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VPP Celebrates 20 Years!
|From Assistant Secretary John L. Henshaw... "Happy birthday, VPP! You model excellence for everyone, no matter where they are on the ladder. You demonstrate across a broad array of industries, in businesses of every size, the value that safety and health add to any operation."|
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), OSHA's premier recognition program for worksites that do an excellent job of protecting their employees. What started as a novel concept in the early 1980s-establishing a program that encourages companies to voluntarily go above and beyond their legal obligations to protect their workers' safety and health-has evolved into a glowing success story about management-labor-government cooperation.
That's because, as VPP has grown during the past 2 decades to include more than 600 federal and 200 additional state-operated VPP's, these sites have become safer and more healthful places to work. Injury and illness rates have dropped, and more than ever before, employees and managers are working together to promote workplace safety and health.
When OSHA first announced VPP in 1982, however, the program had its share of skeptics. Why, some questioned, would employers want to voluntarily contribute time, personnel, money, expertise, and energy to create workplaces where compliance with OSHA standards was treated as just a minimum starting point? And who would voluntarily open themselves up to regular OSHA visits? As it turns out, many. And the results are impressive. VPP sites report fewer worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses. Lost-workday case rates are generally 50 percent below industry averages. Sites also report lower workers' compensation and other injury- and illness-related costs than before joining the program.
Getting into VPP isn't easy. A site that applies to the VPP must submit a written application addressing the major elements of the program: management leadership and meaningful employee involvement in safety and health at the site; analysis of worksite hazards; hazard prevention and control; and management and employee safety and health training. OSHA evaluates the site's application and, if judged complete and acceptable, sends a team of safety and health experts to conduct an extensive onsite review. The team's task is to verify that the safety and health management systems described in the application are appropriately tailored to the site's individual needs and operating effectively, and that they meet VPP requirements.
Staying in VPP isn't easy, either. OSHA conducts re-approval evaluations at the sites on a regular basis, every 12 to 18 months for Demonstration participants, every 18 to 24 months for Merit, and every 2-1/2 to 5 years for Star. The trust and cooperation that are hallmarks of the relationship between OSHA and its VPP partners can be seen in the positive way sites respond to these OSHA team visits. Participants must also cast a critical eye on their safety and health efforts by conducting an annual self-evaluation and sharing the results with their Regional OSHA office each February. This evaluation carefully appraises all the elements of the safety and health management system and includes injury and illness data and trends for both regular site workers and applicable contractors' employees. The evaluation must note improvements made, deficiencies identified, and actions taken by the worksite to correct problems and continually improve worksite safety and health. OSHA also asks worksites to submit success stories so that useful information can be shared with other companies.
Despite the rigorous continuing demands of VPP, participating sites, once approved, rarely withdraw. Sites that have made the commitment to join testify that VPP's high standards make it a source of pride among participants.
VPP sites become full-fledged partners in OSHA's mission to protect America's workers. They voluntarily share their expertise and experiences, not just with OSHA, but also with their communities and other businesses via outreach activities, including a mentoring program available to any worksite that requests assistance. They generously share their human resources with OSHA by participating in the VPP Special Government Employee (SGE) Program. They are ready to respond when OSHA asks for help, for example, when OSHA invited VPP SGEs to join the teams mobilized to oversee the safety of rescue and clean-up workers at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon after September 11. They articulately promote safety and health management systems as a superior way to protect workers. And they demonstrate that management, labor, and a government regulator can profitably work together to achieve common goals.
As VPP moves into its third decade, it is tackling challenges critical to America's businesses, such as an increasingly diverse workforce, health and safety problems associated with an aging worker population, new hazards emerging at highly technological workplaces and the need to help small businesses survive and succeed.
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, speaking at the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association national conference last August, said, "Finding solutions for the 21st century workforce will require new ways of thinking. And the Department must be guided by common sense, not just a reflexive, one-size-fits-all approach to every situation. That is why the VPP is so important. From large multinational companies to small, single site, family-run businesses, VPP's flexible, performance-based approach can benefit all eligible employers."If you think your workplace has what it takes to be one of the best, contact the VPP Manager at your OSHA Regional Office. You can find more information on VPP and OSHA's other cooperative programs at the agency's website, www.osha.gov.