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Part 2: Accidents, violations common in OSHA's 'model workplaces'

This is the follow-up post to Part 1 discussing iWatch News' recent investigative piece on OSHA's "model workplace" program, which allows oil refineries to avoid industry-specific inspections even though many appear to be ridden with accidents, safety violations and even worker deaths.

In fact, iWatch News reported that at least seven workers have been killed at refineries that are not inspected through the special inspection program that regulates the oil refining industry because they are considered "model workplaces" within OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP).

More than 2,400 workplaces around the country, including shipyards, power plants and textile mills, participate in the program, which is intended honor workplaces that go above and beyond OSHA regulations, thereby reducing worker injuries and illnesses. Participation also allows some companies a tax break and the opportunity to fly the VPP flag, which can draw in the best workers.

As oil refineries are some of the most dangerous work environments that exist, it is highly important that they are closely regulated. However, many refineries that participate in the Voluntary Protection Programs, including Texas City, Texas, refinery where a worker was killed in 2009, still harbor the same safety problems as refineries not dubbed "model workplaces."

For example, the iWatch News investigation discovered that there were 55 fires during 2009 and 2010 at refineries under OSHA's supervision and about 40 percent of the fires occurred at VPP refineries.

One would think that when an accident arose at these so-called "model workplaces" that the refinery would immediately lose its VPP stamp of approval, but this is not the case. Even when inspectors find safety violations after an accident has occurred, "model workplaces" typically face nominal penalties and are allowed to keep the label.

Shockingly, iWatch News found that at least 65 percent of workplaces that had experienced a fatal accident were still participating in the VPP.

Hopefully, this investigation by iWatch News will bring much needed attention to this matter so that workplaces in violation of safety regulations and experience accidents that harm workers will not be recognized by OSHA as "model workplaces."

Source: The Huffington Post, "Deaths and safety violations found within OSHA's 'model' workplaces," Chris Hamby, 7/11/2011.

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