Speech given by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health Jordan Barab at the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants' Association Annual Meeting, August 24, 2015.

Thank you for welcoming me once again to the annual VPPPA conference. I always appreciate the positive energy that I find here. This gathering is a great opportunity for exchanging ideas and strategies with fellow participants. It's also a chance for those of us at OSHA to express our appreciation and gratitude for all that you do to keep workers safe and healthy.

I carry greetings from Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and from Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels, who sends his regrets for not being able to be with you today. Both are huge supporters of the VPP program, as am I.

I am here today to offer you our support, but also to speak frankly - as I have in the past - about the challenges we have faced and continue to face.

Above and beyond

You are the companies that go above and beyond basic OSHA requirements and strive to create a culture of safety. This is what you all do so well and what qualified you for membership in the VPP program. It is important that your stories are told because they show that it is possible to do the right thing and still run a thriving business.

Day after day, your actions become living proof that maintaining a safe workplace is not only a moral imperative, it's also good for the long-term bottom line.

That is why OSHA created the Voluntary Protection Program over 30 years ago and why we are committed to maintaining it. But we need your help in order to ensure a sustainable and meaningful future.

I'd like to spend a little more time on those two key words - sustainable and meaningful - because they must be at the heart of our ongoing dialog.

When I arrived at OSHA in the Spring of 2009, I was faced with two major challenges with VPP. First, it was clear that we were entering a time of shrinking resources where OSHA, like all government agencies, would be tasked with finding ways to do more with less.

Within that reality, we are continuously looking for creative ways to balance many competing and worthy needs,

  • from developing new standards that reflect the modern workplace,
  • to developing innovative enforcement policies,
  • assisting small businesses with compliance, and
  • supporting worthy programs like VPP.

For VPP, the resource issue was a special challenge because of the rapid growth of the program during the previous several years that made the program difficult to maintain.

The second challenge we faced was with the integrity of the program.

With the rapid growth of the program, we found it challenging to keep up with the large number of reapprovals we were faced with each year, and reapprovals are important to ensure that all facilities in the program deserve to be in the program.

We also found that some VPP participants had experienced fatalities and serious enforcement issues, including willful violations, and were still allowed to remain in the program.

These challenges have prompted us to make changes to the VPP program, and we will continue to adjust going forward, with your input and assistance.

How can we at OSHA sustain the VPP program in a time of shrinking federal resources? The numbers are irrefutable - this year compared to previous years, we have fewer people and fewer dollars for compliance assistance, where the VPP budget is housed. That downward trend is likely to continue, and it directly impacts our ability to visit worksites and evaluate new and renewing participants. We simply cannot act as if nothing has changed.

In recent years, we suggested several possible solutions which faced resistance from many VPP participants. So we now turn to you to ask:

  • What are your ideas to ensure the full funding of this important program?
  • How can we institutionalize a funding mechanism that allows us to improve and grow the program within our budgetary constraints?

We are counting on the creativity and passion that is a hallmark of this group to find a solution that works for everyone.

On a related issue, how can we ensure that the VPP program is meaningful, and becomes even more meaningful over time, to the overarching goal of protecting workers from harm?

Every one of you is held up to represent an elite corps of businesses that really get the value of a safety culture and are leading the way in promoting it. It's not enough to be good. VPP members must be exceptional in this regard. The program remains meaningful only so long as it has integrity, and that is, ultimately, a function of quality, not quantity.

To retain the stellar reputation of VPP, we must uphold its standards while carefully expanding the number of participants. VPP sites must inspire, recruit, and mentor.

I can assure you that at OSHA, we will do all that we can to make sure you are on the cutting edge, and not the lagging edge, of worker safety - even if it means pushing you now and then.

Several years ago, we implemented a policy prohibiting most rate-based incentive programs, and issued a new policy covering fatalities and enforcement cases in VPP sites so that we could ensure that when significant incidents occur; when serious violations are identified; or, when VPP policies are violated, OSHA must be ready to take swift action.

But I bring good news: The new incentive, fatality and enforcement policies are working well, and OSHA's Regional and Area offices are doing a great job of tackling the backlog of reapprovals. For the past several years, most of our regions have managed to process all of their scheduled reapprovals and have room for a few new applicants as well.

Changes were difficult

For some of you, we understand, these changes were difficult... But looking back over the past few years, I think we can all agree that these changes have made VPP a much stronger program and we've charted a solid path for the future.

In the future, we will continue to count on you to make every effort to excel and to spread the word about occupational safety and health to other businesses. I challenge you to create the best hazard identification and correction programs feasible, and to let non-VPP businesses in your industry sectors know of the hazards you have identified and the corrections you have implemented.

And I challenge you to educate the political leaders of this country about the importance workplace safety, the crucial part that OSHA plays, and the unique and vital contribution that VPP makes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Act envisioned OSHA as an interdependent, multi-part package, with all of the parts supporting each other.

