WASHINGTON – Recently, the Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made an important announcement regarding OSHA's Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). He announced that General Electric's (GE) Infrastructure-Security facility in Dublin, Ireland, was the first site accepted into Ireland's VPP Program.
In addition to the new Ireland VPP, the Netherlands has recently expressed interest in VPP and they have formally invited OSHA to brief them regarding the piloting of VPP in their country. The significance of these events should not be missed by those within the Department of Energy (DOE), particularly those currently participating in the DOE-VPP.
Many people are aware that DOE started their VPP effort in 1992 and that DOE’s program is a mirror image of OSHA’s VPP which began a decade earlier. Today, the DOE-VPP includes twenty-five (25) participating sites and 33,000 employees working at DOE VPP worksites. The success of DOE’s development and implementation of VPP has been closely studied by the European Union’s (EU) twenty-five member countries. Many of the lessons learned by DOE in implementing VPP will be transferred to each EU member nation as they begin implementation of their VPP.
Nearly two years ago, the health and safety agencies in Ireland and Northern Ireland joined with OSHA to sign an agreement to collaborate on the development of a VPP pilot project for their governments which would also serve as a pilot for other EU member countries. This pilot effort began with eight companies, all of which had parent companies in the United States already participating in VPP. The result of this effort culminated with the above mentioned recognition of the General Electric Company’s facility in Dublin as the first site in Ireland’s VPP.
It is important that we all take notice of this growth of VPP beyond the boundaries of the United States. Equally important, however, is the role that private enterprise played in this expansion of VPP from a U.S. or national “standard” to its role as an international standard, today.
The facts surrounding this safety and health success are no different that the facts surrounding other business or economic successes mentored by private enterprise. Progressive, proactive corporations have been moving toward this unified approach to safety and health for years.
As an example, the General Electric Company developed the “Global Star,” an internal recognition and award program that is modeled on the OSHA VPP. The General Electric Company uses this program to recognize excellence in safety and health at facilities outside of the United States. Current information shows that General Electric now has 127 VPP/Global Star sites including sites in Brazil, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, Hungary, Austria, Italy, Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. In addition, in Mexico, 19 General Electric manufacturing sites are already enrolled or applying this year.
Another example of the international progress of VPP is the Tri-national Recognition Program. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the United States has been working with Mexico and Canada in exploring the feasibility of establishing a Tri-national Recognition Program that recognizes companies achieving safety and health excellence in Mexico, Canada, and the United States. These three nations have also agreed to an active program of cooperative efforts to advance job safety and health under labor accords that the three nations have established under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC); a NAFTA labor-side agreement.
The Tri-national Occupational Safety and Health Working Group agenda for 2005 includes efforts to:
Clearly, DOE can be of enormous assistance in advising participants on these agenda items. The Department’s electronic Voluntary Protection Program, “e-VPP,” is an outstanding example of an expanded web-based program for safety and health; and the Departments’ experience in VPP may be invaluable to those seeking to adapt VPP to their business cultures.
During this past year, the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland has commenced coordination of the European Union’s safety and health performance studies with those of the United States. The Finish Institute is sharing information on VPP techniques and tools, and is examining VPP performance and progress in the United States for further validation on the use of VPP in the European Union. In particular, the Finns are assessing the new electronic VPP application software pioneered by the DOE VPP in association with the Voluntary Protection Program Participants Association (VPPPA).