The Y‑12 National Security Complex now flies the VPP Star flag after a ceremony held Tuesday morning, June 5. The flag signifies Y‑12’s recent achievement of DOE-VPP Star status, a significant safety and health validation, and it will fly over the site’s New Hope Center.
Issued by the U.S. Department of Energy, the DOE Voluntary Protection Plan (VPP) flag was presented to Y‑12 by Dan Hoag, NNSA acting site manager. “Achieving DOE-VPP Star status is a significant achievement for B&W Y‑12,” Hoag said. “It is a symbol of excellence in the pursuit of health and safety. VPP represents a strong commitment by Y‑12 employees, the unions and management to continually strive for a safe workplace.”
B&W Y‑12 President and General Manager Darrel Kohlhorst, B&W Y‑12 Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager of Operations Bill Klemm, and Atomic Trades and Labor Council President Steve Jones accepted the flag.
Congressman Chuck Fleischmann, who represents the third congressional district of Tennessee, spoke at the ceremony. “Being recognized as a DOE-VPP site shows that there is a team atmosphere among workers. Labor and management are looking out for one another and providing a safe work environment. By becoming a DOE-VPP Star site, you are showing your dedication for the safety and security of our nation,” Fleischmann said.
DOE-VPP encourages and recognizes excellence in occupational safety and health protection and closely mirrors the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) VPP. Available to all contractors and subcontractors in the DOE complex, DOE-VPP outlines areas in which participants can surpass compliance with DOE orders and OSHA standards. Currently 28 entities across the United States hold DOE-VPP Star status.
Y‑12 — supported by the Atomic Trades and Labor Council, Knoxville Building and Construction Trades Council, and United Steelworkers — began its official pursuit of Star status in January 2011. Within 15 months, it received good news. During an onsite April 10–19 closeout session of the DOE-VPP assessment team, lead Brad Davy announced the team’s recommendation of Y‑12 for the status. He added that DOE would be forwarding a Star Certificate of Achievement and a DOE-VPP flag. “VPP is an outstanding program, and I wasn’t surprised how quickly we were able to demonstrate our safety culture and the philosophy of looking out for each other. We are a family,” Kohlhorst said.
Y‑12 has implemented a variety of safety programs over the years since B&W was awarded the contract in 2000. VPP reflects a different approach to safety and emphasizes how workers must think about each other. While previous plans might have focused more on individual safety, VPP takes into account the ripple effect of risk — how one worker’s behavior can affect the lives of others and the lives of their loved ones. The mindset is based on zero tolerance for injuries.
According to B&W Y‑12 Senior Vice President and Deputy General Manager of Operations Bill Klemm, “VPP is the standard for safety.”
Klemm likens the significance of the VPP safety standard to that of the International Organization for Standardization 9000 and 14000 series of standards for quality and environment, respectively. “If a company is certified in these standards, then customers of those companies know that they need not go inspect the company’s processes in those areas. Potential employees of companies who have VPP certification know that the company will value them as human beings and will not use them and throw them away at the end of the day.”
Klemm, a retired U.S. Navy admiral, came to Y‑12 in September 2006. Dedicated to pursuit of VPP standards while in the Navy, Klemm fostered and embraced Y‑12’s pursuit of VPP Star status. He and Mike Thompson, Atomic Trades and Labor Council Vice President, presented a VPP Road Show to the entire site at 32 different venues and times leading up to the review period. They served as co-champions of the VPP champions committee.
While VPP benefits the work force immediately, it also benefits the company in the long run.
Thompson reflected, “As a facility, when we raise the safety standard, we make ourselves more marketable when we compete for work. VPP Star status increases job opportunities because people want to bring work to Y‑12.”
Achieving Star status is just the beginning. Y‑12 will conduct self-assessments annually, and the status is subject to removal. “It is a great day for Y‑12. Now the real work begins,” Atomic Trades and Labor Council President Steve Jones said. “We must demonstrate our commitment to safety 24/7.”