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Safety matters: Injuries and fatalities at ‘model’ workplaces

As part of our investigative series The Watch List comes a report on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Voluntary Protection Programs, or VPP. VPP has designated more than 2,400 workplaces across the U.S. as “model worksites” and allows them an exemption from inspections by regulators.

But what happens when workers are seriously injured – or even killed – at these supposedly safe VPP sites?  Over the last decade, at least 80 workers have died at dozens of VPP sites, yet a majority of those companies were allowed to stay in the program.

That’s the subject of this investigation, which we bring to you in cooperation with our colleagues at the Center for Public Integrity’s iWatch News. Need to Know’s Mona Iskander reports.


At iWatch News: ‘Model workplaces’ not always so safe

Correction: An earlier post on this page incorrectly stated that some VPP worksites had experienced dozens of fatalities rather than what we intended to say, which is that fatalities have occurred at dozens of VPP sites. We regret the error and have corrected it.


  • zeroghd

    The VPP program initially made Valero a much better and safer place to work compared to what it was before Valero bought the facility. I personally saw the changes and can attest to the good it did. The morale of the refinery has gone way downhill In the past few years for many different reasons but Valero still strives to maintain a safe work environment for its employees, but nothing is ever perfect. I will never forget the day I learned one of my co-workers was tragically killed in a place so familiar to me. We will always remember you Tommy. R.I.P. 12/4/2009

  • Afriend

    I worked with Tommy daily and his memory is still alive out here in Valero. He is still missed and talked about daily, he will always be a wonderful guy, great at his job, a smiling friendly face, who is dearly missed.

  • whatever

    I knew someone killed in a workplace accident.  It is my understanding he was ordered to do something that was beyond his training and experience.  OSHA’s eventual fine made it clear that life is cheap.  Oddly enough it looked like the company has since gotten on the VPP list.  My opinion is that the VPP list is nothing more than another way for corporations to avoid facing up to their responsibilities. 

  • William Litten

    I never put much stock in VPP or OHSAS 18001, I have done several audits of facilities that had these accreditations but still failed to comply with some of the most basic regulations.

  • Liz in PA

    Post a link to VPP list so it can be shared.

  • Davekronner

    Outragous!!!!!!! It’s luducrous to thing that corps will regulate themselves fairly. They are too interested in the bottom line. America is too afraid of regulations, but Amerca NEEDS regulations.

  • George

    Self regulating. That’s like Cornel Sanders guarding the chicken coop.

  • Brittcorre

    I am a Valero employee be several yrs now diligently trying to continue to make it a safer workplace in all aspects/show others the continued need to do so on a daily basis at all levels /managed to turn on tv just as they were ending the PBS broadcast showing Corporate office in Texas w/ the V.P.P flag hanging.  Caught nothing else/this site doesn’t touch much more on it as it pertains to Valero.  Could u please fill me more in on this OSHUA, V.P.P, and especially, Tommy’s incidence as a “distant” co-worker that I am always striving 2 maintain we all always remember/care about each other; we are all a connected team striving for professionalism/be/stay in the know?  I’d greatly appreciate it.

  • R_olcott

    Having worked at Eastman-Kodak, during my senior year of High school, I was quite impressed by their extensive safety efforts. Some years later, while working in a private machine/tool& Die shop, I was less impressed, when I was handed some material to machine, and was told it was “Trialite”. Well, my 1903 edition of Machinery’s Handbook didn’t list “trialite”, so I checked the materials list on the Blueprint(s), and found it spelled: “ASBESTOS”. When I asked the new(millionaire) owner for a 3-M paper mask (even though a respirator might have been the best course of action), he told me he didn’t have any. I stead of having me machine it in a “hermetically sealed room, which had a Jig Bore, he directed me to use a milling machine at the foot of the stairs which he, his secretary, and the (at that time pregnant) bookkeeper used to access their work spaces.
         A few years later, in a different state, I had the pleasure of meeting my friend’s neighbor-when I asked what he did, he replied he’s “in Law Enforcement”. When I asked where he worked, he said “I’m an Industrial Hygienist at OSHA”. I read OSHA publications a lot after that.
         To the best of my current knowledge, OSHA has no standard for exposure to Mollosk Shell dust. I have an artist friend who carved sea shells into whales, without benefit of a respirator, while using power tools to “carve” it, and developed an adverse health condition. A recent Google Scholar search of “Sea Shell+dust hazards” yielded only 3 [medical journal] articles; One of which described an industrial environment where buttons were manufactured from sea shell and the resultant health problems and complications. My friend now produces posters showing his sea shell artwork, with a hazard warning on one side of the poster, and the abstract of the medical journal article on the other-which he shares graciously!

