Dr. David MichaelsOSHA boss Dr. David Michaels tried to ease the fears of Voluntary Protection Program supporters who complain his agency has forsaken VPP for other priorities in his speech at the annual meeting of the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association (VPPPA) held Aug 25-28 in National Harbor, MD, near Washington DC.

Said one OSHA-watcher: “Every administration has its own policies and direction. This OSHA administration is focused on enforcement more than voluntary compliance.”

Rumors and concerns

Earlier in the Obama administration there were rumors that VPP might be abolished. There have also been concerns that OSHA has made whistleblower protection more of a priority than VPP funding.

The OSHA chief flattered VPP and gave assurances of the agency’s continued support – although not at a funding level VPP growth advocates want to see.

“You are role models for protecting the safety and health of workers across this country,” said Michaels. "You are the best of the best.

We need to "grow smart"

“We are focused on making VPP as good as it can be. We have to do this, though, in a fiscal climate where we simply cannot fully fund everything we want to accomplish, including many of our top priorities. This is why we have to become more efficient with the resources we do have. We need to ‘grow smart’ to help VPP stay strong.

“VPP remains a very high priority for OSHA and we want to see the program continue to thrive. Administrations change, but our commitment to the program doesn't waver. Last night, your Board of Directors held a reception to honor plants that had been in VPP for more than 30 years. I was very proud to stand together with my predecessors from the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush Administrations, handing out the plaques to the managers and workers at those facilities who are so dedicated to worker safety.

“But to make VPP thrive, we have to continually improve our internal processes and ensure that only the highest quality of applicants, those with the best safety and health management systems, are accepted into the program.

Eliminating the reapproval backlog

“Over the past year, our priorities have remained focused on eliminating the reapproval backlog, working on new applications from Department of Defense sites, and scheduling other new approvals. Several regions have already effectively eliminated their backlogs and have begun aggressively evaluating new applications.

“Another area on which we are working is to revise the policy on the how VPP should evaluate sites where there are extensive process safety hazards. Think about it - in general, one of the primary criteria we use to evaluate the effectiveness of a site's safety program is the site's injury and illness rates. But for PSM sites, this is clearly not the best measure since the greatest risk at such sites is a catastrophic event.

“Finally, I want to mention that we are considering ways to expand the role and expectations of our Special Government Employees (SGE). SGEs represent the cooperative spirit of VPP and embody the idea of continuous improvement through the sharing of information and best practices. We have put together a workgroup that will include VPPPA to come up with ideas on how the SGE program can have the broadest impact.”