Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, told the Voluntary Protection Program Participants’ Association (VPPPA) meeting in Orlando, FL:

“As we invigorate and modernize OSHA, we want the VPP to remain our model program for preventing worker injuries and illnesses.”

“We have been spending much of the last year moving forward to ensure the integrity of VPP. Ensuring the integrity of VPP is one thing. But our most important challenge is preserving the existence of the VPP program. Let me be clear: OSHA is trying to save VPP, not end it.

“But ensuring that VPP survives and grows presents a serious challenge for OSHA when faced with tight budgets, limited staff, and calls to cut programs and expenses in every government agency.

“Given that it is unlikely that the OSHA ‘pie’ would continue to grow significantly, we needed to decide whether to put OSHA's limited resources into companies that ‘get it,’ that are dedicated to workplace safety and doing a great job, or to put more resources into companies that don't get it, that continue to injure and kill workers.

“And as predicted, in the FY 2011 budget OSHA was tasked with the extremely unpleasant task of identifying programs where funding could be eliminated. Our response, and I believe it was a good response, was to try to save VPP by eliminating federal funding and looking for alternative forms of non-governmental funding.

“In Congress and elsewhere, various program-funding options are being explored. For example, we have been exploring the introduction of user fees from VPP participants with House of Representatives staff.

“OSHA and the Department of Labor support the idea of funding VPP through participant fees. While many VPP participants worry that user fees may undermine the integrity of the program, we have reassuring evidence of successful user-fee programs in other agencies.

“No one should make the mistake of thinking that private funding would mean that any company could buy its way into VPP recognition simply by paying a user fee. OSHA should remain the ultimate arbiter of whether a worksite earns and keeps its VPP status.

“But let me be very clear to you today. We value this program. We want it to continue. But it is very unlikely to continue under the current federal funding formula. The way things stand right now, we believe that the House Appropriations subcommittee is proposing to provide $3 million additional funding to OSHA's budget to fund VPP for FY11, but will be asking for a report on funding alternatives for FY12. The Senate, on the other hand, has cut all funding for the program without any mention of a fee-based system or any other funding sources.

“So, let me say this carefully. The bottom line is that if we are to succeed in saving this program, we -- OSHA and VPPPA together -- need to present a united front on this issue, because in this environment of austere government budgets a fractured fight over VPP risks losing the program entirely. None of us wants that. If OSHA and VPPPA can agree on a road forward, we increase our chances of keeping VPP alive so participants can continue to serve as models for successful worker protection.”