The number of federally-approved OSHA Voluntary Protection Program sites has declined in the past two years, after peaking at 1,720 in 2010. As of December 31, 2012, 1,633 sites were enrolled in the VPP. At the end 0f 2011, the number stood at 1,688 sites, according to data posted on OSHA’s web site.

This drop-off follows a decade of booming growth in federal VPP sites, most occurring during the two terms of George W. Bush’s administration. In 2000, 542 sites were enrolled in VPP. By 2010, the number had more than tripled to 1,720. Between 2005 and 2008 during the second Bush term, federal VPP sites increased from 1,032 to 1,545.

During the Obama administration’s first term, OSHA officials made it clear they were not as enamored with the VPP as their predecessors. There was official talk of resource re-allocation taking funds away from VPP, and unsubstantiated rumors that the VPP would be eliminated. That would be political dynamite with Republicans who control the House of Representatives and always push for a more business friendly, compliance-assistance oriented OSHA.

Judging by the number, the agency and the DOL have apparently decided not to kill off the VPP, but let it stagnate by benign neglect.

The combine number of state and federal VPP approved sites has also dropped: from a high of 2,436 in 2010 to 2,370 in 2012.

State OSHA plans have supported the VPP more strongly than their federal counterparts. State OSHA-approved VPP sites increased from 720 in 2010 to 737 in 2012.

Bottom line: Given long-standing union opposition to the VPP (due to inspection exemptions for approved sites, ambiguous worker participation guidelines, and in some cases incentive programs suspected of leading to the under-reporting of injuries) and the influence of organized labor in the current OSHA administration, it’s no surprise to see slippage in the number of VPP sites. The VPP is riding the pendulum swing so common throughout OSHA’s history as agency leadership shifts from party to party, Republicans and Democrats, and vice versa.