HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Seven years of taking a careful look at its safety and health programs paid off Oct. 20, when the 309th Electronics Maintenance Group received recognition as a Voluntary Protection Program Star site.
The group’s 690-plus employees gathered in Centennial Park to receive a flag and a plaque — and lots of praise for achieving Star status, the highest level a unit can receive in VPP.
“Today is your day,” noted Brig. Gen. Steven Bleymaier, Ogden ALC commander. “The three tenets we rely on in everything we do are speed, safety and quality. Safety is the key pillar, and you have made it a priority. You have ensured the safety of every team member on the job. And committing to a safe culture has led you on an incredible path.”
By following the VPP standards, the 309 EMXG has reduced injuries by 97 percent since 2012. The unit had 34 injuries in 2012, compared with four in 2014, and only one reportable injury so far this year.
“Teamwork, accountability, respect, transparency, credibility and engagement — you all exemplify these key characteristics,” the general said. “The AFSC leadership model is about creating the environment for success and how we want the workforce and the entire team to operate. You have demonstrated dedication, a way of changing behavior in a positive way that results in a culture of safety. And you changed a mindset. VPP works when leadership embraces it and every member of the team embraces it.”
Brad Baptiste, regional VPP manager from the Denver Department of Labor office, echoed this sentiment, noting that the 309 EMXG’s “world-class best practices” impressed the VPP evaluation team when it visited in June.
Using the examples of two men who overcame adversity to become a leader and “capture the flag,” and a third who was destined for a better life, only to die because of lax safety procedures at his job, Baptiste praised the group as a place that gives safety a priority.
“When you come to a place like the 309th, you can be confident the people are safe and cared about, and they care for one another,” Baptiste said. “And that is why you deserve a flag and a plaque.
“When you come to work each day and see these VPP flags around your worksite, I hope you know how privileged you are, how fortunate you are to work for a place that gives you the authority and responsibility to stop work, to take time to protect yourselves and to protect your co-workers.”
Leonard Litton, Director of Personnel Risk Reduction for the Office of the Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness at the Pentagon, said that the 309 EMXG is now one of only 54 Star sites in the Department of Defense.
“This is an exemplary work site that has exceeded requirements on all levels,” Litton said. “It is one of only 2,400 Star sites in the country — a percentage of only .003. This sends a huge message to Hill Air Force Base and to the entire Air Force and the entire DoD that the 309th gets it. And they care.”
Also speaking were two other major supporters of the VPP effort — Dr. David Hansen, 309th EMXG director, and Monty Lewis, President of American Federal of Government Employees Local 1592.
EMXG is the first organization on Hill AFB to achieve Star status, as well as the first Department of Defense installation to do so in OSHA Region 8, which includes Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and North and South Dakota.
The award recognizes the outstanding safety and health programs within the 523rd, 524th and 526th Electronics Maintenance Squadrons, and the EMXG business, engineering and quality offices.