On the other end of the spectrum from our cooperative programs like VPP, we all know that enforcement is a core function of OSHA. Sadly, we are reminded almost daily that some employers do not have the safety and health of their workers at heart. In fact, after six years of working at OSHA, I continue to be amazed at how brazen and ruthless these outliers can be.

For the sake of all workers, for honest employers, and for the overall economy, these irresponsible employers must be brought in line, and often enforcement is the only strategy that works.

  • And we all understand that without a strong enforcement program, fewer employers would take advantage our compliance assistance and small business consultation programs.
  • We also know that without a robust standard setting process, our enforcement program is less effective.
  • And without a well-functioning whistleblower program, a key element of our enforcement program - worker involvement - will not function.

That's one reason we ask you, our VPP sites, to do more. When you educate our political leadership in Washington as you do so well,

  • It's not enough to just focus on our compliance assistance budget.
  • Without a strong standards, enforcement and whistleblower programs - as well as compliance assistance - worker safety in this country will continue to suffer.

And on the ground where you all dedicate your lives to worker safe, we are striving to give you more opportunities to be meaningfully involved in the VPP process. I have seen that working together, we are more than the sum of our parts. I think a few examples of past, future and ongoing collaborative efforts will illustrate what I mean.

Annual Stand Down

Those of you involved in construction know that every year, hundreds of workers die and thousands suffer debilitating injuries as a result of falls. In fact, falls are the leading cause of death in the construction industry, and yet, lack of proper fall protection remains one of the most frequently cited violations by OSHA.

To raise awareness of the importance of preventing fall hazards in construction, each spring, OSHA sponsors a National Stand Down, during which employers and employees across the country take time to discuss and focus on this topic.

Thanks to many VPP sites, this year's event was the most successful to date. During the two week event, millions of workers and thousands of employers paused to focus on preventing falls in the workplace with the goal of saving lives. It was a record-breaking campaign.

This national stand-down provided VPP participants in the construction industry a terrific opportunity to demonstrate their ongoing commitment to worker safety ― particularly where fall hazards are prevalent. This is a great example of how we can work together to bring attention to hazards and practices that can abate them. I invite you all to work with us to make the 2016 Stand Down event even bigger and better. Please help us with planning and promoting the event to other businesses in your sectors, as well as in your local, regional and industry news media.

Another area we are looking to VPP to lead the way is in Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals

A result of the disaster in West, Texas in 2013 President Obama issued an Executive Order calling on government agencies, including the Department of Labor, to take action to ensure the safety of chemical facilities in this country. We have taken a number of actions under the Executive Order, including launching a major revision of OSHA's Process Safety Management standard. It will be many years before that new standard is issued, but we encourage you to participate in the process.

We are also looking at creative ways to effectively ensure the current and potential VPP members at sites involving Process Safety Management, or PSM, of highly hazardous chemicals will continue to lead the industry in safety. And this has led us to some innovative new programs that we will be working closely with you to promote.

  • For example, it is clear that the standard injury and illness rate methodology is not an effective measure of safety in a PSM environment.
  • To their credit, PSM sites typically have low injury and illness rates.
  • However, those rates are not a good predictor for the prevention of catastrophic events.
  • We are looking at an approach based on different metrics/leading indicators and plan to discuss these ideas with you in mid-October.

We are convening an outreach meeting in mid-October to share our thoughts and hear your ideas. Those of you in PSM industries should already have received invitations to the event, during which we will also discuss ideas for guidance products that we can develop to assist other members of the industry.

Our discussions will include

  • best practices,
  • leading indicators and
  • benchmarks that demonstrate efforts to improve the quality of a PSM program.

We expect that our approach will align with what most of you are already doing to protect the safety and health of your workers, and hope that you will work with us to improve safe working conditions at other similar locations.


Another terrific example of collaboration through the VPP program is the Special Government Employee program. SGEs embody the concept of continuous improvement through the sharing of information and best practices.

With your input and suggestions, we recently modified our SGE program to improve its integrity and effectiveness. These changes include:

  • Expanding opportunities for SGEs to serve in meaningful ways beyond assisting OSHA staff during onsite evaluations. These new opportunities include reviewing VPP applications, reviewing annual self-evaluations, mentoring and training.
  • Requiring renewing SGEs to show that they have been actively involved in the Voluntary Protection Program during the previous three years.
  • Requiring SGEs to perform at least three Qualifying Activities to apply for renewal. One of these three Qualifying Activities must include participation on a VPP On-site Evaluation Team.

SGEs are an essential part of the VPP program and we encourage more participation in order to sustain the growth and quality of the Voluntary Protection Programs. The impact of VPP is far greater when you share your success stories and persuade others to move toward a culture of prevention of risk. There is nothing more powerful than demonstrating to your peers how Safety and Health Management Systems bring terrific results: Reduced injuries and health problems, lowered costs associated with injuries, decreased absenteeism and employee turnover, increase worker satisfaction, increased productivity, and increased profits. Please help us spread the word that safety pays and injuries cost.

