A Journey Well Traveled, Reaching For A Star

The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) recognize employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. In VPP, management, labor, and OSHA work cooperatively and proactively to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a system focused on: hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and management commitment and worker involvement. To participate, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals. Union support is required for applicants represented by a bargaining unit. VPP participants are re-evaluated every three to five years to remain in the programs. VPP participants are exempt from OSHA programmed inspections while they maintain their VPP status.

What is VPP?

The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) promote effective worksite-based safety and health. In the VPP, management, labor, and OSHA establish cooperative relationships at workplaces that have implemented a comprehensive safety and health management system. Approval into VPP is OSHA’s official recognition of the outstanding efforts of employers and employees who have achieved exemplary occupational safety and health.

What Is the Authority for VPP?

The legislative underpinning for VPP is Section (2)(b)(1) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, which declares the Congress’s intent “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources by encouraging employers and employees in their efforts to reduce the number of occupational safety and health hazards at their places of employment, and to stimulate employers and employees to institute new and to perfect existing programs for providing safe and healthful working conditions.”

How Does VPP Work?

In practice, VPP sets performance-based criteria for a managed safety and health system, invites sites to apply, and then assesses applicants against these criteria. OSHA’s verification includes an application review and a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of OSHA safety and health experts.

OSHA approves qualified sites to one of three programs:

Star: Recognition for employers and employees who demonstrate exemplary achievement in the prevention and control of occupational safety and health hazards the development, implementation and continuous improvement of their safety and health management system.

Merit: Recognition for employers and employees who have developed and implemented good safety and health management systems but who must take additional steps to reach Star quality
Demonstration: Recognition for employers and employees who operate effective safety and health management systems that differ from current VPP requirements. This program enables OSHA to test the efficacy of different approaches.

When Did VPP Begin?

1979 – California began experimental program
1982 – OSHA formally announced the VPP and approved the first site.
1998 – Federal worksites became eligible for VPP.

How Has VPP Improved Worker Safety & Health?

Statistical evidence for VPP’s success is impressive. The average VPP worksite has a Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) case rate of 52% below the average for its industry. These sites typically do not start out with such low rates. Reductions in injuries and illnesses begin when the site commits to the VPP approach to safety and health management and the challenging VPP application process.

How Does VPP Benefit Employers?

Fewer injuries and illnesses mean greater profits as workers’ compensation premiums and other costs plummet. Entire industries benefit as VPP sites evolve into models of excellence and influence practices industry-wide.

How Does VPP Benefit OSHA?

OSHA gains a corps of ambassadors enthusiastically spreading the message of safety and health system management. These partners also provide OSHA with valuable input and augment its limited resources.

Another benefit to OSHA is a safety and health advocacy group that came into existence as a result of the VPP, the Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association (VPPPA). The VPPPA is a nonprofit organization founded in 1985. As part of its efforts to share the benefits of cooperative programs, the VPPPA works closely with OSHA and State Plan States in the development and implementation of cooperative programs. The VPPPA also provides expertise to these groups in the form of comments and stakeholder feedback on agency rulemaking and policies. Additionally, the Association provides comments and testimony to members of Congress regarding legislative bills on health and safety issues.

What Are Some Unique VPP Innovations?

Special Government Employees: Particularly noteworthy is the OSHA Special Government Employees Program (SGE) created in 1994. The SGE Program offers private and public sector safety and health professionals and other qualified participants the opportunity to exchange ideas, gain new perspectives, and grow professionally while serving as full-fledged team members on OSHA’s VPP onsite evaluations.

Where We Came From

Written By Union Safety Representative, Billy Chapman

In the beginning we worked in a facility where the “Mission” took precedence over quality, cost, and safety. Our only objective was to support the War Fighter by returning product to the fleet on time. We fulfilled our obligation by working excessive amounts of overtime to meet the schedules. The end results were always the same, we made the schedule but at a cost, we accumulated a large number of injuries to the production work force.

Then we went through a transition period where “Mission and Quality” were synonymous but cost and safety were not as highly regarded in this phase of growth. Quality became a target because quality issues became rework issues which affected scheduling, and this affected the mission.

During this time countless hours of overtime were being worked and we were still having many injuries. Finally, we came to the stage with the most change and the one with the most added value, cost. Political protocol mandated smaller operating budgets which affected every facet of the business. There was a root cause analysis performed for quality, training, tooling, housekeeping, safety…etc.

At this time the VPP program was adopted and put into practice and has proven to be of added value. Shortly thereafter the 5s +1 program was implemented and we began working as a group to improve safety. We all worked diligently to achieve the Bronze certification and it happened. We were then asked to participate further to reach the goals for the silver certification, and once again we were victorious. It was at this time that management recognized a change in culture and that we were working hard together to achieve each and every goal put before us. We were then asked to work hard towards the gold certification. Through hard work and diligence this was also accomplished.

Then there was the OHSA partnership VPP Declaration of Commitment September 2017, we worked towards a partnership with OHSA and achieved this also. Management signed a two-year contract with Federal OSHA making this the first time that OSHA has partnered with another federal entity. We have met with every challenge put before us and we have achieved our goals. Management was equally impressed with our achievements and has promised 24M dollars for safety to be used over the next two years for improvements enterprise wide.

Where Are We Now?

Our goals have been met, we have achieved Gold Certification and now we are working hard to maintain this status. We achieved our goals with the 5s +1 program. The 5s portion removed unnecessary materials, tools, and organized what was necessary, and ultimately cleaned our work place. The +1 portion of the program identified unsafe conditions within our safe sites, prioritized the issues via a RAC and systematically made the repairs possible. This must also be sustained to keep moving forward, to achieve our primary goal. Our greatest goal, that out ways them all, is the change in culture that we will have to achieve. Without this we would not achieve any of our goals. Therefore, this achievement must be sustained and grow if we are to be successful.


Where Are We Going?

Star certification is what we have been working for and what we must achieve, and through sustainment we will reach this goal. To achieve Star Certification the facility must be OSHA compliant and this means participation from all employees.

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