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B.J. Penn serves as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment and as Chief of Safety for the Department of the Navy (DON). In this interview, Penn outlines the Navy’s goals and milestones and explains how safety concepts are promoted to Navy leadership and personnel.

Please provide a brief description of your role and responsibilities as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and as Chief of Safety for DON.

As the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations and Environment, I am responsible for formulating policy and procedures for the effective management of Navy and Marine Corps real property, housing and other facilities, environmental protection and safety and occupational health for both military and civilian personnel. I report directly to the Secretary of the Navy, Donald Winter.

I also serve as the Department’s Designated Safety and Health Official (DASHO) to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I provide the executive oversight to DON’s Safety and Occupational Health Program and implement this oversight responsibility through my Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety, Tom Rollow.

I have the responsibility to protect the safety and health of our approximately one million Sailors, Marines and DON civilian employees. I view all of our senior leaders, including the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, as “Safety Chiefs.” Our leaders are responsible for the safety and well-being of our people, our most precious asset.

Please describe the Navy’s current safety and occupational health (SOH) staffing and resources. How are SOH practices maintained and enforced among all Navy personnel, and how does the Navy monitor SOH practices on ships and submarines and in shipyards?

Staffing and resources for the Navy and Marine Corps consist of approximately 1,500 civilian safety professionals assigned to bases in the U.S. and around the world. Ships, aviation squadrons and ground units also have trained uniformed “safety officers” assigned.

The Naval Safety Center ( http://www.safetycenter.navy.mil), augmented by the Marine Corps Safety Division ( http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/sd/index.htm), consists of approximately 255 Navy, Marine Corps and DON civilian personnel who provide tools, analysis, investigative support and policy guidance to the DON safety program.

DON subscribes to the philosophy of integrated safety management where safety is integral with the work. Hence, we consider all of our operators to also be safety staff.

The Navy monitors safety primarily through the use of metrics such as lost workdays, accidents and injuries. We recognize that these are lagging indicators, and we are working to develop leading indicators.

We also have an audit and inspection function performed by the Naval Inspector General, Marine Corps Inspector General and Board of Inspection and Survey. The first two inspect Navy and Marine Corps shore sites, and the latter inspects Navy ships and submarines.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Naval Safety Center performs “assist” visits to various commands to identify areas that can be improved. Lastly, DON recognizes top safety performers each year at the annual safety awards ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, DC (see http://www.safetycenter.navy.mil/awards/default.htm).

How does the Navy maintain and enforce SOH practices among the many civilians who work in DON?

The Navy and Marine Corps use a variety of Navy, Marine Corps and Department of Defense (DoD) policy requirements, instructions and guidance documents, in addition to OSHA requirements, to provide the backbone of our safety and health practices.

Safety and health practices are enforced in the same manner for our military and civilian personnel. Our commanders aboard ships, on shore installations and in ground and aviation units are responsible for the safety and health of their employees. They do this by using the skills of their safety and occupational health professionals to guide them.

In his fiscal year 2006 Strategic Planning Guidance, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld established a new goal to reduce FY 2002 baseline mishap rates by 75% by the end of FY 2008. Your goal for DON is zero mishaps. How is the Navy working with current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, as well as with Chief of Naval Operations Michael Mullen and Commandant of the Marine Corps James Conway, to achieve this goal? By how much have mishap rates been reduced thus far?

Safety and the reduction of mishaps is one of the Navy’s top five objectives for 2007 as mandated by Secretary Winter, Admiral Mullen and General Conway. Our goal is zero mishaps—zero accidents, zero fatalities and zero loss of equipment. Many of our ships, bases, commands and aviation squadrons meet this goal. Overall, we are aiming for a 75% reduction of our FY 2002 mishap rates by FY 2008.

While a number of our department-wide mishap rate reductions lag behind the Secretary of Defense’s 75% mishap reduction goals, we have made dramatic improvements in a number of areas. Of the 23 Navy and Marine Corps safety performance metrics we track on a daily basis, 18 show improving trends in FY 2007. As of April 13, 2007, DON is having the best mishap reduction year ever for Total Class A Operational Mishaps, Aviation Class A Flight Mishaps and Off-Duty Recreational Fatalities (Class A mishaps involve a fatality or a loss of equipment in excess of one million dollars). These significant achievements represent impressive progress in meeting the Secretary of Defense’s 75% mishap reduction goals by the end of FY 2008.

DON was one of only two departments/agencies to exceed the Presidential Safety, Health and Return to Employment (SHARE) Goals in FY 2006. What helped to accomplish this?

I believe there are three reasons for our success in the SHARE initiative. First, we value clear safety policies, which are regularly updated to reflect best practices, along with oversight by our Navy and Marine Corps Inspector General offices.

Second, our Naval Sea Systems Command was the first to embrace the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and to obtain Star status at three of our four shipyards, reducing their mishap rates by over 50%. This success has inspired DoD and the other services to also aim for VPP Star status.

