Y-12’s commitment to safety shines through new VPP award and Special Government Employee participants

  • Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2022, 10:06 am

Y-12’s Thomas Duncan (left) and Donnie Walker are members of the Special Government Employee program.
Y-12’s Thomas Duncan (left) and Donnie Walker are members of the Special Government Employee program.

Safety plays an important role in daily operations at Y-12 and employees’ commitment to creating a safe workplace is evident. As a result of this long-term focus on safety, Y-12 has once again received the Voluntary Protection Program’s (VPP) Star of Excellence Award from the Department of Energy, which is the VPP program’s highest achievement level.

The VPP promotes safety and health excellence through cooperative efforts among labor, management, and government at DOE contractor sites. Star of Excellence Award winners must achieve injury/illness incidence rates and lost workday injury/illness rates of at least 75% below the Bureau of Labor Statistics national average, meet annual DOE VPP goals, and demonstrate strong involvement in the Voluntary Protection Program’s Participants’ Association, VPP mentoring, and outreach.

“It is such an honor to be recognized by DOE Headquarters,” said Gina Fitzmaurice, Y-12 Safety and Industrial Hygiene technical advisor. “Y-12 works hard to achieve performance excellence, especially in the areas of health and safety. This effort is demonstrated by labor and management throughout the year as evident in our full dedication, total commitment, and employee engagement.”

To participate in the VPP, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo a rigorous on-site evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals. VPP participants are reevaluated every three to five years to remain in the program. But who is in charge of completing the site evaluations? Enter a group of people known as Special Government Employees. Y-12’s Donnie Walker and Thomas Duncan are two of its members.

Special Government Employees
The VPP Special Government Employee Program was established to allow industry employees to work alongside OSHA, particularly during on site evaluations. Not only does this innovative program benefit OSHA by supplementing its on-site evaluation teams, but it gives the government an opportunity to work together and share views and ideas.

SGEs play an important role in safety and the labor management relationship,” explained Fitzmaurice. “Their commitment to excellence is demonstrated by their willingness to take on the additional role as an SGE. The relationships that SGEs develop with the OSHA team are valuable to the industry as a whole and the role they play is vital in providing advice and recommendations for VPP assessments.”

Becoming a VPP SGE is no easy feat, and having two SGEs on staff gives Y-12 a leg up when it comes to safety knowledge. Only qualified volunteers from VPP sites are eligible to participate in the SGE program and must be approved by OSHA. After submitting an application and completing the required training, these volunteers are sworn in as SGEs and are approved to assist OSHA.

As Atomic Trades and Labor Council Health and Safety Representative, Thomas Duncan recently completed the three-day SGE course and is now ready to serve when requested.

“The experience gained from the three-day course provided me with the opportunity to network with other facilities and share safety best practices,” said Duncan. “The knowledge gained will also help improve our safety programs here at the Y-12 site for both the collective bargaining employees and management.”

Donnie Walker, who has been a member of the VPP SGE program since 2015, also values the information he gains through working with others in the safety industry.

SGEs help OSHA fill the need to evaluate existing VPP companies and others who desire to be a part of OSHA's most coveted safety program,” explained Walker, SGE and chief health and safety officer for the International Guards Union of America. “The role offers an abundance of opportunity, such as the experience evaluating other safety programs, collaboration with safety professionals throughout the United States, and insight into other companies’ best practices.”

Walker also serves as an instructor in the SGE program.

“I feel teaching the SGE class has given me a considerable amount of confidence. As a veteran SGE now, I have learned how important collaboration is in the safety industry and now have contacts and friends in the safety business from coast to coast,” said Walker.

It is through programs like the DOE-VPP and SGE that Y-12 shows its commitment to go beyond mere compliance with DOE safety regulations and consistently strive for performance excellence. Employees are Y-12’s greatest asset and creating a work environment that is protective of employee safety and health, while encouraging employee involvement and management commitment, is of upmost importance.

Y-12’s 2022 DOE VPP Star of Excellence award
Y-12’s 2022 DOE VPP Star of Excellence award