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For a second consecutive year, lawmakers aim to protect the popular voluntary protection program, a self-policing enforcement program overseen by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, by codifying it into law.
In the Senate, the measure was sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Michael Enzi (R.-Wyo.), the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. In the House, a similar bill was introduced by Rep. Tom Petri (R.-Wis.), the senior GOP member of the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training, and Rep. Gene Green (D-Texas), a senior member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
Enzi and Green introduced similar bills in 2010, but both proposals died in committee (40 OSHR 361, 4/29/10).
“The [VPP] program is currently operating, but has never been authorized in law and was proposed to be cut by the Obama administration's fiscal 2011 budget,” Petri said April 13 on the House floor. “While, the administration has backed away from those cuts in its fiscal year 2012 budget proposal, this legislation would put the program on a more solid foundation by specifically authorizing it in law.”
The bills also would ban the federal government from charging companies to participate in VPP and would require the Labor Department to attract more small businesses to VPP.
The bills have the support of VPP's members, R. Davis Layne, executive director of the VPP Participants' Association, said.
“The primary concern of our membership is that VPP is put into law, and Congress has the opportunity to fund the program,” Layne told BNA April 15. The bills don't alter existing VPP agreements, he added.
Introduced in 1982, the VPP program allows businesses to avoid OSHA programmed inspections if the company promises to meet or exceed the agency's safety requirements and to keep records to prove it. OSHA claimed workers at VPP companies on average miss 52 percent fewer days on the job because of injury and illness.
As of the end of March, 2,439 companies participated in state or federal OSHA VPP programs, double the number signed up in 2004, OSHA data showed.
The Government Accountability Office faulted the VPP program in 2009 for slack oversight of VPP participants and for allowing companies that did not meet VPP standards to join the program (39 OSHR 515, 6/25/09).
In response, OSHA tightened up its reviews of VPP members (39 OSHR 699, 8/20/09).
In 2010, as part of the proposed FY 2011 budget, the Obama administration targeted VPP and other compliance programs for a $3 million budget cut. It also proposed to transfer 35 inspectors from the compliance assistance directorate to the enforcement directorate (40 OSHR 88, 2/4/10).
The administration also proposed charging VPP participants for part of the cost of participating. All three proposals died. The 2012 budget proposal made no mention of reducing VPP funds or staff (41 OSHR 135, 2/17/11).
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