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Safe and sound
By Ann Coppola, News Reporter
Published: 03/24/2008

Safejail The classroom safety monitor is traditionally one of the jobs most coveted by elementary school students. They get all the glory with little responsibility, while the other kids are assigned to washing chalkboards or the dreaded task of putting up chairs at the end of the day. A safe working environment, though, requires a lot of responsibility, and thankfully, it now comes with some recognition too.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) is the gold standard of workplace safety. To get into the program, workplaces must submit a written safety and health plan to OSHA. If selected, OSHA sends a team of safety and health experts to each site for a rigorous evaluation before deciding on a participant. Since 1982, OSHA has accepted 1,376 VPP sites. The exemplary worksites come in all forms: textile mills, hotels, lumber yards, farms, and schools.

Even with the wide range of industries represented, correctional facilities didn’t make it onto the list until 2002. Lunenberg Correctional Center is the first ever and currently one of only two VPP prisons in the country. The Virginia facility’s list of credentials also includes accreditation from the American Correctional Association and the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. In other words, Lunenberg is a lean, green, safety machine.

“We take a very thorough, proactive approach to safety,” says Delbert Garret, Lunenberg’s institutional safety specialist. “We have a safety committee that meets monthly and a safety suggestions program that we incorporate into our daily operations. We don’t just say ‘be safe,’ to people.”

The level-two, medium-security dormitory institution employs 300, with 266 on site. The VPP Star status, which it earned in 2002, recognizes exemplary worksites with comprehensive, successful safety and health management systems.

“The Star certification is one of the highest honors that OSHA will distribute,” says Garrett. “It gives us recognition in the community for our productivity, and our morale definitely increases. The whole goal is to avoid an accident.”

Lunenberg has had more than its share of success on that front. Since 1995, it has experienced 77 percent fewer dollars spent in lost workday compensation than similar correctional facilities. For Warden Carole Wallace, this is one of the most valuable reasons for participating in the vigorous safety program.

“The loss of work day factor is huge for us because we’re not budgeted for any workman’s comp time,” Wallace explains. “If an employee is out due to an accident you’re simply going to be out that productivity. If you can ensure your institution is a safe one, you are confident you’ll have your people here to do the work, rather than at home for having gotten hurt.”

The facility takes a highly organized and comprehensive approach to keeping its employees safe. It performs a safety analysis on every job duty performed, and builds safety precaution measures into each job task.

“For example, in food service, we would assess how to safely start up and clean a griddle and food slicer,” Garrett explains. “We do an analysis for vehicle operations, anything you can think of. We organize the analysis for one job into three categories. We list the tasks for each job, the hazards that occur, and then the corrective actions to take to avoid accidents.”

“It can be as basic as don’t leave a desk drawer open,” Wallace adds. “When we’re washing floors we have to make sure we have the proper wet floor signs up. We make sure you use hearing protection if you’re running a lawn mower, and gloves when you’re using certain chemicals. Each employee knows clearly what’s expected. If they don’t follow them then there can be a way to go back and see what wasn’t done. Rather than just saying to them, ‘be safe,’ these assessments are very specific and very measurable.”

Lunenberg is proud to spread the word about its success, but it also has a obligation to do so.

“Part of the responsibility of any Star site is to be proactive and let other folks know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Wallace says.

The Star status isn’t Lunenberg’s only standards achievement. In 2005, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and Excellence accepted it into the Virginia Environmental Excellence Program. Lunenberg earned high marks for its environmental policy statement, which stresses pollution prevention.

“We just believe it’s important for us to utilize tax dollars wisely,” Wallace says. “It is indeed a public trust we want to run, and one of the department’s main goals is efficient and effective management.”

That approach is what keeps Lunenberg at the head of the safety class.

Related Resources:

Quick facts on VPP

More on OSHA


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