VPPPAA directive issued recently by OSHA chief Dr. David Michaels addresses an issue that’s been brewing over the past few years: fatalities in workplaces that have been granted VPP status.

A 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found fatalities at 30 VPP sites – some related to OSHA violations -- over a five-year period. Facilities that no longer had exemplary safety records were allowed to remain in the VPP program. A 2011 Center for Public Integrity report uncovered additional deaths at VPP facilities.

The new directive is effective immediately and defines a new "status" during the inspection and enforcement period for companies in either the VPP or Mobile Workforce (MWF) program who have a fatality or catastrophe occur.

If the fatality/catastrophe triggers an enforcement inspection, the status of the VPP/MWF participant will be changed within ten days to "Inactive Pending Fatality/Catastrophe Inspection."

While that designation is pending, the company cannot display the VPP insignia.

If the OSHA investigation determines that the fatality is deemed work-related, a site is placed in the Severe Violator Enforcement Program (SVEP), or when a willful violation is issued, the agency will send a "Notice of Intent to Terminate" the facility’s participation in the program within 10 days of the completion of the enforcement inspection.

The participant has 30 days from the receipt of the notice to appeal the intent to terminate. It must provide to the Assistant Secretary, through the Regional Administrator, in writing, the reasons why it should not be removed from the VPP. Upon review of the participant's justifications for continued participation, the Assistant Secretary in consultation with the Regional Administrator and DCSP must make the final decision.