A session on health and safety management systems held during last month’s American Society of Safety Engineers’ (ASSE) (held in 2008) meeting strongly reinforced the ever-expanding globalization of the safety and health profession.

A highlight of the session was the results of a survey of 61 large corporations recently conducted at a meeting of the consultancy ORC Worldwide. The survey found that most multinationals favor a DIY approach to management systems, developing their own customized health and safety management system. These management systems are especially popular among large firms searching for formal procedures to establish consistent, reliable approaches to managing risk and protecting workers around the world.



“If you have people and you have hazards, you have a management system,” said speaker Jim Thornton, CIH, CSP of the Northrop Grumman Newport News shipyard. “What is a management system? It’s anticipating, recognizing, evaluating and controlling health and safety hazards,” he said. There are almost an infinite number of ways to do this, he said, “it’s a matter of degrees.”

OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program, with its formal guidelines for auditing and documenting the performance of essential elements of a safety and health program, was the management system of choice for about one-third to one-half of the attendees at the ASSE session, according to a show of hands. The Northrop Grumman Newport New shipyard achieved VPP Star status in 1995, and is the largest VPP site in the nation, according to Thornton.

“If you are looking for a flag to rally around for a culture change in safety, which we were in 1995, VPP will accomplish this,” said Thornton.



Is VPP for everyone? “It’s a lot of hard work,” said Thornton. “VPP isn’t easy. It’s not just sending paperwork and forms into OSHA. Conduct a self-assessment to see if you’re ready. Do a very rigorous records review.”

OSHA web site devotes and entire section to VPP, including tools to assess your organization’s readiness to apply to the program.

“You can implement all the elements of a VPP program without applying for OSHA recognition,” said Thornton. “But if you go to all that trouble, why not fly the VPP flag?”

Thornton said you also must be prepared for varying degrees of union acceptance of VPP. “You could be held hostage by your union at bargaining time, where they ask for things in return for maintaining their support of VPP. Doesn’t happen all the time, of course, but you’ve got to be prepared to ride that horse,” said Thornton.

One of the reservations some unions have about VPP is that once a worksite is accepted into the program, there can be a tendency for management to put safety and health in a maintenance mode, figuring the goal has been achieved.

“If you’re goal with VPP is to escape OSHA oversight, forget it,” said another panelist, Bradley Giles, P.E., CSP, with the Washington Group International engineering and construction multinational. “We see OSHA more now in our partnership relationship brought on by VPP than before we entered VPP,” he said. “We’ve got an open door policy with them.”

There are three formal exemptions to a VPP site’s exclusion from routine OSHA inspections: whenever a fatality occurs, or an incident involving three or more employees with serious injuries, and if an employee files a formal complaint with OSHA.

VPP sites are re-certified every three to five years. “You can expect a bumper-to-bumper re-certification inspection,” said Thornton.

This checks-and-balance mechanism is intended to prevent safety from idling along in neutral once the VPP flag has been raised.



VPP sites are popular in the U.S., with more than 1,900 worksites in 2008 flying the flag. Still, the majority of large corporations in the ORC Worldwide survey conducted by Emory Knowles, CSP, CIH, of Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, prefer the DIY approach to management systems.


Knowles cited a variety of factors: 1) the maturity level of safety and health programs operated by most large corporations; 2) the flexibility of in-house developed systems; 3) the resources available to build in-house systems; and 4) the existence of experienced, sophisticated EHS staff to manage the particulars of an in-house designed management system..

Knowles acknowledged that many of the DIY management systems are independently verified by third-party auditors to reassurance corporate parents of the soundness and reliability of their systems.



Outside the U.S., many multinationals use the Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series 18001 management system — 21 operations in the United Kingdom and 22 in the European Union, according to the ORC survey.

The 2007 update of OHSAS 18001 focuses on establishing a safety and health policy, analyzing hazards and selecting controls, planning for legal and nonlegal OSH requirements, establishing OHS objectives and programs, establishing responsibility and accountability for OHS, ensuring competence of training, establishing communication and participation, documenting and controlling records of OSH activities, establishing emergency management systems, implementing hazard controls, monitoring and measuring overall OHS performance, conducting internal audits, investigating incidents and taking corrective action, and conducting, assessing and communicating management reviews.

OHSAS 18001 2007 was developed by the OHSAS Project Group, a consortium of 43 organizations from 28 countries. This consortium includes national standards bodies, registrars (certification bodies), OH&S institutes, and consultants.

Interestingly, not one of the 61 corporations surveyed used the recent ANSI Z10 voluntary standard as their management system.


“OHSAS 18001 has gained international acceptance,” said Giles. If ISO is ever to adopt a standard for occupational health and safety to complement its quality and environmental standards, 18001 is seen as the leading model.

That possibility, plus the current use of OHSAS 18001 by many multinationals, make the corporate parents comfortable with 18001, said Giles. “VPP is widely accepted in the U.S. You have 18001. Do you want to stretch for a third management system (ANSI Z10)?” asked Giles.


By Dave Johnson, Editor. Dave can be reached at johnsond@bnpmedia.com