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Walberg Statement: Hearing on "Promoting Workplace Safety Through Voluntary Protection Programs"
As prepared for delivery.

Today we will discuss what has become an important model for workplace safety enforcement. Approximately 1,500 inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) work each day to enforce our nation’s health and safety standards. In an economy as vast and dynamic as ours, it is a difficult job. The goods and services that are the driving force behind the American economy come from countless workplaces across the country. Fields such as hospitality, manufacturing, health care, and construction – to name just a few – can present a unique set of health and safety concerns to workers.

The challenge is crafting safety policies that are as dynamic as the workplaces they oversee. Toward that end, we should encourage employers to adopt innovative practices that provide strong protections for workers, while also promoting flexibility that can address the need of a particular workplace. I believe that is why Voluntary Protection Programs have been so successful.

Established in 1982, Voluntary Protection Programs – commonly referred to as VPP –  have recognized employers and workers who go above and beyond federal standards in order to improve health and safety in their workplaces. In exchange for maintaining injury and illness rates below their respective industries’, participating worksites are exempt from OSHA’s routine inspections.

A key feature of VPP is the cooperative relationship it builds between employers, union leaders, workers, and safety officials. Together, these key stakeholders design and implement a comprehensive safety and health management strategy focused on identifying potential hazards and the steps that will be taken to mitigate those hazards.  The comprehensive plan also outlines how the employer will educate employees on the value of proactive safety in the workplace.

The success of VPP speaks for itself, with participating worksites reporting 52 percent fewer days away, restricted, or transferred from work due to an injury or illness. Popularity among employers continues to grow with nearly 2,400 worksites participating in a program today. Even federal agencies recognize the inherent rewards of VPP and are increasingly implementing programs in their workplaces.

It is important to note that the benefits of VPP extend beyond those who currently participate in a program. As we all know, bad actors will continue to cut corners, put profit before safety, and place their workers in harm’s way. When they do, we need safety inspectors available to hold them accountable and demand corrective action. By working with employers to promote a culture of safety, OSHA can direct scarce resources toward the bad actors to improve the safety of their workplaces.

Like any federal program, VPP is not without its weaknesses. In fact, in May 2009, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office released a report critical of OSHA’s management of the program. Since that time, the administration has implemented a series of changes recommended by GAO to enhance oversight and ensure greater uniformity in how these programs are administered across the country. I hope we will discuss these changes and whether they have led to a stronger program.

Throughout the 112th Congress, the committee has worked to advance a responsible approach to workplace safety, one that promotes strong protections without undermining efforts to put the American people back to work. As you know, Mr. Barab, we’ve asked tough questions and demanded straight answers. We will continue to do so and continue to hold the administration accountable for the policies it promotes. I look forward to working with you on all these important issues affecting America’s workplaces in the months ahead.


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