The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) is the federal agency charged with ensuring both private and government workplaces comply with regulations intended to keep employees safe.

Under the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP), OSHA extends privileges to certain employers with a favorable safety record: organizations with a high VPP rating are free to operate with minimal OSHA oversight. However, even some of the nation’s most hazardous worksites are receiving exemptions, and this lack of accountability seems to be contributing to worker injuries, permanent impairment and deaths.

VPP Details

VPP began in 1982 as a way to complement OSHA’s enforcement efforts. To participate in VPP, details of an employer’s safety and health management system must be submitted to OSHA. After reviewing these materials, OSHA conducts an onsite review, complete with an evaluation of injury rates. All VPP sites are exempt from many standard OSHA inspections.

The highest worksite designation under VPP is “Star.” To be in the Star Program, a company must have demonstrated illness and injury rates at or below the national average for the applicable industry. OSHA deems Star companies as successful in their safety practices, and capable to manage workplace risks on their own. Star organizations are only subject to reevaluation every three to five years.

Some Employers Missing the Mark

There is no doubt VPP has helped improve safety at some facilities. But for others, a lack of inspections and accountability has resulted in disaster.

Since 2000, more than 80 workers have been killed at job sites OSHA considers to be models for safety. Although all of these worksites were exempted from certain inspections, in 47 instances, post-accident investigators uncovered serious safety violations. As such, many of these worker deaths likely could have been prevented.

Especially hazardous industries are normally subject to special OSHA inspections. But, in this context many companies are still exempt under VPP, even absent outstanding performance in relief to competitors: in 2009 and 2010, approximately 40 percent of fires at oil refineries occurred at VPP sites. Unacceptably, almost two thirds of workplaces remain a part of VPP following a fatal workplace accident

Ensuring Accountability

Even when OSHA fails to hold employers responsible for their mistakes, you may do so in court. If you or a loved has been injured due to an unsafe work environment, promote accountability and recover the compensation you deserve by contacting an experienced workers’ compensation attorney today.