The program looks to mentor companies to become Star facilities.
Idaho National Laboratory’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) is currently undergoing an extensive review process to maintain its Star status – the highest designation the Department of Energy (DOE) uses to recognize outstanding occupational safety and health programs.
In June 2001, INL became the first national laboratory in the DOE complex to receive VPP Star status, and this month marks the 20th anniversary of that award.
“I see a lot of benefits to being a part of VPP,” said Juan Alvarez, deputy lab director and VPP management champion. “To me, it’s not about a label, but it’s more about what the certification stands for. It’s that connection that you have got to build in the workplace between the workers and the managers, and really the common commitment to safety.”
“I especially like how VPP makes us stretch for excellence in safety and health,” said Curtis Reece, VPP manager. “Within a VPP company, anyone can be a leader. Leadership comes in all forms and shapes, not just as a formal title.” According to Reece, that’s one of the things that makes the lab such a great place to work. “We foster a culture where everyone can lead, especially with regard to safety.”
Every three years, INL’s VPP undergoes the reevaluation process that brings DOE officials from Washington, D.C., and representatives from other national labs to Idaho Falls. The review team comes on-site for two weeks, and they scrutinize 228 criteria to analyze how well managers and employees work together to establish a strong culture built around safety.
The pandemic disrupted this process, much like it did everything else in 2020. In lieu of the on-site recertification last year, DOE chose INL to pilot a virtual assessment that consisted of a series of document reviews, virtual observations, and management and employee interviews that allowed them to postpone the on-site portion of the evaluation. This new, virtual component is intended to confirm that INL’s VPP has remained effective so that an in-person assessment can be deferred for up to 24 months. With a successful INL virtual review, DOE officials can then use the time saved to assist facilities that are recovering from pandemic impacts to their safety programs or toward those who have yet to earn VPP Star status.
INL is available to mentor and assist local companies wishing to participate in VPP through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This is the equivalent of hiring a tutor free of charge. If an entity is attempting to get VPP Star Status through OSHA, they can reach out to their OSHA VPP office and request INL assistance. OSHA will then contact INL to determine if the lab can provide the requested support.