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The Evolution of VPP: Working With OSHA To Map the Future

Contributor: Chris Williams, CAE, Executive Director, VPPPA

OSHA has undertaken its most ambitious effort yet to modernize the Voluntary Protection Program, the gold standard in safety and health management systems. Since 1982, VPP has grown to represent nearly 2,000 high-performing sites across the country who have committed to the program’s core principles of labor involvement, management commitment and regulatory oversight in pursuit of continuous EHS&S improvement. These principles, when combined with VPP’s use of annual self-evaluations and OSHA-led full site audits every 3-5 years—elements that hold sites and companies directly accountable for worker safety—set VPP apart from third-party SHMS.

OSHA began its VPP modernization efforts earlier this spring with the launch of a public comment period. OSHA developed a series of questions that focus on users’ opinions of the current program structure and how OSHA can evolve VPP to meet current and future EHS&S objectives. Areas for public input include incentives to grow and participate in VPP, as well as opportunities to identify pathways to bring third-party SHMS users into the program.

VPPPA and its members submitted comments and provided input on specific program elements via listening sessions at VPPPA’s Region II & III Conference in the Poconos in April, as well as at VPPPA’s Region VI Conference in Corpus Christi in May. OSHA’s proactive approach to modernization, gathering public input and direct VPP site feedback, should be applauded—indeed, these listening sessions have been critical in helping to shape the direction of program modernization and, more importantly, galvanize current and prospective VPP sites around VPP’s long-term growth.

What we’ve seen is this: OSHA and VPPPA view VPP modernization as a long-term process that is focused on creating the conditions for the program’s continued growth and success. Public input on what works—and what can work—has helped focus VPPPA’s evolutionary discussion on four key areas:

  1. Growing and strengthening the Special Government Employee program to better utilize these EHS&S experts beyond the traditional VPP site audit and maximize their knowledge, skills and experience for both current and prospective VPP sites;
  2. Creating a roadmap for users of third-party/consensus standard-based safety & health management systems like ISO45001 and ANSI Z10 to employ similar components of these systems in the VPP application process;
  3. Working with stakeholders in the EHS&S community to educate the public on what VPP is and its success in protecting workers; and
  4. Identifying opportunities to tailor and enhance elements of VPP to the construction industry to help spur increased involvement in the program.

That’s pretty ambitious, but VPP is a program built on ambition—to eliminate injuries and send every worker home in the same—or better—condition than which they arrived.

So what are the next steps?

OSHA is directly involved in VPPPA’s 2023 Safety+ Symposium September 17-20 at the Orlando World Center Marriott, in Orlando, FL. OSHA’s Safe & Sound initiative will have an entire track dedicated to disseminating EHS&S best practices gathered from across industry as part of the program. Just as important, OSHA plans on continuing its VPP modernization engagement efforts at VPPPA’s Safety+ as they begin the next phase of our collective efforts, discussing the initial findings from this spring’s public comment period and listening sessions with attendees.

These collaborative efforts are part of VPPPA’s long-term work to evolve the association and VPPPA’s Safety+ beyond VPP. In order to grow participation in the program, both OSHA and VPPPA must bring companies and sites to the proverbial table and help them achieve safety & health excellence. This means creating an inclusive environment that connects current VPP participants—and their vast knowledge of advanced EHS&S processes—with other high-performing companies to help evolve worker safety and health practices. The goal is simple: create an environment where the “best of the best” can come together and create the next great advancements in workplace safety and health, the ones that lead us to our ultimate vision of zero workplace injuries.

VPP modernization is a large part of this vision; creating a sustainable VPP that is continuously evolving and growing workplace safety practices has a trickle-down effect that OSHA and VPPPA can help spread to every worksite in America. So is growing and evolving VPPPA and VPPPA’s Safety+ to become the nexus of EHS&S. Together, we’ll achieve this vision.

Jacqueline "Jackie" Annis is an industrial hygienist with the Office of Partnerships and Recognition, Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs in OSHA’s National Office.  Jackie’s primary responsibilities include developing and overseeing internal policies and procedures for the VPP, reviewing VPP on-site evaluation reports for process safety management information, serving as the National Office liaison for two of OSHA’s ten Regions, and facilitating the management of OSHA’s National Strategic Partnership Program.  She is an integral part of OSHA’s National Office team. 

She has served with the Agency for 36 years, including five years as a senior industrial hygienist in OSHA’s Office of Health Enforcement, Directorate of Enforcement Programs in the National Office and 17 years as a compliance safety and health officer in the Denver, CO Area Office.  Prior to her tenure at OSHA, Jackie worked as an industrial hygienist for the Department of the Navy in Alameda, California.  Jackie obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 1983.

Wayne Howard earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis and has spent 12 years with Shell (at Martinez) refinery, 3 years with the consulting firm Process Safety, 15 years with Valero (at Benicia), and the last 10 years in the Corporate Process Safety Department. He is the Valero representative to AFPM's Advancing Process Safety Initiative.

Nathan Obaugh, PE is a senior engineer in the Safety and Operational Excellence Group at NuStar Energy. Nathan has over 10 years of PSM and process design experience in the petrochemical, refining and midstream industries. At NuStar, Nathan oversees all elements of the corporate PSM program and works directly on hazard analysis, process safety studies, PSM/RMP audits and provides process engineering support to the operations and capital projects groups.

Jared Teter, PhD is a senior staff scientist with a background in physics and hazards analysis. He has extensive experience in subscale testing of energetic materials and has served as program manager for several large testing and risk management projects. He has applied engineering and risk management protocols while evaluating the risk associated with propellant and explosives manufacturing, combustible dust, and other hazardous material related processes.

Tim Belitz has a degree in Environmental Health/Industrial Hygiene from Old Dominion University and a Master’s from Duke University. He has over 25 years of Industrial Health Safety and Environmental Experience and is a Certified Safety Professional. He has many years focused on Contractor Management and Process Safety programs.

Rob Walker graduated from Virginia Tech in Microbiology and Chemical Engineering. Rob has almost 35 years of experience working in the chemical plant and refining industry. His passion for Process Safety and Mechanical Integrity began very early in his career. Rob began with his current company, Honeywell, back in 2011.

Prasad Joshi has B.S. and M.S. Degrees in Chemical Engineering from two universities in India. Prasad has over 30 years’ experience in the business. He began with Honeywell in May 2022 as Principal Maintenance Engineer. He has worked internationally in Asia and Europe.