Introduction and Overview

Systems for developing and maintaining health and safety programs have evolved steadily over the years. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, health and safety was largely determined by voluntary efforts of individual companies encouraged by organized labor and viewed in the light of public opinion. However, technology did not always keep up with the hazards that new inventions brought to the workplace. Occupational injuries, illnesses and death was all too common.

In the United States, federal and state government could see the toll that accidents were taking on society and began to enact statutes and regulations to control recognized hazards in the workplace. In 1970, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was passed and implemented. In the wake of this national workplace regulation, there was a small provision that would allow the Agency to recognize employers who developed and implemented excellent health and safety programs. This provision was known as the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and created a mechanism for conscientious employers to be recognized.

The thrust of workplace health and safety began along two branches - enforcement and consultation. OSHA recognized that employers generally fell into one of three distinct categories violators, compliers and leaders. It appeared that the vast majority of employers fell into the middle category with a small minority of employers being categorized as violators or leaders. So enforcement was geared to punish the violators while the VPP was designed to reward the leaders. Thus, the government approach to health and safety has proceeded along three tracks based on punishment, reward and modest consulting resources devoted to routine compliance. The key to this approach is the term compliance.

Recently, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have taken a different approach, an approach that provides a management system as a prerequisite to doing business on both a national and international basis. Thus, the global business community has seen the advent of management systems as a way of certifying that a business process is suitable, adequate and effective. Quality Management Systems "QMS"(ISO9001:2000) and Environmental Management Systems "EMS" (ISO14001:1996) began the effort toward "certification". There is now an international effort to create an Occupational Health and Safety Management System (OHSMS) through the American National Standards Institute Z10 committee.

The concept behind a management system is the creation of corporate policies, processes and procedures that are sustainable and can be reproduced within a framework of standard documentation. The key to this concept is the term conformance.

This paper will explore the similarities and differences between management systems and voluntary protection programs after a brief description of the two approaches.

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