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VPPPA: On the Quest for World-Class Safety Excellence

April 9, 2013
The Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association is on a mission to actively engage management, employees and regulatory agencies in an ongoing dialogue about EHS best practices, mentoring and excellence.

For nearly three decades, the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association Inc. (VPPPA) has represented the employers engaged in OSHA or Department of Energy (DOE) Voluntary Protection Programs, which recognize employers and workers in the private industry and federal agencies who have implemented effective safety and health management systems and maintain injury and illness rates below national averages for their respective industries. While VPPPA membership also includes organizations that are not pursuing OSHA VPP status, most are.

See Also: Workplace Safety Management Best Practices

“As we continue our journey towards VPP certification at NIBCO, the benefits have been quite apparent,” said Kenneth Richardson, human resources manager for NIBCO Inc.  “An increased focus on incident analysis, new and improved training programs, substantial trending analysis, it goes on and on. Our management commitment and employee involvement with safety has significantly increased. In my mind, you cannot spell safety without VPP. Hand-in-hand with VPP is the VPPPA, which offers almost unlimited resources in regards to safety.”

VPP includes approximately 2,400 worksites and roughly 1 million employees nationwide. 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. Employers who are approved for VPP status must commit to continuously improving the safety and health of their worksites while being re-evaluated and monitored by OSHA to ensure continued compliance with program requirements.

“The Mundy Companies uses VPP as our pathway to safety excellence. We see a direct correlation between safety, quality and productivity,” said Buddy Tucker, business development manager for the Mundy Companies. “One of the many benefits of joining the VPPPA is that members share their best practices for the betterment of all.”

Reps. Tom Petri, R-Wis., and Gene Green, D-Texas, recently introduced H.R. 632, the Voluntary Protection Program Act, into the House to codify VPP. VPP,  despite its 3-plus decades in existence, was never authorized in law. Petri, a senior member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce and one of the bill’s sponsors, called VPP “a great example of successful cooperation between private businesses and a government regulator.”

“Interactions between OSHA and businesses can often be adversarial – this program takes a different approach. I understand there are times when a heavy hand is needed, but most employers want a safe work environment. VPP represents a balanced and sensible approach to achieving this goal with reasonable oversight,” Petri said.

“The OSHA VPP program is an excellent example of an industry and regulatory partnership for a common goal: the highest standards in the safety and health of our people,” agreed John R. Daly, general manager for Noramco Inc. (a Johnson & Johnson company). “At Noramco, safety is a core value... Every day we see the positive impact of VPP on our EHS program for our employees and for our customers. The VPP process challenges us to be the best in health and safety.”

What Is VPPPA?

VPPPA, which boasts more than 2,100 companies and worksites in its network, represents companies in a wide variety of industries, including health care, energy, defense, consumer products, government, professional, industrial and commercial services, agriculture, forestry, oil and gas, construction, food and beverage, tobacco, textile, plastics, lumber, chemical, manufacturing, wholesale distribution, advertising, education, transportation, warehousing and storage, postal and logistical services and waste management. The association closely works with OSHA, OSHA state-plan states, DOE and the Department of Defense (DoD) in the development and implementation of cooperative programs within the agencies.

As part of an organization committed to improving global workplace safety and health, VPPPA members, despite being in diverse industries, share a common goal of creating the safest workplaces possible for their global work forces.

“The true success of the VPP process and its impact on a facility and a company is not based solely upon the fact that participating sites have injury and illness rates that outperform their peers. It is about the partnerships that have been developed, the excitement of an engaged work force and the ownership of health and safety by the work force across our organizations,” said Michael J. Vigezzi, global manager – VPP and safety programs for General Electric Co. VPPPA’s new tagline – the Premier Global Safety and Health Organization – is the association’s guiding principle moving forward. While VPP is an OSHA program limited to only U.S. workplaces, its elements and values, the culture that it fosters and significant improvements in safety performance also apply to workplaces on every corner of the earth.

“We will continue to work closely with our partners in OSHA, labor, private industries, federal and state agencies and other countries to grow VPPPA and to provide assistance in our collective efforts to reduce occupational injuries, illnesses and deaths on a global scale,” said VPPPA Executive Director Susan Jordan Sikes about her vision for the association.

