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June 28, 2012 

Voluntary Enforcement of Workplace Safety Isn’t Enough

America’s Workers Deserve Safe Workplaces, Full Government Oversight

Note:The House Education and Workforce Committee will hold a hearing at 9:30 a.m. today titled, “Promoting Safe Workplaces Through Voluntary Protection Programs,” in Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2175.

WASHINGTON, D.C.Lawmakers in today’s U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee hearing are misguided if they think that voluntary enforcement of workplace safety is enough to keep employees safe from harm, Public Citizen said.

The Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) – which allow employers to be exempt from inspections from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) – are unproven. The committee has said that “by encouraging employers to go beyond federal safety requirements and proactively promote the health and safety of their workers, VPP participants report fewer days away or restricted from work due to an injury or illness.” But letting industries regulate themselves is rarely a good idea.

“While Public Citizen applauds the willingness of some employers to step up and go above and beyond the language of the required federal statue to protect their employees, scheduled OSHA inspections remain necessary,” said Keith Wrightson, worker safety and health advocate for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “By removing scheduled OSHA inspections from the workplace, employers are left with fewer choices if unsafe situations occur.”

After an employer applies to OSHA to qualify to be in a VPP, OSHA performs a rigorous inspection and then decides. A VPP designation is good for three to five years.

“With the ever-changing workplace, workers in the U.S. should not have to wait as long as five years to have potential hazards mitigated,” said Lisa Gilbert, acting director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “The use of enforcement mechanisms and inspections is absolutely necessary to deter employers who may neglect workplace safety and health.”

“It’s great when employers go above and beyond, but we shouldn’t remove worker protections from employees who unfortunately are not in that situation,” Wrightson said. “The House Education and Workforce Committee should consider the need for federal oversight before moving to promote safe workplaces through voluntary programs alone.”

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