The OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP)

Adopted in 1982 the VPP idea of working with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed from an experiment at a construction project in California. The responsibility for safety was passed from the regulators to the labor-management team building a power plant. It was a success and the VPP model has now expanded to almost 600 sites under the federal program and about 207 at the state level.

It is the intent of the program to take a firm with a good safety record and set more stringent standards. With "employee" involvement the cornerstone of the program - everyone must get involved for the idea to work.

This paper focuses on a construction contractor that was challenged by the local OSHA Area Director to apply for the VPP program. It should be noted that the majority of VPP participants are in the chemical or manufacturing side of the world, the General Electrics and International Papers of the world. Making the program a fit at a construction site was not an easy job, however, the results were fantastic.

Correcting an uneasy relationship with OSHA

As one of the largest heavy construction firms in Upstate New York, Rifenburg started its relationship with OSHA in 1982. A result of an inspection, Rifenburg was cited for six violations on their first OSHA visit. Since then Rifenburg has been inspected a total of 52 times. Not because they were unsafe, but to quote OSHA, because "Rifenburg is one of the big guys". In total, OSHA has handed 38 violations to Rifenburg since their first visit. At first blush this might seem high. However, more recently, Rifenburg has endured 17 inspections in a row without a violation. Not too shabby.

In the early 90's George Rifenburg, the president of the firm, met with the OSHA Area Director, Mr. John Tomich. At the time, Rifenburg had an improving safety record, citations were down, but George was simply tired of paying potential profits to OSHA and asked to meet with OSHA. George and John Tomich designed a process where each year all employees would be required to attend an "All Employees Safety Day". This get together started a safety program that has been used as a model in the area since. Mr. Rifenburg delivers the annual "Safety Message", OSHA, Rifenburg's Workman's Compensation carrier and vendors all play a part in the days activities. This process has evolved to a 3–4 days of training including Safety Day but scheduled in connection with other training emphasis like excavations, competent person training and annual refreshers for MSHA and OSHA requirements. The first meeting was held in the Rifenburg truck garage, this years meeting was held in a banquet hall to hold the 200+ employees, guests and visitors.

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