The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) says it supports the ‘Voluntary Protection Program Act’ (S. 807, HB 1511), which would place the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) into law.

In letters sent to the Senate and House sponsors of the bill, ASSE officials noted, “VPP is unique in encouraging employers not simply to meet regulatory standards but to take active responsibility for safety and to seek results beyond the minimum.” ASSE also supports provisions requiring a monitoring system with specific performance goals for VPP and prohibiting payment from an employer to participate.

According to OSHA, VPP recognizes employers and workers in private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national Bureau of Labor Statistics averages for their respective industries. In VPP, management, labor, and OSHA work cooperatively to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a system focused on: hazard prevention and control; worksite analysis; training; and, management commitment and worker involvement. To participate, employers must submit an application to OSHA and undergo onsite evaluations by a team of safety and health professionals. VPP participants are re-evaluated every three to five years to remain in the program. VPP participants are exempt from OSHA programmed inspections while they maintain their VPP status.

In a letter to Senators Michael B. Enzi and Mary Landrieu and Representatives Thomas E. Petri and Gene Green, ASSE President Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP, noted that VPP has succeeded in encouraging both employer and employee commitment to safe and healthy workplaces.

“Our members typically are the individuals responsible for establishing VPP for employers. From that front line experience, they know that VPP is effective in helping employers achieve and remain committed to achieving safe and healthy workplaces,” Hill wrote. “As VPP is implemented in an organization, they consistently witness the dynamic adoption of the risk-based approach to managing safety and health risks that VPP encourages. They also witness significant organizational improvements in communications and cooperation between management and workers over safety and health. VPP is unique in encouraging employers not simply to meet regulatory standards but to take active responsibility for safety and to seek results beyond the minimum.”

ASSE notes that the average VPP worksite has a ‘Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART)’ case rate that is 52 percent below the national industry averages. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, VPP sites have ‘Total Case Incident Rates (TCIR)’ 54 percent below industry averages. The National Safety Council has reported that, in 2007, VPP sites saved private industry $300 million and federal agencies $59 million.

In supporting language in the bill barring any Administration from requiring payment from an employer to qualify for or participate in VPP, ASSE said requiring payment from VPP employers will only result in fewer employers engaging with OSHA and, so, fewer employers implementing injury and illness protection programs, less cooperation between employers and employees in achieving safety and health, and, ultimately, an OSHA that will be more hard pressed to meet its mission of helping to protect workers.