Reaffirming Star Status

April 29, 2021

VPP Star status denotes an exemplary worksite with comprehensive, successful safety and health management systems.

Employees at the Fort Martin Power Station are working to recertify their status within the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA’s) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). VPP status recognizes sites where management and labor have implemented effective safety and health management systems. Sites granted the highest recognition – VPP Star status – are acknowledged for strong focus on hazard prevention and control, worksite analysis, training and cooperation between management and workers.

“As a VPP Star site, we’re expected to maintain injury and illness rates below our industry average, and to work continuously on improving our performance,” said Fort Martin Plant Director Dan Coldren.

Fort Martin began its journey to VPP Star status in 1999. Following rigorous evaluation by safety and health professionals, the site received the recognition in 2003.

“VPP participants are re-evaluated every three to five years to remain in the program,” said Senior Safety Representative Andrew Pozun. “It’s an extensive process. We began doing self-audits in October.”

Master Mechanic Christian Dubbs (l.) and Process Supervisor Paul Yankulic work to get equipment tagged out for maintenance. Demonstrating efforts to continually improve safety processes is an important element in VPP recertification.

Two OSHA inspectors arrived on site March 24 for a preliminary inspection tour. Master Mechanic Brian Swartz and Power Plant Operator Ryan Earle acted as liaisons to the inspectors.

“They toured the entire station, stopping at each section so we could explain our processes and how we eliminate exposure,” said Brian, who chairs the site Safety Committee.

A new area of emphasis is the evaluation of a site’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We told the inspectors about our FE hotline for reporting suspected and confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, reviewed our sanitization stations, and explained how employees work in small dedicated groups known as pods,” Andrew said. “They were impressed by FirstEnergy’s use of a separate time code for COVID-19 – and how we encourage employees to stay home if they feel ill.”

The OSHA team also learned about Fort Martin’s employee engagement efforts, including the Fort Safety behavior-based safety program and the site Safety Committee.

“The men and women who work here are proud of the fact that Fort Martin is at the forefront of safety,” said Master Mechanic Jaison Gall, who chairs the plant’s VPP Committee. “There are only 1,300  VPP sites in the country, and just 17 are in West Virginia. VPP recognition is very special to us. Our team works hard every day to exemplify what Star status is all about, and to continually improve safety.”

OSHA will now appoint an inspection team to visit the plant in June. Composed largely of representatives of other VPP sites, the team will spend three days conducting an in-depth assessment, including thorough facility tours and interviews with a significant number of employees.

“Recertification is an arduous process, but nothing worth having comes easily,” Andrew noted. “Fort Martin has a strong commitment to safety – thanks to great people and solid leadership.”

Employee commitment and involvement in safety is crucial to maintaining VPP certification. Members of the Fort Safety employee safety team – shown in front of the plant – are key drivers of that effort. The photo was taken prior to the implementation of COVID-19 health and safety precautions.