OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) recognizes plants and other sites as model workplaces that demonstrate the “highest levels” of employee protection and safety. Aside from being a great public relations tool, “star” status in the VPP program exempts work sites from regular inspections, and protects the companies operating them from punishment for standard violations if the violations are promptly corrected. Once in VPP’s star program, companies are re-evaluated every three to five years.
So one would think that companies with “star” status in the VPP program would have exemplary workplace and employee safety records? Turns out that is not the case in Connecticut. For example, Covanta Energy operates a waste-to-energy plant in Wallingford, Connecticut. In 2007, while an application by Covanta for recognition of the plant by OSHA as a model workplace was pending, one of the plant’s employees, Robert Gootkin, was pinned against a wall and crushed to death by a hopper lid. According to the victim’s brother, Gootkin had been working a 12-hour overnight shift alone when the accident occurred, and it took facility personnel 30 minutes to respond to alarms that were triggered by the accident. In response to the accident, the Connecticut legislature passed a bill requiring operators of solid waste facilities to have at least two employees or a camera in the work area when waste is being fed into a hopper. Covanta lobbied against the bill.