TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
The 76th Commodities Maintenance Group is the first among the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex Organizations to begin recertification for their Voluntary Protection Program “Star” status. Awarded for the first time in 2015 following a successful 2014 audit, the 76th CMXG maintained a high level of readiness for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s return.
OSHA performs in-depth audits and inspections every three to five years with a team comprised of approximately seven people, and will audit the 76th CMXG Jan. 22 through Jan. 26. The 76th Propulsion Maintenance Group is scheduled for an audit May 14 through May 17, 76th Maintenance Support Group June 4 through June 7, and 76th Combined Wing Staff Group will receive their initial certification audit Feb. 27 through March 1.
The coveted “Star” status is the Department of Labor’s highest honor for exceptional workplace safety programs. Protecting the organizations most valuable resource – its people – the purpose in conducting regular inspections is to ensure that a safe operating environment is priority. With thousands of workplace hazards, it is important to educate the workforce and ensure a positive awareness to prevent anyone from getting hurt.
The 76th CMXG achieved something in 2015 that not all companies on the outside world have, according to John Sherrick, Group Steering Committee representative.
“In the nature of sheet metal mechanics, being the first group to receive “Star” status certification was huge. We worked very hard to achieve “Star” status, and have worked very hard to maintain it,” Sherrick said. “Our injuries and illnesses are now less than half of the industry standard.”
Part of earning the top status is having injuries and illnesses on a downward trend, Integrated Design Team management representative Rick Meese added. Being able to improve those numbers has allowed CMXG to qualify for recertification.
In a group of approximately 2,025 employees, having a significant decrease in injuries and illness is huge. The change did not occur overnight, but rather took going back to the drawing board and performing surveys and continuous process improvement events to identify problem areas.
Through a Group Steering Committee, where two to three members serve per squadron, an injury trend analysis was performed to identify the root cause of specific injuries. The Safety and Quality offices create injury reports as well, which provide trend analysis and historical data.
“We were able to determine the root of many injuries by the trends discovered,” Sherrick said. “Everything from time of day, shop, employee’s age, type of injury – everything. If an employee was injured while working overtime, for example, it could be that their injury was a result of not being fully awake or alert. If a certain shop kept experiencing trips or slips, it could be that we need to reevaluate the tripping hazards in that area.”
Through these analyses, the IDT came to the conclusion that workforce communication and education on safety needed to improve. Ensuring that all employees were briefed on proper protocol was No. 1. Instilling a culture of “being a good wingman” and checking in with coworkers was also an important change.
Joseph Milton, union representative for the 551st Commodities Maintenance Support Squadron, explained the advancement in the CMXG culture was due in large part to continuous impound efforts and job safety analyses, but he emphasized the employees are the true driving force.
“This whole process is a grassroots movement, handling things at the lowest level. Employees correct it if they see or experience something hazardous. It’s a bottom-up program that is driven by the employees, and encouraged by leadership.”
“The major benefit that comes from an employee-driven program is that it provides a boost in morale,” IDT representative Johna Lewis added. Empowerment among employees makes them feel like work matters and their opinions and ideas are valued.
The 76th CMXG are housed in Bldg. 9001, Bldg. 3001 and in 12 other buildings across Tinker Air Force Base. Throughout the group, the most common injury the sheet metal mechanics experience is lacerations, with sprains and strains following close behind.
Through partnerships and agreements with the union and management, employees are able to identify blind spots, tripping hazards and strenuous lifting which help determine preventative measures or solutions. Whether it’s installing stop signs or doing stretches and calisthenics to warm up prior to lifting or installing parts, employees are better prepared for a successful day working toward completing the mission.
“When I arrived in 2015, we were probably 80 percent reactive and 20 percent proactive,” Meese said. “Now, I would say that statistic has reversed and we are 80 percent proactive, which is something to be proud of in a short period of time.”
One example, Milton said, was the purchase of cut-resistant gloves which was finally achieved this year after a couple of years in work. Another root cause analysis helped the team determine lacerations were at the forefront of the injury list. This analysis pointed the team toward purchasing Maxicut protective gloves.
Sheet metal mechanics and maintainers require great movement, flexibility and dexterity to perform their jobs, so being able to provide proper gear with greater durability and longevity was another CMXG accomplishment. The higher quality glove meets the minimum cut level III requirement, versus previously procured cut level I gloves. “We are smarter in using our money. Though we spend more on average for one pair of gloves now, we were going through gloves after four to seven days of use. Our new gloves can last up to eight or nine months without rips or tears. So we’ve actually become more cost efficient,” Milton said.
CMXG management, unions and employees have worked tirelessly to implement the highest possible workplace health and safety practices through VPP. An arduous process, the weeklong audit includes informal and formal interviews with 10 percent of their employees, on-site target inspections and safety management reviews.
“OSHA is looking at our safety and health programs. They focus on the way we train our employees and the knowledge employees have of our programs and procedures,” Meese explained. “They will examine our processes thoroughly, how we respond to injuries and how well we mitigate concerns.”
When the OSHA team arrives, there are no “off-limit” areas during the inspection. Fire extinguishers, eyewash stations, electrical plugs, outlets, ports, and hoses will all be looked at for functionality in their respective locations. On the administrative side, supervisors review safety books making sure every evacuation plan, form and code is up to date.
Following the audit, OSHA will have 90 days to determine whether or not the 76th CMXG will earn its recertification “Star” status.
“No shop is completely perfect, so naturally there will be things OSHA finds,” Sherrick said, “but it is important that we are aware and show them that we are responding to the issue or concern. How quickly we fix the findings is definitely a factor in the evaluation.”
CMXG and MXSG have defined safety “Tiger” teams to be standing by to correct any errors or hazards – another example of proactive improvement since the last on-site audit.
“Our biggest goal to improve upon since our last audit was communication and education,” Lewis added. “Not only have we done that, but we’ve also progressed in other areas across the board. We want others in our path to be aware of the upcoming inspections, but we’re confident in the strides we’ve made to earn our recertification.”