Third, Secretary Winter issued a Naval Strategic Plan, which is implemented through the Navy Executive Safety Board and the Marine Corps Executive Safety Board. Within this construct, many important safety teams solve problems across the Navy and Marine Corps rather than solve problems only at the local level.

You believe that building a safety culture depends on the following three concepts:

  • Transformational and courageous leadership
  • Genuine and credible concern for shipmates
  • Strategic planning to sustain long-term safety improvement

How do you promote these concepts to Navy leadership and personnel?

Secretary Winter, Admiral Mullen and General Conway have identified safety and significant mishap rate reduction as one of five DON objectives for FY 2007. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Safety Rollow and his staff actively participate on both the Navy and the Marine Corps Executive Safety Boards.

The Boards meet regularly, are comprised of the top Admirals and Generals in each service and are chaired by the Vice Chief of Naval Operations and the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, respectively. Secretary Winter has also promulgated the first ever Naval Safety Strategy, and both Navy and Marine Corps are executing individual plans of action and milestones to achieve that strategy.

What methods does the Navy use to measure and control risk?

DON uses a safety management model called Operational Risk Management (ORM) to evaluate and control risk. ORM is a decision-making tool used by people at all levels to increase operational effectiveness by anticipating hazards and reducing the potential for loss, thereby increasing the probability of a successful mission.

ORM is a closed-loop process of identifying and controlling hazards. It follows a five-step sequence, is applied on one of three levels depending on the situation and is guided by four principles. Applying the ORM process will reduce mishaps, lower injury and property damage costs, provide for more effective use of resources, improve training realism and effectiveness and improve readiness. The five steps in the process include:

  • Identifying hazards
  • Assessing hazards
  • Making risk decisions
  • Implementing controls
  • Supervising actions

The four principles of applying ORM include:

Accept risk when the benefit outweighs the risk

Accept no unnecessary risk

Anticipate and manage risks by planning

Make risk decisions at the right level

What do you consider to be the greatest safety challenge facing the Navy this year, and how will you address it?

Our greatest safety challenge is keeping our Sailors and Marines safe on our nation’s highways. Last year, we lost 144 Sailors and Marines in traffic mishaps. It is tragic to lose a service member to enemy action, but it is even more devastating when they are killed in a preventable accident or in a Private Motor Vehicle (PMV) mishap when off-duty. We are actually doing better than the national average for our age group. But this is not good enough—Sailors and Marines can do better.

We have many new initiatives that are or will soon be in place, which will help us better identify those Sailors and Marines at greatest risk for being in a PMV mishap and will help them, their shipmates and their Commanding Officers take more timely action to intervene when necessary. Alcohol abuse, not wearing a seatbelt, speed and fatigue continue to be primary contributors to fatal mishaps on the highway. There are often leading indicators to these mishaps, and individual Sailors and Marines, along with their leaders, need better tools to help them identify and correct high-risk behavior before the mishap occurs.

Does DON endorse OSHA’s VPP?

DON is heavily involved in OSHA’s VPP. Currently, we have four Star sites and one Merit site. Three of our four naval shipyards, our largest industrial activities, are Star sites, and our fourth shipyard is currently going through the OSHA VPP onsite assessment process. Another Star site is a submarine base, and our current Merit site is a naval weapons station. We are proud of the fact that the Navy has four Star site designations out of six across the entire DoD. We are participating in the DoD VPP Center of Excellence initiative, in which we currently have over 30 activities across the Navy and Marine Corps at some phase in the VPP process.

Does the Navy incorporate voluntary consensus standards, such as ANSI or ASTM standards, into its safety, health and environment (SH&E) practices? Why or why not?

Yes, DON uses consensus standards in our safety and occupational health practices. We use various consensus standards, such as ACGIH, NFPA, ASTM, etc., when we feel that they may provide better protection than existing OSHA or DoD standards or when there is no applicable regulatory safety standard for a specific hazard. Navy and Marine Corps policy documents specify which consensus standards take precedence.

In what ways does the Navy work with OSHA to reduce injuries and accidents among Navy personnel?

DON works closely with OSHA in many respects. As previously stated, we are heavily involved in the OSHA VPP initiative. We believe it makes very good sense to partner with OSHA since we are after the same goal, preventing injuries.

We also work closely with OSHA during the development of new standards and guidelines, especially those involving the maritime industry. The Navy is a member of the Maritime Advisory Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (MACOSH), which advises the Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health on issues related to the delivery of occupational safety and health programs, policies and standards in maritime industries across the U.S.

What is the Navy’s view of safety investment? Is DON actively designing safe weapons platforms, aircrafts, ships, etc?

We recognize that investment in safety design pays big dividends. To assist Navy acquisition designers, the Naval Safety Center has developed an acquisition safety website to focus on the top hazard areas of concern. An executive summary of this website is available at http://www.safetycenter.navy.mil/acquisition/executive_overview/Acquisition_Safety_Executive_Overview.pdf.

