Aaron Trippler, director of government affairs for the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), echoed several other panelists when he stressed that the program must be retained.
“We urge you not to turn around and say the VPP program is no longer needed,” Trippler told OSHA Administrator David Michaels. “We know it’s needed, and we believe it’s a success.”
Concerns over VPP mounted after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a June 2009 report criticizing the program’s oversight and performance assessment.
Tom Broderick, executive director of the Construction Safety Council, suggested during the OSHA Listens meeting that The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and OSHA could work together to evaluate VPP.
“NIOSH has the skill sets to do a review of things like VPP, [to] go out and do an economic analysis and really challenge the safety records that VPP members are claiming they have,” Broderick said. “I think that that would be a really good first step for a project for OSHA and NIOSH to work together on.”
A Question of Priorities
Davis Layne, executive director of the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association Inc. (VPPPA), stressed that VPP is more than a recognition program – it creates cooperation between management, labor and the government to go beyond OSHA standards to protect workers.
“Unlike enforcement, VPP is a safety and health management system that addresses real problems in real time, leading the way for more current safety and health program standards,” he said during an OSHA Listens panel discussion.
Layne explained that the success of VPP is based on three partners: management, labor and OSHA. While management and labor continue to back VPP, OSHA seems to be pulling out, which sends a conflicting message to employers and workers. He stressed that OSHA should not redirect funding from VPP to enforcement.
“We can all agree with the fundamental importance of enforcement, but we also know its limitations,” he said. “With a $10 million increase for enforcement it’s not really a question of scarce resources, it’s a question of priorities for the agency.”
The merit of OSHA alliances also was discussed during the public meeting, with Michaels saying that some alliances seemed very successful while others “look like paper exercises.”
John Masarick, director of codes, standards and safety for the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) trade association, told Michaels that valuable alliances create tools or materials and disseminate information to members.
According to Masarick, IEC’s alliance with OSHA “has been a useful tool in improving safety for contractors and their employees. I think the two organizations working together can reach more people than [they can] alone.”
“While I believe one fatality is too many, I like to believe the alliance is at least in a small way responsible for the decline in construction fatalities over last 5 years,” Masarick said.
Michaels and other OSHA officials hosted the daylong public meeting to solicit comments, suggestions and opinions from stakeholders about key issues facing OSHA.