The average VPP site has a lost workday incidence rate at least 50 percent below the average found within their given industry (1). Knowing this, what exactly does it take to become a VPP worksite? All organizations have the opportunity to become a VPP worksite, but here we take a look at why you would want to go through the process and what you should know about attaining VPP status.
How Does VPP Benefit Your Company?
VPP sites can be a part of setting the standard for safety excellence in their respective industries. However, being considered a VPP site isn’t just about setting a high standard or being recognized for your safety efforts. To start, fewer incidents and illnesses help your bottom line. What’s more, a safer organization means lowers workers’ comp and insurance premiums; it also can bring with it positive employee morale and greater productivity. Additionally, stronger, more sustainable business processes and systems often come as a result of going through the VPP process.
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What Are the Requirements In Order to Become a VPP Worksite?
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At its foundation, OSHA looks for workplaces where management is working in coordination with workers to prevent fatalities, injuries, and illnesses through a comprehensive safety program. “It’s about developing and implementing a program that really goes above and beyond the norm of safety cultures,” says Matt Brunsman, VPP Coordinator/SGE at GE Aviation. (With injury rates substantially lower than average in the industry, GE Aviation has VPP STAR Status and has had this recognition for many years.) “In order to achieve this status, you want to have buy-in from your leadership team—from the very top—all the way down to the people who work on the floor. You have to have buy-in with all your employees to carry it out,” he adds. Let’s take a closer look at several of the main components that must be in place to qualify for VPP:
#1: A comprehensive safety system that is effective in hazard prevention and control.
OSHA wants to see, first and foremost, a company that has a visible, written, and actionable safety and health system and/or program. Key to that system is hazard prevention and control. That system must include:
- A priority on hazard elimination (and the application of the OSHA hierarchy of controls)
- A system (and method of tracking) that equips any worker to report hazards, safety suggestions, near misses, and incident reports
- A detailed, up-to-date occupational health care program that includes key care team contacts
- Formalized plans for natural disasters and/or emergencies
At a high level, this also includes having safety-related goals. (And, this also includes having objectives tied to those safety/health-related goals.) VPP sites have detailed safety roles and responsibilities within their organization—with evidence of resources to support those people within their roles.
#2: Company-wide commitment, involvement, and cooperation.
VPP sites also have top management who personally value safety. At the same time, they want to see that all worker types—employees, remote, contract, etc.—are involved in safety. These workers need to be just as dedicated to safety as top management. On a day-to-day basis, VPP sites have workers who are involved in safety-related decision making. These are companies that have a clear way for workers to share and address safety concerns or issues that they see on the job. “Employee involvement is key. For example, you want to be sure they are actively involved in safety meetings. It’s a partnership between management and workers. You have to commit to working together to make the site as safe as possible,” explains Brunsman.
#3: A rigorous worksite analysis.
VPP participants are selected based on their written safety and health management system and ongoing performance, as well as a thorough on-site analysis performed by OSHA, explains Brunsman. “OSHA wants to see your program [exceeds the] standard,” says Brunsman. “They will go through your site, through your documentation, through all of your training records, all of your injury and illness cases, and more.” Brunsman says OSHA wants to obtain answers to these questions:
- Do workers confirm and validate what leadership is saying about safety practices, protocols, and the culture in general?
- Is there proper documentation that supports what management has said about the safety program?
- Are audits being completed in alignment with OSHA standards?
- Are workers’ safety concerns and/or issues being met and/or dealt with appropriately?
A hazard analysis can shed light on ways to eliminate or minimize hazards in the workplace, and those changes must be implemented. On top of OSHA’s in-depth inspection, self-inspections are also necessary to obtain and maintain VPP status. Last, companies that achieve VPP status must have a reporting system that gives workers the ability to report issues and/or observations.
#4: Effective safety and health training.
All managers and workers must go through safety and health training to attain VPP status. This kind of training should put workers in a position to combat complacency in their role. Training should also equip them to recognize high risk conditions. Safety and health-related training should also include some way of measuring effectiveness and should be supported by documentation to show proof workers went through all necessary site-specific and job-specific training.
Ready for OSHA VPP?
Brunsman says one of the best parts about being a VPP site is the continuous safety improvements that come with it for GE. “Over the years, we have tremendously improved our site. That’s often been from recommendations from the program, as well as working with other mentor sites and other VPP sites where we are able to take back best practices to implement,” he says. How do you know if you are ready to submit your VPP application? Before showing interest and starting the application process, recognize the kind of short-term and long-term investment the process will involve. “Be willing to put in the investment: the time and the money,” he says. Brunsman’s other advice as you go through the process is to be sure you have full buy-in, across all departments and levels in the company. “Make sure managers and employees are fully engaged. Safety must come first before production,” he says.
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