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Injury and Death in California’s

Californian workers injured in so-called “model” workplaces are realizing that the California State Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) is in need of some real revamping of its Voluntary Protection Program (VPP).

The VPP was a federal program created in 1982 meant to emphasize voluntary disclosures and safety practices rather than mandatory enforced ones. The hope was that companies would take it upon themselves to ensure safe environments, which, in turn, would alleviate the burden on workplace inspectors. To incentivize, participating companies would have advantages when bidding for government contracts and with pre-planned safety inspections. A number of state workplace safety departments, such as California, opted to run their own version of the program.

In California, qualified companies in VPP are exempt from routine inspections. Instead, these workplaces have the advantage of:

  • Pre-planned safety inspections;
  • Self-reporting of all workplace accidents; and
  • Elevated status when bidding on government and contract work.

For California, the goal of the VPP is to use employers with “stellar safety records” as models to other companies throughout the state. But the problem is that many of these safety records may not be so stellar.

California’s VPP Problems

Many companies are deemed safe even after failing critical standards and safety regulations. Official reports show that safety measures are still being sacrificed at many of these facilities. Had routine inspections occurred at some of these “model” workplaces, issues with safety measures would have been identified and some workplace injuries may have been avoided.

Companies continuously failed to correct preventable conditions that resulted in accidents and even death to their workers. And yet, somehow, these companies are still members of Cal/OSHA’s VPP even after catastrophic injuries and deaths occurred in those workplaces.

The story of James Spotts serves to illustrate how disastrous this voluntary program can be. Spotts, a worker at a San Jose rocket motor plant, was cutting a fuel pipe when it exploded, blasting him with shards and engulfing him in a fiery explosion. According to investigators, had supervisors made sure that the cutting surface of the pipe was properly cleaned before the cutting started, the workplace explosion that killed Spotts could have been avoided.

Spotts’ story is just one example of many where a company enjoyed an elite safety status in California’s own voluntary protection program while safety measures were overlooked.

With budget crises abounding across the nation, it is no surprise that the Cal/OSHA’s VPP is having a difficult time keeping up with the growing roles of the program. The budget and the staff are stretched thin, and as a result many inspections occur only after accidents happen — and many times those inspections do not even get to the root of the problems. Perhaps the most problematic of all is that it is the workers who are suffering the impact of these injuries and accidents in so-called “model” workplaces.

Contact an experienced attorney at Corsiglia McMahon & Allard, L.L.P. for assistance with your worksite safety or personal injury case. Call (408) 289-1417 today.

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