNSY’s VPP committee, consisting of a cross-section of shipyard employees from various departments, will continue to promote the program and educate the workforce.
“I’d like to commend everyone involved in the ongoing efforts to again make America’s Shipyard a certified VPP Star Site,” said Shipyard Commander Captain Kai Torkelson. “People are at the heart of what we do to accomplish the mission at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. We must personally support each other and invest in efforts like these to ensure our combined safety and health, for us individually and as a team in maximizing readiness.”