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Wisconsin company still on safe workplace list after worker death

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration rewards the country's safest workplaces with membership in a Voluntary Protection Program. American Packaging Corp. is one of 49 Wisconsin-based employers with a VPP designation, even though an employee was killed in a workplace accident that OSHA blamed on the company.

Just months after the packaging manufacturer was admitted into the VPP program in 2009, an explosion rocked the plant outside Madison. The blast caused $1 million in damage to the company and killed one of the 230 workers at American Packaging.

After the workplace fatality and upon OSHA inspection, 29 potentially life-threatening safety violations were discovered at the plant. The company was fined over $127,000 but never lost its VPP membership.

Among the hazards cited, American Packaging was found to have been deficient in room ventilation, as well as providing insufficient employee equipment and training for dangerous work in enclosed areas. The company has objected to the OSHA citations.

In response to these findings, some have questioned why American Packaging, among the other 2,400 nationwide companies with a designated VPP status, remain on the elite federal safety list despite fatal accidents and failed workplace inspections. Investigative journalists say 80 employees have died on the job at VPP-member companies since 2000.

The VPP program was launched in the early 1980s by OSHA to encourage employers to ensure safer work environments. It is also one way the federal safety regulator is able to stretch its own resources. Because of exemplary safety records, VPP companies are allowed to police their own workplace safety and are not subject to regular OSHA inspections.

The Department of Labor has promised to review American Packaging's membership in the Voluntary Protection Program.

Source: WisconsinWatch.org, "Fatal blast at Wisconsin "model workplace" raises questions about OSHA program," Lauren Hasler, 9 July 2011

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