Legislators: Codifying VPP Will Lead to Better Relationship Between Business and OSHA

Legislators on both side of the aisle have introduced legislation that would codify OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs. The legislation, S. 807, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R –Wyo., and Sen. Mary Landrieu, D – La., was introduced April 13. Similar legislation, H.R. 1511, was introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Petri, R-Wisc., senior Republican on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, and Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas.

Enzi, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced the Voluntary Protection Program Act (S.807) jointly with Landrieu, who chair of the Senate Small Business Committee.

The introduction of the legislation acknowledges VPP’s presence at more than 2,500 worksites across the United States, covering approximately 1 million employees. One of the goals of the legislation is to expand VPP’s reach to include more small businesses.

“The Voluntary Protection Programs have encouraged a culture of health and safety in the workplace that saved the government and private sector millions of dollars by avoiding injuries and illness,” said Enzi. “And in this economy every little bit helps. As a former small business owner myself, I understand that maintaining a safe workplace is just as important as turning a profit.”

“The number one responsibility of any employer is providing a safe workplace for its employees,” remarked Landrieu. “The VPP is a great example of how the right public-private partnership can succeed in reducing accidents at work, but these partnerships are not a replacement for stricter mandatory workplace safety guidelines, especially in dangerous occupations.”

A 2007 report noted that federal VPP worksites saved the government more than $59 million by avoiding injuries, and that private sector VPP participants saved more than $300 million. Participating workplaces have an illness and injury rate that average 50 percent below that of their industry.

“We need a more effective relationship between OSHA and employers,” said Rep. Petri. “There are times when OSHA has to be heavy handed, but most employers want to run safe workplaces.”

“The Voluntary Protection Program is one of the few programs that has achieved unified support from both union and non-unionized labor, small and large businesses and government,” added Green. “I am proud to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to codify this important safety program that saves money while protecting workers. In Texas alone, 327 worksites participate in this program that employ, in total, over 50,000 workers.”

VPP came under fire in 2009, when a report released by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) said OSHA’s internal controls were not sufficient to ensure that only qualified worksites participate in the VPP and that OSHA has not developed the proper goals or measures to assess the performance of VPP.

“OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs: Improved Oversight and Controls Would Better Ensure Program Quality” pointed to the lack of a policy requiring documentation in VPP files regarding follow-up actions taken in response to incidents, such as fatalities and serious injuries, at VPP sites, saying it limits the national office’s ability to ensure that its regions have taken the required actions, such as reviewing sites’ safety and health systems and determining whether sites should remain in the program.

Not surprisingly, the association representing worksites that are participating in VPP or pursuing VPP status, the VPP Participants’ Association Inc. (VPPPA), is applauding the introduction of S.807 and H.R.1511.

“On behalf of VPPPA, I’d like to thank Sens. Enzi and Landrieu and Reps. Petri and Green for introducing this crucial legislation,” said VPPPA Executive Director R. Davis Layne. “VPP reduces injuries and illnesses, increases competitiveness and productivity, saves money for businesses and taxpayers and, more than anything, it saves lives. I’m confident that our members will reach out to President Obama and to their congressional representatives in support of the Senate and House bills.”

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