As federal regulators review a controversial program exempting government designated “model workplaces” from regular safety checks, newly released U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration records detail significant safety risks, injuries and even deaths at the sites across Massachusetts.
OSHA, the federal overseer of workplace safety, has also allowed some Massachusetts employers to retain their “Voluntary Protection Program” (VPP) status even after serious safety problems have been exposed or workers have been killed, according to more than 1,000 documents obtained by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting under a federal Freedom of Information Act request.
The VPP designation frees employers from regular health and safety inspections, and they are largely left to police themselves, a flaw that has contributed to the death of at least two Massachusetts workers, some critics said.
“If you're a VPP program, that should never happen,” said James Lee, a trustee with the American Postal Workers Union Local 497 and a member of the OSHA investigating team that reviewed a horrific 2006 fatal accident at a U.S. Postal facility in Springfield, Mass.
“This would never have occurred if (OSHA) came in more frequently,” Lee said.
OSHA rarely strips VPP sites of their special status, even after violations are found or fatal tragedies occur, like the death of postal worker Robert J. Scanlon in Springfield and the 2004 death of a 34-year-old mother of three who was accidentally sucked into an adhesive coating machine at a Spencer, Mass., manufacturing firm, the OSHA documents show.