VPPPA Best Practices: A Case Study of Safety Leadership at Every Level
By: Jessica L. Richardson, CSP, CIT, Professional and Organizational Advancement Manager, BCSP
Clinton Wolfley, CSP, CHST, STSC, Safety Systems and Services Manager, UCOR-AECOM
J.A. Rodriguez, CSP, ASP, SGE, VPPPA Chairperson
The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association, Inc. (VPPPA) - The Premier Global Safety and Health Organization™, is the leading organization dedicated to cooperative occupational safety, health, and environmental management systems. VPPPA, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charitable organization, is a member-based association providing a network of more than 2,300 companies and worksites that have achieved, or are striving for, occupational safety and health excellence—including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) or the Department of Energy's (DOE) Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).
VPPPA Best Practices
VPPPA members drive continuous improvement by developing and sharing best practices. These practices begin and end with worker involvement. Workforce buy-in is the magic behind the sustainability and superior performance of any protective safety management system. VPPPA best practices include:
- A focus on learning from injuries and events
- A focus on worker involvement programs designed to encourage participation and ownership
- A focus on process changes, rather than worker discipline, for reports of injuries
- Innovation sharing across industries
- Mentoring programs for organizations looking to take their performance to the next level
- Use of the VPPPA Body of Knowledge phone app, which offers workers a ready reference on a variety of topics and regulatory structures
Accredited Certifications: STS and STSC
Maintaining and sustaining an organizational culture of safety in the workplace can be more challenging than implementing one. To achieve safety success, the supervisor role must include building relationships with workers, which strengthens the organization’s commitment to safe operations (Carrillo, 2010). Through safety education and training, supervisors become equipped to make risk-based decisions in the field, reducing errors and building credibility within the organization. Supervisors who place a high value on safety achieve greater levels of safety compliance from their workers than do supervisors who are perceived to place a low value on safety (Kapp, 2012).
The Board of Certified Safety Professionals (BCSP) offers Safety Trained Supervisor® (STS®) and Safety Trained Supervisor Construction® (STSC®) certifications, intended for leaders at all levels, as all workers have the responsibility for contributing to a safe working environment. The STS and STSC are intended for executives, directors, managers, supervisors, superintendents, and workers. These individuals may not have safety as their primary job duty, but their knowledge of safety practices ensures safer and healthier worksites, and their competency strengthens the foundation of safety in the organization (BCSP, 2019). BCSP’s Safety Continuum graphic positions the STS and STSC certifications at the center of sustaining an effective safety culture, with leaders at every level earning professional certifications.
The best organizations are built upon supervisors who are qualified, experienced, and trained. The STS and STSC set standard baseline knowledge across the organization. These certifications are accredited through the ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024 standard for personnel certification programs, which is the yardstick for acceptance of a certification by many federal, state, and local agencies. Supervisors who achieve the STS and STSC certifications may experience increased self-image, a sense of accomplishment, an enhanced technical confidence level, and the opportunity to compete for leadership opportunities (Greer, 2012).
UCOR Case Study
It is notable that nearly two-thirds of all STSCs in the state of Tennessee are sponsored by UCOR. UCOR has sponsored the attainment of 273 STSC certifications since 2012.
UCOR: Safety is at the Forefront
UCOR is an AECOM-led partnership with Jacobs under contract with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to clean up areas within DOE’s Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Reservation. Since beginning its contract on August 1, 2011, UCOR has built an exemplary safety culture, which embraces the principal tenets of the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP)—Management Leadership, Worker Engagement, Work Site Analysis, Hazard Prevention, and Control and Safety and Health Training.
UCOR was awarded VPP Star status in 2015. Subsequently, the company received the VPP Star of Excellence—the highest level of recognition awarded by the program—and was re-certified as a VPP Star site in 2019.
As its top-level safety designations attest, safety is at the forefront of every UCOR activity—whether it is demolishing aging hazardous nuclear facilities, operating environmental facilities that are well beyond their design life, managing thousands of tons of low-level nuclear waste, or reclaiming contaminated land for economic development purposes. Protecting workers, the public, and the environment is UCOR’s highest priority.
UCOR’s commitment to safety starts at the top with the CEO and every level of senior management and extends to each of the company’s 1,900 workers regardless of position, length of service, or job assignment. UCOR management demonstrates commitment to leadership through a variety of means, including:
- An open-door policy to all workers
- Provision of safety and health-related personnel, programs, materials, equipment, and supplies
- Field presence and interaction through monthly walk downs
- The Voluntary Protection Program
- A safety-conscious work environment
- Establishment of teams to pursue excellence such as the Electrical Safety Excellence Team
- Support of Local Safety Improvement Teams (LSITs)
- Questioning Attitude Recognition Program (QARP)
- Conservative decision making
- Monthly Stewards meeting
- Monthly Safety Advocate meeting
- President’s Accident Prevention Council
Worker engagement is a central tenet of UCOR’s robust safety culture and is the foundation upon which the company’s exemplary record of success is built. Worker engagement is demonstrated daily through comprehensive training programs, involvement in work package development, and the uncompromising ability to stop work without retribution when a safety concern arises. In its quest for safety and operational excellence, and with full management support, UCOR workers and subcontractors embrace these objectives:
- Strive to eliminate all injuries, illnesses, and adverse impacts to the environment
- Promote environment, safety, and health as a constant value in training, designing planning, and executing work
- Enhance worker awareness an involvement to spread ownership for environment, safety, and health throughout the workforce
- Demonstrate that UCOR is dedicated to safety excellence thorough continuous improvements
While many of UCOR’s safety policies and practices are prescribed and apply equally to everyone, workers also have the opportunity to take their personal commitment to the next level through voluntary professional certifications.
