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August 1, 2011

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Report on voluntary H&S regulation scheme highlights serious problems

A health and safety self-regulation model widely used in the United States, and which, some argue, is slowly being adopted in the UK, has been heavily criticised by a leading American news organisation.
The Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) is operated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and requires firms who wish to sign up to it to meet a range of criteria stipulated by the regulator. These include operating an active occupational health and safety management system and passing an OSHA audit every three to five years. Successful organisations are thus exempted from routine OSHA inspections.
Some 2400 sites in the US participate in the Program and so are deemed to be the safest in the nation but the Center for Public Integrity – an independent news organisation – has found that some of them have “serious safety issues”. In the last 10 years, at least 80 workers have died at VPP-designated sites, according to a report in Business Insurance magazine.
The Center’s findings added to a Government Accountability Office report in May 2009, which noted, among other things, that OSHA’s internal controls are “not sufficient to ensure that only qualified work sites participate in the VPP” and that the regulator’s oversight of the Program is “minimal”, as is the documentation required to participate.
Some stakeholders in the UK believe that the Government here is keen to promote a similar approach, particularly in light of the HSE’s recent announcement that it is scaling back proactive inspection in all but the highest-hazard sites. The Conservatives are also on record as saying they would be in favour of allowing firms to arrange their own, externally audited inspections.
To read the full report on the VPP scheme in Business Insurance, click here.

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12 years ago

Here in the UK health and safety is supposed to exist via the so-called tripartite system – the regulator, employer and employee representative. The reality is that employers in the main only comply with h&s laws for fear of prosecution – voluntary codes have never worked.

Interesting to note the VPP system operated by OSHA, which appears to be something similar to voluntary h&s certifiications here in the UK. What is often started as a good idea becomes nothing more than a cash cow.