It may soon become more challenging for companies to qualify for a program that honors what are said to be the nation’s safest workplaces. Another possibility: OSHA could have more reasons to kick companies out of the program.
A recent iWatch News investigation brought to light that since 2000, at least 80 workers have died at sites that qualified for OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Companies in the program gain exemption from programmed OSHA inspections.
Now, an OSHA task force report has finally seen the light of day, despite being completed last fall. The report, linked to on the Public Integrity.org website, includes several recommendations for improving the VPP. OSHA’s Jordan Barab is quoted on the site, saying the report is “a valuable road map” and that “in general, we agree with most of the findings.”
Among the recommendations:
- Explore discontinuing the Corporate VPP Program that allows large companies to use a streamlined application and onsite evaluation processes
- Discontinue the VPP Merit program for companies that need additional improvement to reach Star status
- Consider implementing a requirement that participants conduct recordkeeping audits on a regular basis
- Allow regional OSHA administrators to propose removing a company from VPP when the official believes employees’ safety and health are seriously endangered
- Immediately terminate companies from VPP that are found to be in violation of federal whistleblower regulations
- Develop a process after a work-related fatality or significant OSHA enforcement activity to place a company in an “Inactive” status pending completion of an investigation
- Explore the feasibility of “graduating” (retiring) companies from the VPP program after they’ve been in it for some period of time or require them to pay a fee after several years
- Clarify the types of safety incentive programs (those that encourage workers to skip reporting injuries) that disqualify a company from VPP, and
- Revisit how the Process Safety Management portion of the onsite evaluation is handled.
The report recommends not changing one aspect of the program: Companies would still be exempt from programmed inspections.
Earlier this year, the Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General said it would also take a look at the effectiveness of the VPP. OIG’s key questions: Is the VPP criteria clearly defined and applied consistently? Are participants reevaluated consistently?
What do you think about the proposed changes in the VPP? What do you think about the continued exemption to programmed inspections? Let us know in the comments below.