Two men performing mechanical work inside aircraft

Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) aircraft mechanics Brian Hagopian, left, and Jonathan McAlonan, right, perform maintenance on a CH-53E Super Stallion at the depot. FRCE recently received the 2023 Chief of Naval Operations Shore Safety Award in the Large Industrial Activity category for the third time due to its commitment to safety and occupational health excellence. The depot’s safety culture, which strictly enforces the use of proper personal protective equipment, was a contributing factor to the win.

CNO selects FRCE to receive Shore Safety Award for the third time

A commitment to safety and occupational health excellence has earned Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) the 2023 Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Shore Safety Award in the Large Industrial Activity category.

The annual CNO Shore Safety Awards recognize commands with the best overall safety programs that emphasize risk management and mishap prevention, and are considered the top safety award within the Navy. In a message to the fleet, the Chief of Naval Operations Rear Adm. Christopher Engdahl noted the winning commands excelled in the implementation of the Navy’s Safety Management System, achieved high-velocity learning, reduced mishaps and costs, and promoted a strong safety culture. This is FRCE’s third time receiving the award.

FRCE Compliance and Quality Department Head Amy Morgan said the continuous improvement of safety standards, coupled with a proactive stance on risk management, are what set the depot apart from the competition.

“FRC East has successfully established a positive, risk management-based safety culture embraced by everyone in the depot, with the common goal of providing and maintaining a safe, healthy and productive work environment,” said Morgan. “We have worked diligently to transform the depot’s safety culture into the success that it is today, and we can see its success in the numbers. Back in 2002, we had 835 OSHA recordable injuries and illnesses. Now, we only see about 30 injuries per year.”

According to Morgan, the command has introduced several safety initiatives over the past two decades, all of which have played a pivotal role in earning the depot this prestigious award.

In 2004, the depot adopted the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series 18001, known as the internationally accepted standard for occupational health and safety management systems. FRCE has since transitioned to the International Organization for Standardization 45001 certification, an updated occupational health and safety standardization program.

The command subsequently adopted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP), which focuses on preventing fatalities, injuries and illnesses through a system of hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and management commitment and worker involvement. In 2019, The United States Department of Labor recognized the depot as an VPP Star Site, making FRCE the first naval aviation command to reach that level. VPP is a federal program recognizing employers and workers in private industry and government agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems. The depot attained VPP Star recertification in 2023.

Morgan said the depot’s investment in VPP has proven to be a very beneficial tool in terms of workplace safety.

“VPP is about education, but it’s also an investment in your facility to limit risks and make it as good as it can be,” said Morgan. “With VPP, you correct everything within the facility to the VPP standard, which goes beyond what OSHA requires to make a facility safe.”

In addition to VPP participation and the implementation of safety management systems, Safety and Occupational Health Division Director Angelo Owens said FRCE provides accelerated safety training for its workforce and strictly enforces a policy requiring all personnel to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in industrial areas.

“The command has made the OSHA-10 course a requirement for all supervisors,” said Owens. “Our safety team has a handful of safety professionals who are certified OSHA trainers that offer the workforce a realistic, relevant, technically accurate means to try and minimize risk throughout the facility. This is a very important, but also large undertaking as we have 10 safety specialists to inform, educate and manage over 4,000 people in over 100 buildings.

“We have multiple fall protection protocols to protect those who are working at heights greater than four feet,” Owens continued. “We have a respiratory protection program to protect individuals from inhaling dangerous materials. A majority of the depot’s workforce is required to wear safety footwear to minimize workplace injuries and slips. We also require bump caps and protective gloves. These items work together to protect our workforce and mitigate risk.”

According to Owens, successfully protecting employees in the workplace plays an essential role in providing capable and quality aircraft to the warfighter.

“By reducing the number of injuries annually, we simultaneously decrease lost work days, giving the depot more manpower to work with,” said Owens. “The more manpower we have, the faster we can return aircraft to operational readiness and return them to the Fleet. We have reduced lost work days due to injuries by 81 percent since 2021 –that’s a lot more manpower put towards aircraft maintenance.”

With a workforce of more than 4,000 highly trained military and civilian personnel, establishing and enforcing a culture of safety within the depot is crucial, according to Commanding Officer Capt. James Belmont.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by the Chief of Naval Operations for our depot’s safety efforts,” said FRCE Belmont. “Winning the Shore Safety Award emphasizes the quality of our safety management systems and is a testament to the dedication and hard work of everyone at the depot.

“FRC East enforces strict compliance for safe operations, a proactive safety climate and the professional development of its workforce,” Belmont continued. “We take pride in our commitment to excellence and our efforts to maintain a world-class safety management system and culture.”

For more than eight decades, the depot’s mission has been to provide superior maintenance, repair and overhaul support for Navy and Marine Corps aviation weapons platforms, repairing more than 60 aircraft, 65 engines and 11,000 components annually. Executive Officer Capt. Randy Berti emphasized that the nature of the work conducted at FRCE requires the command to place special emphasis on safety within all aspects of daily operations.

“FRC East is a highly industrialized aviation facility with many potentially hazardous processes performed daily, making safety extremely important,” said Berti. “Having the right safety precautions and standards in place helps us keep our most valuable asset safe: our workforce.”

These successes have also earned the depot recognition from organizations ranging from the Department of Defense (DoD) to the North Carolina Department of Labor, in addition to the CNO.

In 2022, FRCE was acknowledged by the DoD as the best of the best in terms of safety and occupational health with the Safety and Occupational Health Management System Achievement Award. The award honors commands and individuals that have demonstrated exceptional performance in the implementation and sustainment of a safety management health system that aligns with DoD goals and objectives.

The North Carolina Department of Labor Safety Awards Program has recognized the command with seven consecutive Gold Awards and numerous Million Hour awards. The Million Hour Safety Awards are given each time an organization accumulates 1 million employee hours with no injuries or illnesses involving days away from work.

Morgan said while FRCE has earned an impressive safety record, the depot remains focused on protecting its employees and maintaining an aggressive safety posture.

“I’m very proud of this facility and our team for achieving this award,” said Morgan. “But our journey of safety in the workplace will never be over. Our goal is to have zero injuries in the workplace. Although that may be hard to accomplish, or seem impossible, we will continue to work toward that goal every day to keep everyone safe.”

FRCE is North Carolina's largest maintenance, repair, overhaul and technical services provider, with more than 4,000 civilian, military and contract workers. Its annual revenue exceeds $1 billion. The depot provides service to the fleet while functioning as an integral part of the greater U.S. Navy; Naval Air Systems Command; and Commander, Fleet Readiness Centers.

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