OSHA recently announced new requirements may be on the horizon for refineries, power plants and other work sites that are part of the Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) and whose companies possess extensive process safety risks. This news comes on the heels of the agency working through a backlog of renewals for current VPP employers with the hopes of increasing the number of VPP approvals across all industries soon. VPP is an OSHA program recognizing employers that put into action safety procedures and programs exceeding OSHA requirements and who maintain injury and illness rates lower than the national averages for their industries. In return, these worksites are exempt from most programmed OSHA inspections.
OSHA is considering adopting new VPP requirements for worksites where process safety management is a large concern because the current method of judging performance based on injury and illness rates doesn't address efforts to prevent catastrophic events such as plant explosions. Process Safety Management regulations under OSHA requires companies to identify hazards that could result in a chemical incident and control those hazards through training, procedures, contractor evaluations and other measures.
The potential impact of this new development means less focus on injury and illness rates for OSHA and more focus on the prevention of catastrophic events. The agency's priorities in the past year have been focused on reducing the backlog of VPP site renewals and adding new sites connected to the Department of Defense, such as military contractors. Eight DOD-related sites have applied for VPP certification and two of those have been approved. OSHA seems to be very focused on making VPP as sound and successful of a program as it can possibly be.