Workers are encouraged to obtain professional credentials offered by various industry groups, including BCSP. Those who wish to pursue BCSP’s STSC certification, for example, are given paid time off to study for the certification. This is yet another way worker engagement plays a key role in establishing and maintaining an exemplary safety culture.
The program requires applicants to meet minimum education and experience requirements and demonstrate knowledge of basic health and safety standards and practices through a rigorous examination process. Companies that employ STS and STSCs generally experience a decrease in accidents, incidents, and injuries, a greater participation in safety programs, and improvements in productivity and quality. Successful candidates are recognized in company publications, social media posts, and internal TV information monitors.
UCOR workers who complete these courses bring their advanced knowledge to the workplace each day, along with a heightened sense of pride for having earned a valuable industry credential that will serve them well now and in the future. Recipients report increased confidence in carrying out their daily tasks. They also appreciate the respect this certification engenders among safety-conscious coworkers. It is an individual achievement that benefits the entire organization—a personal reinforcement of UCOR’s core value that safety is always paramount on every job.
The desire to be recognized as an STSC is contagious within the UCOR workforce. Building on coworker success, the number of successful candidates grows each year, not only improving the individual worker’s value to the organization, but also strengthening the commitment to safety of the entire workforce. It is notable that nearly two-thirds of all STSCs in the state of Tennessee are sponsored by UCOR. UCOR has sponsored the attainment of 273 STSC certifications since 2012.
Credentialed UCOR workers help spread the word about the value of professional certification. During the latest VPPPA national conference, UCOR provided presentations on topics including, “Safety Trained Supervisors Certifications: STS and STSC” and “Safety Culture Training for Front Line Leaders.” In addition, Michelle Keever, a UCOR safety manager, was recognized by BCSP as the first individual to qualify for the STSC Award of Excellence since the award’s inception in 2011.
Building on its success, UCOR’s emphasis on professional development and technical excellence continues to grow. In the spring of 2018, UCOR supervisors joined candidates across the country in taking an extensive examination in pursuit of a new BCSP certification— the Safety Management Specialist® (SMS®). Four UCOR workers obtained this certification demonstrating the management and safety skills needed to assure safe operations. Exam topics included defining and utilizing the organization’s safety management systems, risk management, incident investigation, and emergency preparedness. The certification also confirms knowledge of safety, health, and environmental concepts and regulations and identifying the business case for safety.
In 2019, industrial hygienist technicians demonstrated their occupational safety and health knowledge and skills by taking BCSP’s Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician® (OHST®) certification exam. The exam consists of questions related to worksite assessment, hazard control, loss prevention, and disaster planning. It also addressed emergency response, professional responsibility, and other health and safety topics.
Undergirding the Safety Culture
In one sense, UCOR management views professional certifications as a critical part of the undergirding of its robust safety culture. Just as rows of steel rebar reinforce a concrete structure, so too do UCOR’s qualified STSCs reinforce the safety culture willingly embraced by nearly 1,900 workers. The voluntary commitment of these credentialed experts goes above what is required. It helps make the safety culture even stronger, more enduring, and less susceptible to failure due to complacency or lack of situational awareness.
Professional certifications are also viewed as part of being Mission Ready. To bolster safety awareness among the workforce, UCOR management launched a Mission Ready program in 2019. This new 12-month program is designed to help all UCOR workers understand when unsafe challenges may compromise their ability to perform their duties safely for the day.
The Mission Ready initiative underscores UCOR’s belief that all accidents are preventable. The goal is to reduce injuries and illnesses on the job to zero. To do that, every person must be physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to do what needs to be done. Those who aren’t are asked to voice their concerns, with the understanding that supervisors will seek an alternative task for that worker.
To be Mission Ready physically, workers are required to be able-bodied, acclimated, properly nourished, hydrated, and stretched. For proper mental and emotional readiness, workers should be focused, managing stress, mindful, and trained.
UCOR recognizes that ensuring a safe work environment is a never-ending challenge—one that requires constant vigilance and continuous improvement. As the future unfolds, UCOR personnel will continue to examine and emphasize the personal need for each individual to demonstrate caring for their own safety and the safety of their coworkers. The UCOR team remains engaged, prepared, and committed to a culture of excellence that will ensure a safe and strong finish to the end of the cleanup contract.
VPPPA, UCOR, and BCSP recognize that worker involvement and ownership are paramount to safety performance success. Organizations that sponsor STS and STSC certifications for workers at all levels have a distinct advantage in safety performance, as workers have the competence and confidence to take ownership of the risk-based decisions being made in the field. UCOR empowers workers on the front line by investing in BCSP’s STS and STSC certifications, a best practice in attaining the VPP Star of Excellence and maintaining VPP Star status.
Board of Certified Safety Professionals (2019). STSC. Retrieved from: http://bcsp.org/STSC
Carillo, R. (2010). Positive Safety Culture: How to Create, Lead and Maintain. Professional Safety, 55(5), 47-54.
Greer, E. (2012). Want to Improve Construction Safety? Invest in Supervisor Credentials. Industrial Safety & Hygiene News, Vol. 46(5), 60-62.
Kapp, E.A. (2012). The Influence of Supervisor Leadership Practices and Perceived Group Safety Climate on Worker Safety Performance. Safety Science, Vol. 50 (4), 1119-1124.