OSHAOSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) have come under fire from the Labor Department’s Office of Inspector General, which says the agency fails to ensure that only safe worksites remain in the program.

The purpose of VPP is to recognize worksites with exemplary safety and health management systems. OSHA uses the program to establish cooperative relationships with businesses and their workers to help prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses; and to officially recognize worksites with exemplary safety and health management systems. Once approved for VPP, a worksite is exempt from OSHA programmed inspections as long as it complies with program requirements and maintains exemplary systems.

However, in a sharply critical report issued last month, the OIG found that 13 percent of VPP participants had injury and illness rates above industry averages or had been cited for violations of safety and health standards. Most of these participants were still allowed to remain in the program. Additionally, OSHA had not reevaluated another 11 percent of VPP participants timely enough to ensure they maintained exemplary systems. Some reevaluations had still not been performed a year past their due dates.

What OIG found:

  • OSHA policy allowed participants with injury and illness rates above industry averages to potentially remain in the program for up to 6 years, raising serious questions as to whether the companies were fully protecting their workers.
  • 11 percent of participants were not evaluated in a timely manner. Policy had timeliness requirements for onsite evaluations, but OSHA’s existing processes did not effectively ensure compliance.
  • OSHA could not identify the universe of participants or applicants because it tracked VPP data in at least 11 different databases that were not reconciled; and data ranged between 1,743 to 1,859 for participants, and 19 to 274 for applicants.
  • OSHA used unreliable injury and illness data to evaluate participants and in reported program statistics. For a judgmental sample, 60 percent of reported rates differed significantly (by more than half) from source documents.

What OIG recommended:

Improved oversight. The OIG made recommendations to the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health covering policies, controls, and oversight so OSHA can better ensure only VPP participants with exemplary safety and health systems remain in the program.

OSHA agreed with the recommendations, but stated it generally followed its policies and procedures and most VPP sites had exemplary safety and health systems.

Click here to read the full report.