During a May 21 general session at the American Industrial Hygiene conference and expo in Montreal, Assistant Secretary of Labor Dr. David Michaels was asked for his views on OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).
Michaels said he is committed to VPP but admitted there have been some issues with the program. The session, which was moderated by former OSHA Administrator John Henshaw, was interesting because Henshaw, while at OSHA, was a huge supporter of the program and encouraged its growth. “VPP grew very rapidly,” said Michaels, “we think a little too fast.”
A 2009 report by the Government Accountability Office revealed problems with OSHA’s administration of the program, which recognizes companies for safety performance. Michaels said the agency has addressed many of the issues raised by the report, but said he thinks the program has two issues:
- Fatalities at VPP sites – Should a facility where a fatality has occured be included in VPP? “There needs to be a continuing focus on fatalities among contractors at VPP sites,” said Michaels. “Some of the fatalities had clear, preventable causes and it raises questions whether that employer should be in VPP.”
- Rate-based incentive programs – “Employers with rate-based incentive programs have to change that” if they want to remain in VPP. Bonuses for managers or employees should not be based on low injury rates, said Michaels. “We are very concerned that there are programs that discourage workers from reporting injuries,” Michaels said. “We think there are many ways you can incentivize safety and health, but [pay-based incentives] are not the way to go.”
“VPP should be the standouts, the evangelists,” he noted. “We lost some good companies [from VPP] because they wouldn’t change that.”