• Information Date
  • Presented To
    Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association
  • Speaker(s)
    Edwin G. Foulke Jr.
  • Status
Archive Notice - OSHA Archive

NOTICE: This is an OSHA Archive Document, and may no longer represent OSHA Policy. It is presented here as historical content, for research and review purposes only.

Remarks prepared for delivery
by Edwin G. Foulke, Jr.
Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association
22nd Annual National Conference
Orlando, Florida
Monday, August 28, 2006


Thank-you, ladies and gentlemen, for your warm welcome, and thank-you Davis Layne, for inviting me to this great conference.

I am honored to speak with you today as you begin your 22nd Annual National Conference - especially during this, the 35th anniversary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

The film we just viewed shows dramatically how workplaces - and OSHA - have changed over the past 35 years. The VPPPA has been part of that change, and I am particularly happy to share with you my thoughts about our Voluntary Protection Programs.

VPP fits perfectly into my vision for OSHA. Because I am new to the Assistant Secretary of Labor's job, you may be wondering where I plan to take OSHA. Let me be very clear: To end fatalities, injuries and illnesses on the job, I believe there is nothing more effective than prevention.

And if prevention is the key, what better way to achieve this goal than VPP?

Last month I participated in a Star ceremony at the Titleist golf ball facility in New Bedford, Massachusetts. What an eye-opener - or should I say "heart-opener"? Seeing how all the Titleist employees put their hearts and minds into protecting one another, it is clear that VPP is a program to cheer about!

Well, nobody is going to cheer louder, longer, or harder than the man you see right here!

Here is another reason to cheer - and I am not making this up when I say: VPP not only saves lives, it may save jobs.

In June, at your Region I conference, the governor of Vermont, James Douglas, said programs like VPP are helping to keep jobs in his state.

I bet some of you are here today for much the same reason - because VPP has made your companies more competitive.

I have some other exciting news: Some of you may have heard that Texas City, Texas, has officially recognized the value of VPP. In June of this year, the commissioners announced a 20 percent tax abatement to every industrial entity that achieves and maintains VPP. Texas City's mayor, Matthew Doyle, said this tax benefit is "a small price to pay for a safer community." Needless to say, we at OSHA agree.

We have been looking for ways to quantify, in dollars and cents, the true value of VPP. We all know how many VPP companies experience dramatic savings in their workers' compensation expenses. We are working on program changes that will allow us, for the first time, to capture data to prove this point. With your help, I know we can collect this vital information and make an even stronger business case for VPP.

We also know, of course, that VPP's impact cannot be measured in only dollars and cents. Three years ago the Department of Labor contracted the Gallup Organization to evaluate the programs. I encourage you to check out the report on our website.

Here is one example of what the report contains: Gallup conservatively estimates that 529,000 employees were affected in some way by VPP mentors in 2004. More than half a million people! That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call impact - and the thanks goes to each and every one of you.

With your hard work, we now stand at nearly 1,600 approved sites, and nearly one-third are State Plan VPPs. Every one of these sites has the capacity to mentor other worksites, provide valuable input to OSHA, and bring immeasurable value to their communities. We want to share your successes with the entire VPP family and the larger public.

The question remains: What lies ahead for VPP? Where should we focus our energies to get the greatest impact? After all, we want smart growth. There are still industries operating with no substantial VPP presence. One of these, as you know, is construction.

Unlike traditional VPP, the construction industry has a mobile workforce and faces ever-changing hazards. These present unique challenges.

I know you have been both excited and concerned about making VPP more available to the construction industry. Some of you have asked, "How can we include construction companies without compromising the programs' rigorous standards?"

I appreciate your loyalty. Let me tell you: We are not going to compromise the integrity and quality of these programs. Still, fear of change is an insufficient reason to avoid progress. In the middle of one of the greatest building booms in our nation's history, construction employees need VPP.

You know OSHA always moves cautiously with changes. This time will be no different. We are going to expand VPP in a careful, incremental way, paying attention to your concerns as well as the construction industry's needs.

Since 1998, our Star Demonstration Programs, focusing on short-term construction and mobile workforces, showed that it is feasible to provide outstanding employee protection within the construction industry. Therefore, effective October 1, I have directed OSHA to implement a nationwide VPP Mobile Workforce Demonstration for Construction, built on these successes.

In the days and months ahead, we will have a lot more to say about this. For now, let me tell you about some other things going on in VPP.

Our two pilots, OSHA Challenge and VPP Corporate, continue to grow and show positive results.

As you know, OSHA Challenge is for companies that want a detailed roadmap to attain VPP recognition. Two Challenge graduates have already gone on to achieve Star. I am pleased to recognize:

  • C. R. Meyers and Sons, a general contractor in Wisconsin, and
  • Garber Brothers, a concrete placement subcontractor in Ohio.
I understand that a third Challenge graduate, Rex Electric Inc. & Technologies, is preparing to submit its application.

An important result from the programs is that employers who have been in Challenge's Construction Track for more than one year have cut their Total Case Incidence Rates by one third!

OSHA Challenge is an effective new cooperative program. I ask each of you to encourage your contractors and other small businesses in your community to check it out and see how they can benefit.

In VPP Corporate, the count is up to six participants: Our VPP Corporate Pilot recently welcomed Dow Chemical and Washington Group International. They join Georgia Pacific, International Paper, and the United States Postal Service as pilot participants.

I am also pleased to announce that I have approved General Electric to join our Corporate family.

Early indications are that companies going through the streamlined corporate application process see a time savings of up to 50 percent. At the same time, OSHA's resource expenditures are down 40 percent.

