Figure 1: Approved companies can display the VPP logo.The previous issue of Forensic Magazine presented the first part of OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and discussed the history of OSHA’s safety management emphasis. Recent statistics on worker deaths, injuries, and illnesses were given as motivation to continue efforts to curtail these preventable events. The birth of OSHA’s voluntary Safety and Health Program and its four major elements were outlined. This issue finishes the series with more detail on the VPP.


Recognizing and Promoting Excellence: OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program
The Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) is an OSHA program that provides official recognition to businesses and worksites that have proven outstanding efforts of both employers and employees in achieving exemplary health and safety. The VPP brings together management, labor, and OSHA in cooperative relationships that build comprehensive health and safety management systems and promote effective occupational programs to protect workers.

The impetus for the voluntary protection program was actually stated by the U.S. Congress in the original Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. From section (2)(b) of the OSH Act:

The Congress declares it to be its purpose and policy, …, to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources –

(1) by encouraging 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 to perfect existing programs for providing safe and healthful working conditions.1

However it was not until 1982 that OSHA formally announced the VPP and began to approve worksites with exemplary safety and health management programs thus creating the Voluntary Protection Program. The first word is the key. Voluntary. Participants willingly enter the VPP program by seeking OSHA approval and gaining acceptance into the program. The VPP sets rigorous performance–based criteria for health and safety management systems and then assesses each applicant against these criteria. If the submittals pass OSHA’s review and meet all criteria an on-site verification evaluation is conducted by a team of OSHA health and safety experts. Facilities that pass the site assessment are approved into one of the three voluntary protection programs. Once qualified for VPP, worksites must also complete annual self-evaluations and submit to periodic on-site assessments to retain VPP status.

There are three levels or categories within the VPP. VPP Star is the highest level of recognition designed for model worksites that have realized comprehensive and successful health and safety management systems while achieving injury and illness rates far below the national averages for their industry. VPP Star participants meet all VPP performance criteria. VPP Merit, the next level, is intended for workplaces that show the potential and commitment to rise to Star status within three years. Merit level VPP participants express the willingness to reach the highest level but some aspects of their programs need expansion or enhancement. The last category is Star Demonstration. Participants in this category are testing alternative or new safety and health programs to achieve excellence that might lead to changes in VPP criteria. Once a workplace is approved, the company can begin using the appropriate VPP banners, flags, and logos for recognition of superior safety and health performance.


Is it worth the extra effort? Does VPP work?

Is the VPP successful? We know what happens to programs that are not successful; they are left to fade away or given the axe. This is definitely not the case for VPP. Since its inception OSHA VPP participants have increased steadily to more than 2,400 sites at the end of 2010. Figure 2 shows overall growth during the nearly thirty year life of the program. VPP participants are from a diverse array of industries representing more than 180 distinct industry classifications from petrochemical plants to federal laboratories. And most of the participants are small worksites with fewer than 100 employees.

Everyone wants to know how attaining VPP status benefits your worksite. The bottom line is that there are many positives both tangible and intangible. It is worth the effort, because realistically, if you are in compliance now, it is not going to be that much extra work.

VPP participants’ statistics are impressive. VPP worksites generally have lost–workday case rates significantly lower than the rates experienced by average worksites. In fact, the average VPP worksite has a Days Away, Restricted, or Transferred (DART) case rate 52% below their respective industry average. Other tangible benefits in addition to reduced accident, injury, and illness rates are decreased workers compensation costs and potential rebates from workers comp and liability premiums as many carriers are offering incentives for performance. OSHA reports that VPP worksites have saved more than one billion dollars since the program began in 1982.2

On the intangible side OSHA's experience from the Voluntary Protection Programs indicates that effective management of safety and health greatly enhances the work environment. Obviously, the reduced DART rates lead to increased employee productivity and less disruption especially important in small tightly-knitted work teams. But improved employee morale, lower turnover, and less absenteeism are also frequently reported by VPP participants. Perhaps the greatest rewards stem from the sense of pride felt by all involved including management, health and safety directors, supervisors, and front-line workers. There is also a sort of community pride both among industry peers and the general public knowing that your company has taken steps above and beyond strict regulatory compliance to protect the health and safety of your workers.


Snapshot of a local case study

United Space Alliance, a NASA contractor at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida achieved VPP Star several years ago and has maintained it going on nine years. It was tough at first. As the company grew and acquired smaller contractors they discovered some safety programs needed much work and improvement and others were missing altogether. But by reaching for VPP they were able to develop and implement one program and a singular way to assess safety across multiple worksites and different divisions.

Gaining VPP status brought a 15% to 25% drop in accident and injury rates for the various divisions in the company. One segment of the company with fewer than 100 employees had their recordable injuries go from 25 per year to zero, earning them a $47,000 rebate on their workers comp premiums and another $48,000 from their liability carrier. But the biggest reward was perhaps the fact that the programs instituted from VPP were directly responsible for saving three lives. That is a statistic that everyone can point to and feel very good about. Isn’t time you considered participation in OSHA’s VPP?


  1.  “Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970.” United States Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Washington, D.C. 1970
  2. Voluntary Protection Programs, Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Washington, D.C. 2011.

Vince McLeod is an American Board of Industrial Hygiene Certified Industrial Hygienist and the senior IH with the University of Florida’s Environmental Health and Safety Division. He has 25 years of experience in all facets of occupational health and safety and specializes in conducting exposure assessments and health hazard evaluations.