VPP: What It Takes to Be a Star; the Companies That Participate in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs Have Some of the Best Occupational Safety and Health Programs in the Country. What Does It Take to Join VPP, and What Does It Take to Stay a Star?

Article excerpt

It's a little ironic. John Storm wants to take time out of his schedule to talk about his facility's participation as a Star site in OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs, but he's busy--very busy--he explains via a preliminary e-mail.

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Storm's been thinking about stars quite a bit; as the director of Facilities Management Services, Space Gateway Support, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he's one of many people helping to ensure the space shuttle Discovery has a safe and successful flight to the stars.

Space Gateway Support (SGS), a joint venture created to provide launch support and base operations services to Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base, is one of nearly 1,300 worksites--a number that is growing on an almost daily basis--participating in VPP through state plans and federal OSHA. Talking to Storm, the effort and commitment required to become a VPP Star becomes apparent.

"Our proposal to the government included our commitment to become an OSHA Star company and in doing so, demonstrate to our customers and our employees our core value of workplace safety and health excellence," says Storm. "Our contract was awarded on Oct. 1, 1998. We immediately began the planning and preparations for submitting our VPP application to OSHA. Our application was accepted, and our first OSHA on-site inspection was conducted in October 2001."

This initial visit, he went on to say, consisted of approximately 15 OSHA VPP special government employees (SGEs--they are employees of VPP sites who have received training from OSHA in how to conduct onsite audits) and OSHA field compliance specialists who carried out what Storm calls "an extremely thorough" evaluation of the facility, perused safety and health records and written programs and conducted in-depth interviews with employees.

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While the thought of not one but of many OSHA "inspectors" on site can send a chill through the heart of even the toughest safety manager, Storm seems almost elated by the experience, calling it "an outstanding opportunity to learn from our evaluators and improve our program." Although the evaluation process turned up some problem items, says Storm, Space Gateway Support was able to correct them immediately.

He adds, "The great part of the inspection process was the interaction between the inspectors and the floor-level shop employees." The visitors from VPP were "experts with many, many years of safety and health experience," says Storm, who commends them for their efforts to mentor and educate Space Gateway Support employees.

The facility completed its VPP audit with no major findings, 13 best practices and a Star.

1,300 AND COUNTING

In 1979, VPP took its first baby steps, when California began an experimental program similar to VPP. In 1982, OSHA formally announced VPP and approved the first site. In 1998, federal worksites became eligible for VPP.

The Bush administration has placed an emphasis on cooperative programs and alliances, and former Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw "challenged the safety and business communities to grow this program significantly," notes Paula White, OSHA's director of Cooperative and State Programs. In fact, in 2004, Henshaw threw down a gauntlet and said he'd like to see 8,000 worksites participating in VPP.

"I called that his challenge and my nightmare," jokes White, who adds that current Acting OSHA Administrator Jonathan Snare is equally as committed to the program.

VPP sets performance-based criteria for management commitment, employee involvement, hazard recognition and mitigation and employee training; invites sites to apply; and then assesses applicants against the criteria. OSHA's verification process includes an application review and a rigorous onsite evaluation by a team of OSHA safety and health experts that includes, in some cases, SGEs. …