The Navy also recognizes that system safety is critical for acquisition program managers to successfully meet objectives for total lifecycle systems management. System safety, as defined in the Standard Practice for System Safety (MIL-STD-882D), is the DoD’s systems engineering methodology for identifying SH&E hazards, eliminating hazards or mitigating risks to an acceptable level and accepting residual risk at the appropriate level.

DON works closely with our Military Service and DoD counterparts in the Defense Safety Oversight Council and its Acquisition Technology Programs Taskforce to develop new policies and to implement initiatives to reduce preventable accidents through identification of safety requirements early in program development and then having program managers address high and serious risk at program reviews.

For example, the Navy was the first service to develop a formal acquisition for the Military Flight Operations Quality Assurance (MFOQA) program. This program downloads recorded aircraft and flight crew performance information for automated analysis and immediate playback for maintenance, operations, safety and training purposes. MFOQA will soon provide us with the capability to use this data after every flight to prevent the mishap, rather than waiting until a mishap occurs to access the same flight data recorder information.

What are the Navy’s safety goals and plans for 2007? How will they be measured?

Secretary Winter, the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps identified safety and significant mishap rate reduction as one of their top five objectives for both FY 2006 and again for FY 2007. Each month, I brief Dr. Winter on our progress in meeting the individual safety objectives on a monthly basis. During these monthly briefings, we drill down into our data and safety metrics. The Secretary is interested in identifying those commands or regions that need additional assistance in meeting their goals and in identifying common best practices from those commands doing well.

We understand that aircraft carrier flight deck noise exposures are among the worst in the world. To date, even with a better understanding of what constitutes hearing loss, hearing loss remains the number one Veterans Administration disability. What is DON doing to combat this problem?

The Navy, teaming primarily with the Army and Air Force, champions several breakthrough hearing protection devices aimed at dramatically reducing noise exposures relative to the existing technology in use. Examples include:

  • Custom earplugs, which are constructed from an impression of the individual’s ear canal, can provide up to 42 decibels (db) of noise attenuation relative to existing earplugs that only provide up to 30 db of attenuation when worn correctly.
  • Active noise reduction (ANR) and noise-canceling earplugs can provide a total of 47 db noise reduction.
  • A newly designed flight deck cranial helmet that will provide clearer/enhanced communications while providing up to 50 db of noise reduction. The dramatically improved new cranial will be available for DON-wide implementation beginning in 2010.

Over the longer term, we are looking at technology to reduce noise on our ships, in our aircraft and associated with our weapons systems. If we design in noise-quieting features up front, then we do not have to depend on personal hearing protection.

Do you have any final comments?

The Navy and Marine Corps work environment has always been a high-hazard area, whether on the deck of an aircraft carrier during flight operations or in the rigors of an amphibious assault. Yet, the actions of commercial companies with world-class safety records have shown us that even the most severe hazards can be managed safely. That is where DON is going—world-class safety performance.


B.J. Penn was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Installations and Environment) on March 1, 2005. In this position, Penn is responsible for formulating policy and procedures for the effective management of Navy and Marine Corps real property, housing, and other facilities, environmental protection ashore and afloat, occupational health for both military and civilian personnel and timely completion of closures and realignments of installations under base closure laws.

Penn began his career as a Naval Aviator. He amassed over 6,500 flight hours in 16 different types of aircraft. He was EA-6B Pilot of the Year in 1972. Significant leadership assignments include Executive Officer/Commanding Officer VAQ 33, Battalion Officer at the U.S. Naval Academy (including Officer-in-Charge of the Plebe Detail for the class of 1983), Air Officer in USS America, Special Assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations, Commanding Officer of NAS North Island, CA and Deputy Director of the Navy Office of Technology Transfer and Security Assistance.

Penn joined the Sector staff of Loral Federal Systems in 1995 as Director, International Business. Primary assignments involved airborne Electronic Warfare and Defensive Electronic Counter Measure Systems. When Lockheed Martin acquired Loral, he was assigned to the corporate staff to develop markets in Central and Eastern Europe.

In 1998, he transferred to Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems working Advanced Programs. In this capacity, he supported development of the Interoperability CONOPS for JSF, technology refreshment for the F-16 and development of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Autonomous Undersea Vehicle efforts and C4ISR initiatives.

Prior to becoming the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (I&E), Penn was the Director, Industrial Base Assessments, from October 2001 to March 2005. In this position, he was responsible for the overall health of the U.S. Defense industrial base, the Department’s policies and plans to ensure existing and future industrial capabilities can meet the Defense missions, guidelines and procedures for maintaining, enhancing and transforming the Defense industrial base, industrial base impact assessments of acquisition strategies of key programs, supplier base considerations and offshore production.

Penn is a native of Peru, IN. He holds a bachelor of science degree from Purdue University and a master of science degree from George Washington University, Washington, D.C. He also holds certificates in aerospace safety from the University of Southern California and in national security for senior officials from the Kennedy School at Harvard University.