I want to conclude by thanking you again for inviting me to speak before you today. Despite the time of year and the climate, I always enjoy coming to talk to you, and more important to listen to you stories of how you overcame enormous obstacles to make your workplaces the best in this country.

And it's clear from the conversations I've had with many of you over the past few years that we, management, labor and government, have a common goal - eliminating worker injuries, illnesses and fatalities.

And we have a tremendous opportunity to work on this together, and add to the impact of this program.

I invite and challenge you to help us improve how we administer this important program, how we ensure its viability and integrity, and how we, together, continue to lead American industry to continuously improve the conditions of working people.

Thank you.


Now comes my favorite time of the day.

How many of you here today are Special Government Employees? Please stand up to be recognized.

Because you are so important to this program, eleven9+ years ago we established an SGE of the Year Award to recognize an employee "who epitomizes and exhibits exceptional support, effort and action in VPP, and in so doing sets him-or-herself apart from other SGEs." I am honored today to be able to present that award to this year's distinguished honoree.

The person selected must be actively involved in volunteer activities that benefit VPP; perform outreach and assistance to employers and workers outside their own company; and have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to the partnership ideals of VPP.

Ten worthy SGEs have been nominated for this annual award. Unfortunately, one of those nominees is no longer with us, and I'd like to pause for a moment to remember him.

Don Dauzat, who worked for our Monsanto VPP site in Luling, Louisiana, died earlier this year. In the eight years that Don served as an SGE in Region 6, he participated in more than 30 audits and mentored more than 15 sites in their journey to achieve STAR status. He was an ardent supporter of the tenants of VPP and of the value of being a Special Government Employee. He was instrumental in recruiting/mentoring coworkers and colleagues to become SGE's and was a recognized champion of the program within Monsanto.

Don served as a volunteer at multiple Regional and National VPP conferences. His engaging personality, impeccable character and personal commitment to worker safety allowed him to positively influence the countless number of people he interacted with. Don had a strong technical knowledge base and was a stickler for details, but he had a special gift for coaching workers in a way that left them feeling empowered and positive. Don didn't just influence people to work safely. He challenged them to change the way they THINK about the value working safely. This approach had a profound, lasting effect on all those he interacted with.

But I want to say something else about Don. I did not know him well personally, but from everything I know about him, there is no doubt that there are many people who are alive -- able to come home to their children, spouses and loved ones every night because of the work he did. They probably don't know that they have him to thank, but there's no better thing that someone can be remembered by - whether he or she is retiring or passing on - than that they saved lives.

Now I would like to announce the other nine nominees for this prestigious award. As I say your name, please come up to join me on stage.

  • Region 1 Stephen Gauthier, General Electric Company Riverworks (Lynn, Mass.)
  • Region 2 Dominic Bruno, SABIC Innovative Plastics Inc. (Selkirk, N.Y.)
  • Region 3 Thomas Rimel Jr., Dunmore Corporation (Bristol, Pa.)
  • Region 4 Jeffrey Moyer, Florida Power & Light (Fort Myers, Fla.)
  • Region 5 William Burke, Miller Valentine Group (Dayton, Ohio)
  • Region 7 Mike Murphy, Ply Gem Inc. (Kearney, Mo.)
  • Region 8 Mark Moya, Honeywell Technology Solutions Inc. (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  • Region 9 Ruby Adams, Marine Corps Logistics Base (Barstow, Calif.)
  • Region 10 Chris Knight, Owens Corning Linnton Asphalt Facility (Portland, Ore.)

Congratulations on your nomination and your commitment to worker safety and health.

Each of you is a champion, a true VPP star!

Let's give this year's nominees a big round of applause.

It is now my honor and pleasure to announce the recipient of the 2015 SGE of the Year Award.

Our winner:

  • Participated in 8 on-site evaluations in 2014
  • Participated in the OSHA Worker Memorial Day Activities and the OSHA Fall Stand-Down
  • Helped to coordinate stand-down activities at his own site and promoted the program to other organizations through outreach.
  • Coordinated with the OSHA Regional VPP Manager to provide region-wide notices to VPPPA members regarding site approvals,
  • Coordinated a program whereby the local VPPPA produces notification letters that are sent to local politicians when a site achieves VPP.
  • Organized five OSHA Fall Stand Down events at his own worksite,
  • Supported an event put on by a fall protection vendor

Please give a big thank you to our Region VIII 2015 SGE of the Year

Mr. Mark Moya, CESCP, Electrical Engineer III, Lead Health, Safety, and Environmental Engineer From Honeywell Technology Solutions, Inc. Satellite Control Network Contract, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Mark, on behalf of OSHA, the entire VPP community, and the federal government, we sincerely thank you.

Congratulations and good work!

In closing, I'd like to underscore my support and OSHA's support for this important program. I look forward to continued work together in our common goal of keeping our nation's workers safe and healthy. Thank you again for having me.