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  Happy Birthday VPP!
Happy Birthday VPP!

Happy Birthday VPP!
OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs celebrate 20 years of success in working with companies to promote workplace safety and health.
by Judy Weinberg

workers at General Electric Rail Services in Sayre, PA, celebrate earning VPP Star status in March 2001

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 managementlabor- government cooperation.
That's because, as VPP has grown over the past two decades to include 610 worksites under federal jurisdiction and another 230 sites in VPPs operated by states, these sites have become safer and more healthful places to work. Injury and illness rates at these sites have dropped, and more than ever before, employees and managers are working together to promote workplace safety and health.

"What makes VPP such a success story," according to Cathy Oliver, Chief of OSHA's Division of Voluntary Programs, "is that it represents the positive, proactive side of workplace protection. VPP is not about enforcement. It's about OSHA working side by side with private companies willing to make the commitment and do what it takes to make their workplaces among the safest in the world- not because they have to, but because they want to."

sites that achieve VPP Star status fly their Star flags to proclaim their commitment to workplace safety and health.OSHA Administrator John L. Henshaw takes pride in telling others that he is the first OSHA Assistant Secretary to come from a VPP company-Monsanto, as well as the VPP company it spun off, Solutia. "I deeply appreciate the partnership of VPP," Henshaw told the audience at the 17th annual Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association conference last August. "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." 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?

"Yet 20 years later, it's become obvious that these employers want their companies to be models of workplace safety and health," says Paula White, OSHA's Director of Federal- State Operations, which oversees the agency's cooperative programs. "They have discovered that protecting workers pays off in a lot of ways."

VPP sites report fewer worker fatalities, injuries, and illnesses; lost workday case rates generally 50 percent below industry averages; and lower workers' compensation and other injury- and illness-related costs than before they joined the program.

This Exxon-Mobil worker is among more than 7,300 employees who benefit from high workplace safety and health standards at the company's 17 Star sites. Sites report other, less tangible benefits, too. Brian Bennett, Safety Manager for Star participant Akzo Nobel Polymer Chemicals LLC in Edison, NJ, says the company's labor management relations have improved dramatically since the company joined VPP in 1988. "The most obvious improvement," he says, "has been in the area of safety and health, where both parties have worked together, resulting in a total recordable incident rate 87 percent below the national industry average. Bennett says the company has carried VPP principles forward to other aspects of the business, resulting in more employee participation and involvement in areas such as quality, cost control, manufacturing, and efficiency. "Participation in the VPP has not only improved our safety and health, but also has improved our overall employee morale and made us a more competitive business," he says.

Getting into VPP isn't easy. A site that applies to VPP must submit a written application that addresses 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 for completeness and acceptability, then sends a team of safety and health experts to conduct an extensive onsite evaluation. The team's task is to verify that the safety and health management systems described in the application operate effectively, are appropriate for the site's specific needs, and meet VPP requirements.
VPP sites report fewer worker fatalities, injuries and illnesses.
Staying in VPP is not easy, either. OSHA conducts evaluations at participating 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 are evident in the positive way sites respond to these OSHA team visits.

After undergoing a VPP evaluation last March at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Center, a Star site in Yorktown Height, NY, company managers Carolyn Baresick and Kyle Pero fired off a letter thanking the VPP team for its "professionalism and positive approach." They wrote, "The team that came here really added value with excellent, thought-provoking questions and a strong sense of best practices in the industry. Their recommendations will result in an improved Watson safety program."

Workers at Montenay York Resource Energy Systems in York, PA, a company that converts municipal solid waste to thermal energy, helped their company achieve Star status in December 2001 Participating sites also must cast a critical eye on their safety and health efforts by conducting a self evaluation annually and sending a copy of the report to their OSHA regional office. This evaluation is a careful appraisal of all the elements of the safety and health management system. It must include injury and illness data and trends for both regular site workers and applicable contractors' employees. The evaluation must discuss improvements made, deficiencies identified, and efforts made to correct problems and continually improve. OSHA also asks for worksite success stories that provide useful information the agency can share with other companies.

Despite VPP's rigorous continuing demands, participating sites-once approved-rarely withdraw. Sites that have made the commitment to join say VPP's high standards make it a source of pride among participants. At Alstom Power Inc., Air Preheater Company in Wellsville, NY, the longest continuous Star worksite in VPP, Environmental, Health, and Safety Manager Tom Barnett says this pride "strengthens our focus on safety and health and our dedication to the principles of VPP."
"You demonstrate across a broad array of industries, in business of every size, the value that safety and health add to any operation"
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 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 in the VPP Special Government Employee (SGE) Program. (See box, page 20.) They stand ready to respond when OSHA asks for help, for example, when OSHA invited SGEs to join the teams mobilized after September 11 to oversee the safety of rescue and clean-up workers at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. They promote safety and health management systems as a superior way to protect workers. And they demonstrate that management, labor, and a government regulator can work together productively to achieve common goals.

As VPP moves into its third decade, it is tackling challenges critica 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.
Why, some questioned, would employers want to voluntarily contribute time, personnel, money, expertise, and energy to create workplaces where compliance with OSHA standarts was treated as just a minimum starting point?
The Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX, one of four VPP sites in NASA, earned VPP Star status in 1999. 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."

For more information about VPP, contact the VPP manager at your OSHA regional office or visit the OSHA website at  
Weinberg is a Program Analyst in OSHA's Division of Voluntary Programs, Washington, DC.