Safety and OSHA News

Report: OSHA doesn’t have sufficient controls over Voluntary Protection Program

A report by the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) questions whether OSHA has sufficient controls for the selection, re-evaluation and monitoring of participating companies in the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).

The VPP was launched in 1982 to establish cooperative relationships with businesses and their employees to help prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses. VPP companies are exempt from OSHA inspections that target companies with injury rates that are higher than their industry’s average.

The OIG issued five findings, critical of program oversight:

  • Participants with injury and illness rates higher than industry averages remain in VPP for up to six years.
  • Participants with serious violations of safety and health standards remained in VPP.
  • Participants weren’t evaluated in a timely manner.
  • OSHA didn’t maintain reliable data for applicants and participants. OSHA used 11 different databases to monitor VPP companies (one national and ten regional). There were conflicting stats for how many companies were in the program: National data showed 1,820 participants, regional showed 1,779, and OIG’s own count was 1,834.
  • Reported program success in reducing injury and illness rates wasn’t based on reliable data.

The OIG made seven recommendations regarding OIG, and OSHA has responded to each:

  1. Re-evaluate the policy of allowing worksites with high injury and illness rates to stay in VPP for up to 6 years. Response: OSHA believes it evaluated this policy in 2003 but will re-evaluate it as recommended.
  2. Use one database for VPP. Reponse: OSHA agrees that it would be good to reconcile the national and regional VPP databases and it will pursue steps to improve data reliability.
  3. Monitor implementation of OSHA’s recent memorandum to ensure sites with fatalities and enforcement action (violations and fines) are addressed consistently and in a timely manner. Response: OSHA agreed with the recommendation. Earlier this year, OSHA issued a new directive that laid out what will happen when a death or serious injuries occur at VPP sites.
  4. Analyze inspection information for continuous improvement of VPP. Response: OSHA agrees with this recommendation, but it will likely take some time to decide how best to address it.
  5. Monitor whether sites with higher than industry average injury and illness rates are consistently and timely addressed within VPP. Response: OSHA has taken steps to address this recommendation but agrees that additional controls should be implemented.
  6. Ensure participants are evaluated in a timely manner for continuing eligibility in VPP. Response: OSHA agrees and will continue to refine its process.
  7. Ensure reliable injury and illness data are used to report VPP successes. Response: OSHA agrees and will continue to work with its regional offices to improve the process for collecting injury and illness data.

A previous investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found issues with the VPP similar to the OIG report.

What do you think about the findings in the OIG report? Let us know in the comments below.

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