Addressing Voluntary Protection Programs

Democrats historically have been proponents of enforcement and regulations, while Republicans have typically endorsed compliance assistance programs.

One program that may see more attention regardless of which candidate wins in November is OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Programs. Even though VPP is relatively small, it has been the focus of recent discussions following budgetary maneuvers and the release of certain studies.

The program has received more support from Republicans (President George W. Bush provided much more funding to it in the past decade) than it has from Democrats. (Obama’s proposed budgets attempted, but failed, to defund the program.)

Recently, VPP has come under intense scrutiny following reports that certain worksites remained in the program – in which OSHA rewards companies by conducting fewer inspections – even after they were found to have poor safety records, including workplace fatalities.

AFL-CIO Director of Occupational Safety and Health Peg Seminario blames this on the program turning into a numbers game in which the focus was on admitting new employers during the Bush administration instead of maintaining high standards. This led to the program’s rapid growth and made it difficult for OSHA to monitor and assess the safety practices of VPP participants, she claims.

The program still has a lot of supporters on both sides of the aisle, with everyone believing it should continue, according to Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The difficult question to answer, Freedman said, is how to safely expand the program. Frank White, global director for Mercer ORC HSE Services in Washington, said even those within the program likely had concerns about its too-rapid growth and whether that was something OSHA could handle. “Even a Republican administration will have to carefully consider how fast they will want to grow VPP,” he said.

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