One of the most notable characteristics of VPPPA member sites is their motivation to share their expertise with other member worksites. Their passion for excellent workplace safety and health is not inhibited by their corporate doorstep and worksites. VPPPA leverages its members’ expertise and their willingness to share their knowledge and experiences by providing a network of resources and a forum so organizations at all stages of occupational safety and health management system implementation can benefit from this pool of knowledge and experience.

“We consider the attainment of VPP STAR designation to be the hallmark of a mature safety management system and directly attributable to the powerful tool of employee involvement,” said John J. Hall, EHS director for Raytheon Technical Services Co. LLC. “Employee ownership and involvement in the safety program is the best opportunity for assuring sustainable and predictable world-class safety performance in any organization. Our involvement in VPPPA has afforded our company the opportunity to take advantage of the reach back and expertise available within the association and has provided us with an extensive network of colleagues who have been more than willing to lend assistance and share lessons learned.”

Education and Networking

VPPPA’s annual regional and national conferences are a prime example of this sharing of resources and best practices. These conferences bring together a diverse group of individuals committed to workplace safety and health. Attendees include safety and health managers, employee safety team members, industrial hygienists, union representatives, consultants, environmental health specialists, human resource managers and government agency representatives from OSHA and DOE, as well as vendor companies that provide the latest products and services for the safety and health industry. These participants have an invested personal stake in workplace safety and health. They have a story to tell, a challenge to undertake, an innovation to share and several to take back.

“Being a VPP site goes beyond meeting the regulatory requirements. It has a direct impact on the culture and the mindset of the work force. Being a member of VPPPA reaps so many benefits not only for the companies that are members, but all of the employees that attend the regional and national conferences,” said GE’s Vigezzi. “Where else can you go to gain and share best practices with the companies that have been identified as the safest in the United States? We have unencumbered access to our OSHA partners and the country’s top health and safety experts in a relaxed atmosphere to share and compare what we do. Participating members feel free to share programs and processes because there is very little ‘proprietary information’ when it comes to sharing health and safety programs and more importantly the state of the art processes for protecting our employees.”

The 2013 national VPPPA conference is scheduled for August 26-29 in Nashville. “Our conferences offer the best in networking and best practice sharing and every participant walks away with a wealth of knowledge and new ideas to bring back to his or her worksite.  What is the best part?  You do not need to be a member of VPPPA to attend,” said Sikes. (Editor’s Note: EHS Today has been chosen to be the first-ever media partner for the VPPPA annual conference.)
Every year, the association hosts a “VPP Application Workshop” at the conference for sites that are preparing to submit their applications for VPP to OSHA. There also will be an “OSHA Recordkeeping” workshop to better prepare organizations when they need to address the interpretational challenges associated with complying with 29 CFR 1904. Another hot topic discussed will be workplace violence, a topic of interest at workplaces around the world. Additional topic areas include electrical safety, personal protective equipment, hazard control and prevention, safety training, employee involvement strategies and behavior safety.

The VPPPA regional conferences similarly cover a wide variety of workshop topics, assuring that the conference is meaningful to a broad range of participants. Region VIII (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming), for example, will feature a health care track this year. “Our goal is to reach out to what we see as an under-represented industry in VPP in our region,” said Guy Robison, Region VIII VPPPA director-at-large, Battelle Memorial Institute.  “It’s our hope to bring more health care facilities into the VPP family and help them achieve a greater level of safety excellence.”

Information and resource sharing are perhaps the most important aspects of the organization, and this process is facilitated through VPPPA’s Presentation Sharing Page, which encourages members to upload presentations relevant to occupational safety and health, the environment,  VPP,  home and seasonal safety, employee involvement and more. There also is an online discussion forum where members initiate conversations, share knowledge and discuss challenges and successes.

Another resource available to VPPPA members is the VPPPA Best Practices Directory. When OSHA evaluates a worksite, they identify any best practices they find. These sites then have the opportunity to share their best practices in the directory so other sites can benefit and learn from them, often leading to best practices turning into industry practice.

“VPP offers an ongoing evaluation of your management systems and allows your site to proactively strive for workplace safety and health improvements by initiating annual self-assessments,” said Brandon Schaffer, global director of EHS for Audia Group.  “In addition to improving systems, involvement in VPPPA has created a sense of pride and ownership amongst the site team members.”

Sanna Raza is the VPPPA senior director of communication and outreach. J.A. Rodriguez Jr., CSP, is director-at-large, VPPPA Board of Directors.

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