The Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) is a group of programs that provides significant focus on the importance of safety and health in the workplace. Collectively they are a recognition program for those workplaces that have gone the extra lengths to not only meet the OSHA Safety and Health Program Management Guidelines, but to also exceed the OSHA standards wherever feasible. These workplaces have recognized that having a strong management commitment to safety and health includes involving active employee participation in all safety and health activities.
The VPP was initiated by OSHA in 1982 and was based on an experiment that took place in California during the construction of the San Onofe Power Plant. The construction of the power plant was under the direction of Bechtel, a company that already had a strong safety and health program that included management leadership and commitment, and encouraged employee involvement. Bechtel, the California Building Trades Council, and the National Constructors Association worked together to initiate a joint labor-management safety and health committee to oversee the safety and health activities at the construction project. The committee was responsible for performing routine worksite inspections and the investigation of worker complaints. California OSHA (Cal/OSHA) agreed to empower this committee to perform routine workplace inspections and to not perform any programmed compliance inspections. This program was approved by the California OSHA State Plan and submitted to OSHA for their concurrence; OSHA agreed to allow Cal/OSHA to proceed with the experiment. At the conclusion of the project, the experiment was deemed a success based on the sense of ownership of the safety and health program expressed by the trades' workers, as well as being one of the safest such construction projects at the time.
The Voluntary Protection Programs have proven themselves as effective in improving workplace safety and health management systems. The VPP participants have on average about 54% lower injury and illness rates than their non-VPP counterparts and employee involvement in safety and health activities is much stronger. The VPP participants have also realized other benefits including:
Reduced workers' compensation costs
Fewer union and employee complaints and grievances
Improved relationship with OSHA
It is interesting that although the VPP had its start with a construction project, the construction industry is not a major participant in the current program. Traditionally, the VPP has focused on general industry worksites for participation. One of the very basic requirements for the VPP application is that worksites have three full calendar years of OSHA recordkeeping data. Since most construction projects do not last anywhere close to three years, OSHA made an exception that allowed construction applicants to submit their applications with only twelve months of data. Still, allowing for an additional six months of application processing, including the onsite evaluation and report reviews, most construction projects were still precluded from applying.