The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently released a report on its Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) in response to congressional criticism of the program and the Government Accountability Office’s call for improved oversight. VPP allows businesses to avoid OSHA programmed inspections if a company can demonstrate that it meets or exceeds the agency’s safety requirements. Submitted in November 2011 to OSHA’s assistant secretary, the report makes several recommendations focused on internal controls, program enhancements, consistency issues, enforcement activities, and performance measures.

It specifically suggests that OSHA, among other things, (i) preserve an exemption for VPP facilities from programmed inspections; (ii) discontinue the “merit” category for VPP membership; (iii) consider whether to continue the “corporate” VPP category, which allows large multi-site employers to put in place organization- wide programs; (iv) establish a process for placing sites in an “inactive” status when an employer is cited for an alleged willful violation; (v) establish a process for addressing a VPP member that experiences a fatality or large-scale mishap, such as placing its membership on inactive status until OSHA’s investigation is complete; (vi) allow an OSHA regional administrator to terminate a VPP membership when the administrator “believes employees’ safety and health are seriously endangered or that a lack of trust has occurred between VPP management and OSHA”; (vii) supply agency staff with training for auditing injury and illness records; (viii) reduce differences among regions in how VPP participants are judged; and (ix) reinvigorate the “special government employee” program, which allows employees of VPP establishments to participate as members of OSHA on-site teams during VPP evaluations.

According to the report, the next step is for the OSHA’s Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs to develop an action plan to complete those actions that management decides to implement.