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OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs: Improved Oversight and Controls Would Better Ensure Program Quality

GAO-09-395 Published: May 20, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 18, 2009.
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The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is responsible for ensuring workplace safety. OSHA has established a number of programs, including the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), that take a cooperative approach to obtaining compliance with safety and health regulations and OSHA's standards. OSHA established the VPP in 1982 to recognize worksites with exemplary safety and health programs. GAO was asked to review (1) the number and characteristics of employer worksites in the VPP and factors that have influenced growth, (2) the extent to which OSHA ensures that only qualified worksites participate in the VPP, and (3) the adequacy of OSHA's efforts to monitor performance and evaluate the effectiveness of the VPP. GAO analyzed OSHA's VPP data, reviewed a representative sample of VPP case files, and interviewed agency officials.


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Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Labor To ensure proper controls and measurement of program performance, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to develop a documentation policy regarding information on follow-up actions taken by OSHA's regional offices in response to fatalities and serious injuries at VPP sites.
Closed – Implemented
Beginning in August 2009, OSHA issued a series of VPP Policy Memoranda that specified actions to address this recommendation. The agency reinforced the policy requiring Regions to immediately provide specified information to the National Office upon learning of a fatality or other serious injury and to ensure that all communications are appropriately documented and placed in the participant file. Summary information from enforcement files with final disposition or contest status and information from OSHA's Integrated Management Information System (IMIS) are also put in the participant file. The agency also initiated annual audits of regional VPP participant files to ensure that files are properly documented and maintained when a fatality or serious injury occurs. Each Region must submit copies of specified VPP files to the National Office for review. When the audit is complete, the results are documented with a memorandum of findings. Finally, the agency updated its Management Accountability Program (MAP), which requires regional actions and documentation in response to a fatality or serious injury at a VPP site.
Department of Labor To ensure proper controls and measurement of program performance, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to establish internal controls that ensure consistent compliance by the regions with OSHA's VPP policies for conducting on-site reviews and monitoring injury and illness rates so that only qualified worksites participate in the program.
Closed – Implemented
OSHA issued a series of VPP Policy Memorandum from August 2009 to June 2011 that include provisions addressing this recommendation. Examples of actions taken to promote consistency across Regions include: clarifying policy and procedures for reviewing and evaluating safety and health incentive programs at VPP applicant and participant worksites; requiring all Regions to use the VPP Automated Data System or an equivalent regional tracking system to ensure onsite evaluations are conducted within established timeframes; implementing a uniform policy regarding communication with applicants and participants about VPP approval; and establishing uniform procedures to notify VPP participants and their union representatives of their approval/reapproval. To better monitor injury and illness data, OSHA reinforced the actions staff must take when a Star participant's 3-year Total Case Incidence Rate (TCIR) or Days Away/Restricted/ Transfer (DART) rate or both exceed VPP requirements. For instance, the agency established improved policy and procedures for the annual submissions of injury and illness rate data required of all VPP participants. Whenever a participant's TCIR and/or DART rates exceed VPP requirements, the Region performs an analysis to determine what action is appropriate. The agency has directed that all decisions and corrective actions made by the Region are documented and included in the participant files. It improved its tracking and oversight when a participant's TCIR and/or DART rate exceeds VPP requirements to indicate if a 1-year conditional or rate reduction plan has been issued, which more effectively monitor participants whose rates or safety and health management system need improvement. The agency also established new procedures to identify discrepancies between injury and illness data reviewed during the onsite evaluation and data reported by the VPP participant on its annual self-evaluation. In the event of any discrepancies, the participant must be informed and revise its records and the National Office must be notified of any changes. The evaluation report that each onsite team is required to complete must include a statement that this data comparison has been conducted and needed actions taken.
Department of Labor To ensure proper controls and measurement of program performance, the Secretary of Labor should direct the Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health to establish a system for monitoring the performance of the VPP by developing specific performance goals and measures for the program.
Closed – Implemented
In FY09, OSHA stated that it believes injury and illness rates are the most appropriate measure of VPP's impact, however, the agency would look further into this issue and explore additional ways to measure participant performance and program impact. In FY10, the agency reported that it would evaluate VPP programs, including analyzing current and potential performance goals and measures, and determining VPP's effectiveness and optimal resource allocation. As of FY12, OSHA reported that continued to evaluate and develop ways to improve internal controls and measurement of program performance and effectiveness as part of its ongoing VPP continuous improvement process. In addition, OSHA formed a VPP Workgroup of regional and national VPP officials to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of OSHA's VPP in response to our recommendations. The Workgroup issued an evaluation report on August 17, 2012, which was posted to the public VPP Web site ( The report includes 34 recommendations, many of which involve monitoring the VPP program, such as recertification of VPP sites, participation in onsite evaluation, clarification and communication of policies and procedures, and effective use of limited resources. OSHA developed an action plan to address these recommendations and, as of March 2013, nine have been fully implemented. For example, OSHA increased the number of special government employees who could participate in VPP onsite evaluations. Many other recommendations are partially complete or in process but expected to be substantially implemented by December 31, 2013.

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