The growth of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program has been one of the most dynamic job safety and health stories in recent years. Founded during the Reagan administration in 1982, VPP dawdled along largely off the radar screen until the mid-1990s. From ’82 to ’94, the number of federal and state plan VPP worksites increased from 11 to 180.

As the Clinton administration attempted to “reinvent” OSHA into a more “customer-friendly” regulator, the number of VPP sites increased from 229 in ’95 to 678 in 2000. But the real explosion in VPP growth came during the Bush2 years, when the number of qualified worksites more than tripled, from the 678 in ’00 to 2161 in 2008. As of December 31, 2009, 2,330 worksites flew the VPP flag.

But the Obama administration candidly admits it is moving resources, both money and inspectors, away from VPP as it boosts enforcement activities.

The move (DOL officials are loathe to call it any kind of de-emphasis) comes on the heels of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last year critical of VPP oversight and internal controls.

VPP is looking at significantly reduced direct federal funding in fiscal year 2011, according to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. OSHA will shift 35 field inspectors from VPP compliance assistance programs and add 25 additional inspectors (on top of the 100 new inspectors hired in fiscal 2010) to national and local enforcement emphasis efforts, said agency head Dr. David Michaels.

Not to worry, says Davis Layne, executive director of the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association.

In a press statement, Layne said: “Many of you have questions about recent statements made by OSHA concerning funding for VPP. Based on the President’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2011, funding for compliance assistance programs would be reduced. However, this proposed budget still has to be passed by Congress. And Congress has the authority to put money for VPP back in the budget. During my 35 years with OSHA, I’ve seen this happen many times. Support for government programs comes and goes, but in the end, it all evens out. I’m confident that this will be resolved.

“As Assistant Secretary Dr. Michaels has stated in his own words: ‘When you talk to people in industry who are committed to safety, they all have management systems that they use to prevent injuries from occurring, and we’d like to support all employers to do that.’

“Michaels then continued to talk about the importance of compliance assistance and said and I quote: ‘We think the best model for that is the Voluntary Protection Programs. The companies in VPP know how to do it, they’ve made the commitment and put the resources into it, and we certainly support that.’

“In fact, both Secretary Solis and Assistant Secretary Michaels have publicly stated their support for VPP and they see the value of the program. Dr. Michaels has invited the association to work with OSHA in finding innovative ways to fund the program and to ensure that it continues to thrive,” said Layne.

Layne added that many VPP sites are contacting their congressional representatives to voice their concerns. “This has already received favorable responses and statements of support,” he said.