It seems that OSHA has finally realized that there is no such thing as a ‘model workplace’. In the past, companies in Illinois or elsewhere could participate in a federal program that exempted certain designated model workplaces from safety inspections even in the paradoxical event of the company later having a particularly serious workplace accident or death. OSHA has now changed its policy and announced that any company having work-related deaths or serious violations will be automatically removed from the program.
The new policy comes after a 2011 investigation by the Center for Public Integrity. It found a number of deaths at so-called model workplace sites and that the companies faced few or no consequences, even after inspectors found them at fault. The companies were allowed to stay in the program and remain exempt from regular OSHA inspections, an anomaly that defeats the intended theory behind the program.
The model workplace program has been called the Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP). Last August, a federal task force issued a report urging a tougher policy when workplace deaths or safety violations occur in a VPP company. Now, there will be an automatic removal from the system. Serious safety violations will also lead to automatic termination, even if not associated with a death.
When a death occurs from an accident at work the company is basically put on a probationary status while the investigation proceeds. It should also take the VPP flag or other display off of its website. However, in one recent workplace accident resulting in death the company has failed to take the VPP flag from its website.
The important issue to be faced in Illinois and nationwide is whether OSHA will be sufficiently equipped and organized to enforce this new policy effectively. For example, the recent workplace accident at Exxon Mobil’s oil refinery in Beaumont killed two and injured another 10. The new policy was not in effect then, but it appears that no one at OSHA can really articulate a concerted policy with respect to the oil giant at this point in time considering the impact of the recent accident.
Source: The Center for Public Integrity, “IMPACT: OSHA strengthens rules for ‘model workplace’ program,” Chris Hamby, July 12, 2013
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