As more corporations make commitments to VPP, I expect our Corporate Pilot to play a major role in program expansion.

When OSHA created its Strategic Partnership Program back in 1998, we expected that some partnerships would be stepping stones to VPP. Sure enough, this has happened.

As a result of partnerships with the private sector - Koch Industries, for example - and with federal agencies, VPP is growing. In fact, after considering a host of programs for safety and health, Secretary Rumsfeld chose VPP for the Department of Defense. The Department even created a VPP Center of Excellence.

Another federal department, the U.S. Postal Service, boasted two VPP sites in 2001, and today it is approaching 80 sites. To celebrate, the Postal Service created a number of postal cancellations. Clearly, the agency is telling the country that it is committed to VPP. Imagine this: If all goes well, perhaps one day we may see a VPP postage stamp!

I am very proud, of course, that OSHA not only administers VPP, but now can say that we have three of our own Star sites - our Columbus, Ohio; Appleton, Wisconsin; and Madison, Wisconsin area offices.

I am also proud to report that we just completed the onsite review for OSHA's Chicago North Area Office, and I am looking forward to reviewing the team report.

By the way, I am told the SGEs who evaluate OSHA really enjoy turning the tables on us. Apparently, there is no shortage of SGEs volunteering to evaluate OSHA!

Of course, I want to see VPP continue to grow in ways that significantly improve the American economy. A powerful way to accomplish this is to bring more Fortune 500 companies into the fold. These companies help shape their industries and their communities. They raise standards and transform lives. This is the power of VPP.

Currently, we have 76 Fortune 500 VPP participants; 28 are among the Fortune 100. Impressive? Yes, it is. Good enough? No, it is not. Therefore, I am challenging OSHA to reach out to more Fortune 500 candidates.

The story of VPP is incomplete without a chapter on the Special Government Employee Program. I do not know how the agency would conduct so many onsite visits without your help. For the current fiscal year, we have SGEs participating on 90 percent of all evaluations. Your enthusiasm and support for this program is overwhelming.

Beyond the monetary value, SGEs bring their professionalism, expertise, and priceless industry perspective to our teams. We learn as much from you as you learn from us.

So, to show our appreciation, last year OSHA instituted its SGE of the Year Award.

It is now my pleasure to announce the winners in each Region. Would each of you please join me on the stage:

Region I: Joel Plante - Pratt & Whitney
Region II: Brian Bennett - Basell USA
Region III: Jeff Wetzel - Rohm and Haas
Region IV: Sonny Weeks - Arkema
Region V: Ron Mauermann - Georgia Pacific
Region VI: Charles Gibson - United Space Alliance
Region VII: Mike Pendergrass - Superior Industries
Region VIII: Kelli Heflin - Scott's Liquid Gold
Region IX: Robert Hafner - Rohm and Haas
Region X: Bonnie Anderson - CH2M-HILL at the Idaho National Laboratory

The VPP Regional Managers and National Office staff carefully reviewed the accomplishments of these nominees. Their contributions make each of them a winner. But there is only one SGE of the Year. Now, I am delighted to announce the 2006 SGE of the year. The winner is Brian Bennett from Basell USA, in Edison, New Jersey. Congratulations Brian!

Newcomers are always an important part of any program, and especially in VPP. Newcomers play a vital role. Your willingness to get involved, try things for the first time, and bring us new skills - these qualities are priceless. We want to recognize and congratulate you. So, all of you who have achieved VPP within the past year - would you please stand up? Let us welcome them with a well-deserved round of applause.

I invite you to join us Thursday at the conference closing for a showing of a special video, shot in Region VI, that captures the VPP spirit. OSHA's Region I has also produced an excellent video for New England. Our next step will be to produce a video that looks at VPP nationwide.

All of you in this room today know a lot about protecting employees. Earlier, I said that I need your help to build a business case for VPP. Here is what you can do:
  • First, tell me about your successes.
    -- Did you save a life by implementing a VPP principle? Tell OSHA.
    -- Did you uncover a serious hazard and find a way to prevent or control it? Tell OSHA.
    -- Did your workers' compensation premium go down? Please, tell OSHA!

  • One more thing: We need your support for the programs. Be a mentor or an OSHA Challenge Administrator. Your industry and your community will be better for it.

  • Become a Special Government Employee. As VPP grows, our need for SGEs grows.

  • Continue to be a leader and agent for change in occupational safety and health.
Together, we can keep America working.

The value of OSHA's partnership with this Association is special. Your National Board of Directors with Mike Maddox at the helm, the members of your Regional Boards, and your Executive Director Davis Layne (an alumni of the OSHA family) are truly safety and health leaders.

Now I want to recognize one more leader from your Association. You all know him: Buddy Elmore. Buddy has carried the union perspective to VPP for 15 years at both the region and national level. Now he is retiring from Huntsman Corporation. If ever there was a reason to change VPP's rules to allow retirees to continue to volunteer in this program, then Buddy is it. He is the face of partnership. I speak for all of OSHA when I say "thank-you, Buddy, for your service to VPP and to our nation's working men and women." Buddy, would you please stand and let us give you a round of applause?

Now that I have shared with you my commitment for the VPP, provided you a few program updates, and recognized some of the programs' stars, let me leave you with my most important message:

Never forget how valuable your work is. Yours is a special calling. You save lives every day. You are the people who have worked so hard to transform your workplaces into models of safety and health. You are the source of the programs' success. The story of VPP is your story.

Thank-you for inviting me. Thank-you for your service to VPP and to our great nation.

Have a wonderful conference!