Perhaps signaling that OSHA may be turning more toward cooperative and compliance assistance programs under the Trump administration, as many in industry have hoped, OSHA announced this week that it will hold a public meeting to receive suggestions from stakeholders on how to strengthen its Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).First started in 1982, VPP allows employers to adopt and comply with written safety and health management plans in exchange for being removed from OSHA’s programmed inspection lists. While sites can still receive non-programmed inspections, such as those resulting from accidents or complaints, this somewhat lowers their overall risk of being inspected. Depending on the strength and breadth of an employer’s safety programs, VPP participation may or may not add significant compliance burdens.

From OSHA’s perspective, by encouraging companies to meet voluntary performance goals, the program improves safety and compliance. It also helps the agency manage its resources by reducing the number of sites on its programmed inspection list.

As explained on its web site, OSHA invites work sites to apply and assesses how well they perform against VPP “performance-based criteria for a managed safety and health system.” OSHA’s verification includes a “rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of OSHA safety and health experts.” OSHA claims that the “average VPP worksite has a Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) case rate of 52% below the average for its industry,” an improvement over where many of these sites start out when entering the program.

July public meeting in Washington, DC will focus on “reshaping” VPP

Stakeholders can provide input on the future of VPP through the public meeting or by submitting online comments. The public stakeholder meeting will take place from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm on July 17, 2017, in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Labor’s headquarters. The focus will be on “the future direction of the agency’s Voluntary Protection Programs.” According to the announcement, OSHA says that it wants to “reshape VPP so that it continues to represent safety and health excellence, leverages partner resources, further recognizes the successes of long-term participants, and supports smart program growth.”

OSHA asks participants to address the following questions, among others:

  • “What can the agency do to enhance and encourage the efforts of employers, workers and unions to identify and address workplace hazards through the VPP?”
  • “How can the agency support increased participation in VPP while operating with available resources and maintaining the integrity of the program?”
  • “How can the agency modify VPP to enhance the efforts and engagement of long-term VPP participants?”
  • “How might the agency modify Corporate VPP for greater leverage and effectiveness?”
  • “How can the agency further leverage participant resources such as Special Government Employees?”

Those wishing to attend in person must register by July 10th at the VPP Stakeholder Meeting Registration link. OSHA says it may also host a second in-person event in conjunction with the VPPPA National Conference the week of August 28th in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Stakeholders can also submit written comments

The public can also submit written comments electronically. Comments can be submitted or reviewed in the electronic docket, which closes on September 15, 2017. Companies interested in submitting written comments may wish to consult with legal counsel for assistance. Likewise, companies considering becoming part of the VPP are strongly recommended to consult with their safety and health counsel to weigh pros and cons of joining the program.