That's the question OSHA chief John Henshaw posed at the annual meeting of the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 9-12.

OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program has grown impressively over 20 years, from a mere three sites in 1982 to more than 850 today in federal and state OSHA programs. But, said Henshaw, VPP sites only represent about one out of every 10,000 companies in America.

"What if achieving VPP was not the exception, but the rule?"

If VPP sites increased ten-fold, to 8,000, they'd represent about one percent of U.S. businesses, and think of the potential injuries avoided and costs saved in just one year, Henshaw said.

Henshaw wants to get there. The trick is to increase the number of worksites participating while maintaining the quality and integrity of the program and the excellence in safety it represents.

OSHA's chief promises to give VPP a "jump start" to help reach many more worksites. How? Henshaw promised that in the next year the agency will set up an entry-level program for VPP. It will be aimed at worksites committed to worker safety and health, committed to safety and health management systems, and committed to continuous improvement.

This program will give a boost to companies that want to do the right thing, he said.

Henshaw set other goals to expand the scope and impact of VPP:

  • Procedures should be streamlined for corporations with internal VPP processes so they can bring multiple sites into the VPP. Corporate commitments to VPP, like the one made by International Paper - the company with the most sites, need to be rewarded, said Henshaw.
  • A better job must be done to bring small businesses into the VPP. Henshaw wants to see at least ten small businesses from around the country mentored in pilot projects in the next year.
  • OSHA will start a new recognition program for VPP sites with excellent ergonomics programs in fiscal year 2003.
  • The number of Special Government Employees (SGEs) from private industry who work with OSHA officials on VPP reviews needs to expand beyond the current approximately 250 SGEs in order to handle more sites. Working with other safety and health groups could be another resource to tap, said Henshaw.
  • Publicity for the VPP must be cranked up as part of a growth strategy. Henshaw would like to see another ad run in The Wall Street Journal, similar to the one Mobil ran in 1987 challenging businesses to get involved. The message needs to get out: VPP sites have injury and illness rates that are half the size of other workplaces in their industries.

"We can save lives. We can reduce injuries and illnesses. We can save businesses money and increase productivity. Let's take VPP to the next level," concluded OSHA's boss.