  • Robert Olcott

    Thomas Paine, in his Common Sense pamphlet, noted certain affairs where the “absense or lack of moral virtue necessitated government protection”.
    Were every employer morally virtuous about matters of Industrial Hygiene and Safety, we’d still need OSHA monitoring/researching/etc., at least for the self-employed artists and craftspersons who carve sea shell; children (under 18 years of age) in agricultural work where toxic sprays are used, and the meat packing arenas where power slicers can remove untrained/unguarded fingers, …  untrained new workers in a variety of settings (even Eastman-Kodak)!

  • Mona Iskander

    Here is a list of VPP sites by state.

  • Liz in PA

    Thank you Mona.

  • Liz in PA

    Some of the VPP companies are notable because they are either US government facilities or enjoy a special business relationship with US government.  Here are a few examples: Halliburton; Lockheed Martin; United States Mint; USPS; NASA; all the big pharma corps; all the oil and energy giants … I’m getting nauseous.

  • Montminy11

    Outrageous is the word!!! A completely one sided report with an egregious mischaracterization of facts showing a complete lack of journalistic integrity.  I currently work for a VPP recognized construction company. We are a small construction company that since the inception of OSHA has never been party to a programmed inspection. Yet, we invited OSHA to our site to evaluate us against the most stringent VPP requirement and received VPP recognition. The construction industry is actually a far more hazardous industry than the petroleum industry causing more fatalities and work place injuries per employee.  Your report says nothing about the many benefits to the rank and file employees pushing the wrenches. VPP companies have far surpassed the bar minim regulatory requirements and built best practices that are cutting edge and modeled by excellent safety programs all over the world. Yet not one of those best practice achievements was mentioned. VPP sites routinely provide mentorship to drive improvement in safety and health industry wide even among competitors. VPP companies must complete annually evaluations and undergo stringent re-evaluations where they show continuous improvement in safety and health. In other words, the bar that you set last year is no longer good enough; you must not only strive but achieve continuous improvement. Your report doesn’t even mention that VPP is a tremendous commitment and investment in resources. Your “factual reporting” implies that VPP companies are the only companies where there is pressure to under report work place injuries. Nothing could be further from the truth! All VPP companies that I have seen have a zero tolerance policy towards non-reporting or even late reporting of a work place accident or injury. With the chance of losing my employment and losing a chance to collect unemployment in this economy, I’m going to report that injury every time! With your dangerous mischaracterization of facts, you unbelievably seem to argue that under reporting of work place injuries is strictly a VPP issue! With respect to work place fatalities, that is your only valid point. A VPP company should lose their recognition status after a work related fatality with no exceptions. Let’s lock it down and set it in stone. Push to codify VPP to make this a mandatory requirement! The goal of VPP is reduce work place injuries and fatalities. Having a work place fatality or injury and illness rates above industry averages is acknowledgement of failure of this goal!

  • Frank

    I think that Montminy 11 missed the point on this. To me the focus of report was on the dozens of VPP companies that still retained their VPP status AFTER a total of 80 deaths occured between them on their work sites. I have see instances on jobs where people were afraid to report safety concerns or violations for fear of their jobs.

  • Anonymous

    If you are injured during work or on your way to or from work you may be entitled to compensation. You may even be entitled to work injury compensation in the event you are injured whilst on a break, attending training & business travel for work.

  • Hobbler11

    I was injured at my job and a co- worker ran from me instead of taking me to a hospital for treatment, and management backed him!!!

  • Hobbler11SUCKS

    lmao sucks for u

  • Allah Ramaar Allen

    It would be more productive to remove companies fro the VPP after a fatality or injury has occured.