OSHA Official Says Voluntary Protection Program is About More Than Just Safety

You might not associate the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with general operational improvements, but that’s the angle one of the Administration’s representatives pitched as a key benefit of the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) last week. Brad Baptiste, manager for OSHA Region VIII, told attendees of the Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance’s Virtual Summer Conference that, though the primary goal of VPP is to recognize employers and workers with effective safety and health management systems that maintain injury and illness rates below national averages, participants also carve out other improvements to their businesses.

“Cultural excellence goes well beyond safety,” Baptiste said. “And what you’ll find, as other VPP companies have found, is when you commit to safety and health excellence, you also achieve higher levels of excellence in quality, productivity, profitability and the things that help to make your business strong.”

Some of those benefits result from rubbing the right elbows, he suggested, by networking with other high-performing companies nationwide through the program.

“VPP is a lot of things,” Baptiste said. “It’s a process for achieving world-class safety and health, but it’s based on a structured model of management leadership and employee engagement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training. It’s a partnership between you, your employees and OSHA, all working together to achieve safety and health excellence within the workplace.”

OSHA’s VPP is a proactive program that’s designed to give employees an active role in ensuring their own safety and the safety of those around them. The program, Baptiste said, is designed to shift safety officers out of the role of acting as “safety cops,” and into more proactive and collaborative situations within organizational charts. In this way, VPP places an equal amount of responsibility on employers and employees.

“From my experience, the biggest benefit for workers is being actively involved in safety on a regular basis,” Baptiste suggested.

By committing to VPP’s systems-based approach, the biggest takeaway includes decreased injury and illness rates, Baptiste explained. Through participation in the program, companies can achieve zero OSHA reportable injuries, he said.

Robert Grommesh, IG technical service manager for Cardinal IG, who opened the session ahead of Baptiste, said that over the past two years, as a participant in VPP, Cardinal had zero reportable incidents. But, “It’s not really just an award,” Grommesh said about the achievement. “It’s a lifestyle change for these organizations.”

In an overview of the program, Baptiste said that to participate, employers must submit an application online and undergo a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of safety and health professionals. After initial review, VPP participants are re-evaluated every three to five years. Among the key benefits of the program is exemption from programmed OSHA inspections.

Minus systems like those implemented through VPP, or similar programs, in most cases, if employees go home safely at the end of the day, “It’s mostly the result of statistical noise,” Baptiste suggested. When it comes to reaching zero reportable incidents, those achievements can’t be expected to happen overnight, he said. Rather, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time,” he said.

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