In today's business, many tools and systems exist for verifying your company's commitment to the customer. For example, a well-implemented ISO 9000 system can speak directly to your commitment to quality. However, the question still exists, how can a company's commitment to safety of the employees be measured? Would you be surprised to find out a system that speaks to that very commitment has existed for over twenty years?

In 1982, the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) was developed as a cooperative compliance program intended to unite private industry and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under the shared vision of employee protection. The VPP program was designed to recognize and promote effective safety and health management and to provide candidates with a mechanism for obtaining a desired performance.

The VPP was not just a process for companies to become compliant with OSHA standards, but rather the intention was to motivate and encourage companies to exceed minimum requirements. OSHA recognized early on that enforcement of safety regulations alone could never fully achieve the objectives of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. Therefore, the VPP was created on the foundation that good safety management programs that go beyond OSHA standards will ultimately protect employees more effectively than straightforward compliance strategies.

Today, the VPP is not intended to be just another program, but is intended to be a process consisting of at least four key elements:

  • Management leadership and employee involvement
  • Worksite analysis
  • Hazard prevention and control
  • Safety and health training

Prior to participating in the program, applicants are evaluated by OSHA on their written safety and health management system, the effective implementation of this system over time and their performance in meeting certain minimum requirements including below average industry injury rates. Applicants meeting these criteria are directed into one of three designations within the VPP.

The Star Program is designed for exemplary worksites that have implemented comprehensive, successful safety and health programs and achieved injury and illness rates below their industry's national average. For participants to be eligible for the star program, the injury and illness history at the site is evaluated using a 3-year total case incident rate (TCIR) and a 3-year day away, restricted and/or transfer case incident rate (DART rate). The 3-year TCIR and DART rates must be must be below the most recently published BLS national average.

The Merit Program is designed for worksites with the potential and commitment to achieve Star quality within three years. The TCIR and DART rate must be calculated and compared to the industry average in the same manner as for the Star Program, except that the 3-year rates do not have to be below the industry average. However, the following restrictions apply:

  • If the site has either or both the TCIR and DART rate above the indutry average, the site must set realistic, concrete goals for reducing both rates within 2 years and must specify the methods to be used to accomplish the goals.
  • It must be programmatically and statistically feasible for the site to reduce its TCIR and DART rate to below the industry average within 2 years.

The Star Demonstration Program is designed for worksites with Star quality safety and health protection that want to test alternatives to current Star eligibility and performance requirements.

Once accepted into one of the VPP designations, participants must demonstrate continuous improvement in the operation and impact of their safety and health management systems. Annual VPP self-evaluations are required to help participants measure success, identify areas needing improvement and determine needed changes. As a result, at qualifying sites all personnel are involved in the effort to maintain rigorous, detailed attention to safety and health.

There are many benefits to implementing a VPP at your company, including reduced injury costs and developing an influential relationship with OSHA. But be aware that the program is vigorous and may not be for everyone. In fact, the intensity of the VPP process results in participants mentoring other worksites interested in participation. The mentoring program provides a forum for improving safety and health, participating in safety and health outreach and training initiatives, and providing OSHA with input on proposed policies and standards. With the mentoring program, the greatest benefit of the VPP is achieved; that is, the commitment to promoting excellence in safety and health throughout both industry and the community.