VPP: Don't Overlook Industrial Hygiene; While VPP Programs Are Touted for Their Safety Achievements, They Need to Make Sure That Health Problems Don't Spoil the Party. That's Why Industrial Hygiene Needs to Be Fully Integrated into These Programs

Article excerpt

World-class organizations are using management systems to "manage" environmental, health and safety (EHS) concerns in both domestic and global businesses. The most recognized U.S. management system is OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). Other consensus standards include:

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* American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care program

* ANSI Z10 "Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems" draft standard

* British Standards Institute's "Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems" (OHSAS 18001)

* International Labour Organization "Guidelines for Occupational Safety and Health Management Systems."

According to a recent survey conducted by the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA), over 53 percent of world-class operations use management systems such as VPP or OHSAS 18001 to improve their EHS performance. (1)

This article focuses on one of the overlooked aspects of VPP--industrial hygiene concerns.

OSHA established VPP in 1982 to recognize single worksites with exemplary safety and health programs. As of July 2005, there were 1,341 VPP worksites (968 federal and 373 state-plan sites). According to OSHA, VPP sites on average have a lost workday rate 52 percent below the industry average. This helps reduce accident costs significantly, reduces the chance of OSHA citations and fines and creates a better work environment.

OCCUPATIONAL ILLNESSES--TIP OF THE ICEBERG

There are many reasons industrial hygiene (IH) takes a backseat to safety-related issues in general. IH exposures often are transparent and chronic, which makes them more difficult to recognize and report. In addition, occupational illnesses also are difficult to trace back to a specific source.

OSHA defines an occupational illness as "any abnormal condition or disorder, other than one resulting from an occupational injury, caused by exposure to factors associated with employment."

Occupational illness costs are difficult to estimate. According to the Archives of Internal Medicine (AIM), $26 billion is spent in the United States annually on occupational illnesses. (2) AIM also estimates more than 60,300 fatalities result from occupational illnesses annually. By contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported 121 deaths. Reported occupational illness fatalities resulted from various exposures, including:

- Temperature extremes

- Oxygen deficiency

- Caustic, noxious or allergenic substances

- Cancer

- Cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease

- Chronic respiratory disease

- Pneumonconioses

- Nervous system and renal disorders.

Nonfatal occupational illness cases in the United States that were reported to BLS totaled 439,002 annually vs. 862,200 annual incidents estimated by AIM. These cases resulted from:

- Carpal tunnel syndrome

- Dermatitis

- Welder's flash

- Infectious and parasitic diseases

- Cancer

- Coronary heart disease

- Cerebrovascular disease

- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

VPP CORE ELEMENTS AND IH ASPECTS

There are four core elements within VPP:

* Management Leadership and Employee Involvement

* Worksite Analysis

* Hazard Prevention and Control

* Safety and Health Training

The first core element, Management Leadership and Employee Involvement, is the foundation of VPP. Industrial hygiene aspects should be integrated into the organization's safety and health policy statements, procedures and responsibilities. The written safety and health program should outline specific workplace "health" exposures and control methods.

The second core element, Worksite Analysis, has more obvious areas where industrial hygiene is involved. Some of these include baseline safety and IH hazard analysis, initial screening (full-shift sampling), written sampling strategies, analysis of new processes, materials and equipment, job safety analysis, incident investigation of occupational illnesses, hazard reporting and written industrial hygiene programs. …