Submitted by Josh Kerst
I just returned from the 25th Annual
National Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association Inc. (VPPPA)
conference in San Antonio last week and it is clear that the pendulum of direction
at OSHA is changing rapidly. In the
opening session, Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA, Jordan Barab
talked about the current challenges OSHA faces and the changes that are
forthcoming. The message was very clear
that OSHA’s role in the near future will emphasize increased inspections and
more aggressive enforcement rather than relying on cooperative programs such as
the VPP. Barab indicated that nearly
200 new federal OSHA inspectors will be brought on staff and that assessed
fines and penalties will be higher in the future. Indications are that the administration will also
attempt to get legislation passed criminalizing managers whose employees are
killed or seriously injured, making them felons subject to imprisonment.
Barab’s comments come on the heels of a
report released by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) last spring that
takes issue with OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program. The report questions OSHA and Regional VPP staff’s ability to verify that
internal controls are sufficiently robust to ensure that only qualified
worksites participate in the VPP. The report further states that “OSHA has not
developed the proper goals or measures to assess the performance of VPP”. OSHA seems to have adopted the old British
Navy adage which says “People tend to respect
what they expect you will inspect”.
A follow-up VPPPA panel session given by
four of OSHA’s Directorate personnel announced that OSHA will begin conducting a comprehensive
evaluation of VPP safety and health systems beginning as early as September.
These reviews will seek to verify if proper oversight and controls are in place
and that appropriate follow-up actions are taken in response to incidents, such
as fatalities and serious injuries, at VPP sites. The panel indicated that OSHA would check to
see if VPP companies are “cooking the books” and if so appropriate actions will
be taken with regards to the VPP program in response to recommendations made in
the GAO report.