The Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) is an initiative created by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that encourages private industry and federal agencies to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses through effective safety and health management systems. It began in California in 1979 with an experimental program, and in 1982, federal OSHA formally announced the VPP and approved the first VPP site. In 1998, federal worksites became eligible for VPP.
The purpose of VPP is to:
- Recognize worksites with outstanding safety and health management systems, and
- Promote effective worksite-based safety and health and cooperation among government, industry and labor
VPP sets performance-based criteria for managed safety and health systems, invites sites to apply, and then assesses the applicants against the established criteria. An organization that satisfies all the requirements of the program can achieve one of three levels of recognition: Merit, Star or Star Demonstration. A key requirement is that the safety program must be employee-driven not just management driven. The VPP program encourages employers and employees in their efforts to reduce the number of occupational safety and health hazards at their places of employment, and to stimulate employers and employees to institute new, and perfect existing, programs for providing safe and healthful working conditions.
According to the Voluntary Protection Programs Participants Association (VPPPA), the VPP is administered by OSHA at 2,200 worksites encompassing about two million workers. The Department of Energy (DOE) also administers a VPP program that covers an additional 50,000 workers. These sites have demonstrated a Days Away Restricted or Transferred (DART) case rate of more than 50% below industry averages for their industry.
Employers benefit directly by fewer injuries and illnesses resulting in greater profits as workers’ compensation premiums and other costs decrease. Their industries benefit as VPP sites evolve into models of excellence and influence practices industry-wide.
OSHA also benefits by gaining an army of ambassadors enthusiastically spreading the message of safety and health system management. These partners also provide OSHA with valuable input and augment its limited resources. Federal OSHA is a small agency; with state partners they only have approximately 2,100 inspectors responsible for the health and safety of 130 million workers, employed at more than eight million worksites around the nation. This translates to about one compliance officer for every 59,000 workers. The VPPPA is another benefit to OSHA. It is a nonprofit safety and health organization that came into existence as a result of the VPP that works closely with federal OSHA and State Plan States to develop and implement cooperative programs.
VPP Core Elements
The VPP participant is expected to use a comprehensive system geared toward each worksite’s needs and meet the following four core elements of the VPP program:
- Management leadership and employee involvement
- Worksite analysis
- Hazard prevention and control
- Safety and health training
Management leadership and employee participation, safety and health training, in addition to company self-evaluations, are key elements of this process. Annual self-evaluations measure success and identify areas needing improvement.
Organizations apply for certification based on the established performance-based criteria. Verification includes an application review and a rigorous onsite evaluation. Preparing for VPP is typically a two to three year process. The application must include the four core VPP elements and must be in place for one year prior to the onsite review. Applicants must also have injury and illness rates below the average for their industry.
The OSHA review team usually consists of a team leader, a safety specialist, an industrial hygienist, and often a backup team leader. Depending on facility size and technical complexity, the onsite review typically lasts four days. The review team is establishing and confirming the existence of the four VPP core elements. During the review process OSHA conducts extensive employee interviews—they serve as an excellent barometer of a company’s overall safety and health program. Work practices that are experiencing a high number of incidents are looked at closely.
Typically on the last day of the site visit the OSHA team will meet to discuss its recommendations and to draft a report detailing its findings. Recommendations are based on:
- Safety and health conditions, including hazards found, plans to correct those hazards, and needed system improvements, if any
- Information gathered from informal and formal interviews
- Successful implementation of VPP elements of an effective safety and health management system
The OSHA team may determine that the organization meets the requirements for one of the three VPP designations:
Star: Recognition for employers and employees who demonstrate exemplary achievement in the prevention and control of occupational safety and health hazards the development, implementation and continuous improvement of their safety and health management system.
Merit: Recognition for employers and employees who have developed and implemented good safety and health management systems but who must take additional steps to reach Star quality.
Star Demonstration: Recognition for employers and employees who operate effective safety and health management systems that differ from current VPP requirements. This program enables OSHA to test the efficacy of different approaches.
The team may also determine that the site is not eligible for any of the three designations and suggest improvements to re-apply.
If deficiencies related to compliance with OSHA requirements are found the organization must correct the deficiencies within 90 days regardless of what designation, if any, is issued.
After a site is approved, they must submit annual reports to OSHA and host an onsite review every three to five years to maintain their VPP designation.
To begin the application process, visit the OSHA VPP page. There are three ways to participate: site based, mobile workforce, or VPP corporate. Choose the one that applies to your site to begin the application process.
Attaining VPP status is a lengthy process but the benefits have proven to be significant and to outweigh the costs: improved worker safety, increased employee involvement, reduced workers’ compensation premiums, reduced direct and indirect costs of injuries and illnesses as well as continuous safety and health program improvement.
Commonly Asked Questions
Q. What is the VPP mentoring program?
A. Part of the VPP mandate is to participate, if asked, in a mentoring program, formalized in 1994, that matches a potential VPP site with a current VPP site. The mentor site helps the candidate improve its safety and health management system and assists managers and employees in preparing for participation in VPP.
All about VPP, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
VPP Fact Sheet, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)
VPP Works and Saves, Voluntary Protection Programs Participants’ Association (VPPPA) Revision 7/2017