Grain elevators are notoriously dangerous facilities, with dozens of workers regularly suffocating within the silos each year. But by participating in a popular, if seldom known, federal program, the MillerCoors grain elevator in Worland provides a safer environment for its workers while reducing the regulatory burden on the parent company.
MillerCoors is one of just three Wyoming workplaces to participate in the Voluntary Protection Program, an initiative of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
The program allows businesses which meet certain stringent safety criteria to be exempted from regular OSHA inspections for as long as they remain active participants in the initiative.
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But financial strain has endangered funding for the program, which has operated since 1982 and serves 1,400 workplaces. It costs about $70 million per year.
“The current model for VPP is not sustainable with resource realities,” OSHA’s acting deputy assistant secretary Tom Galassi told Business Insurance in July.
To preserve the program in Wyoming, U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, a Republican, has partnered with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, to provide Congressional funding for the initiative and make it permanent. Currently, it is funded from OSHA’s budget, which is overseen by the executive branch.
“We have a proven program that can protect the health and safety of employees while saving the government and the private sector hundreds of millions of dollars by avoiding injuries and illness,” Enzi said in a statement. “It is time we cement this program into law to ensure that it can grow.”
Enzi spokesman Max D’Onofrio said it was necessary to preserve the program in law to ensure it was not eliminated, as almost happened in 2010.
In a statement, Bennet praised the collaboration between labor and management that is encouraged by the program.
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In addition to MillerCoors, Chevron’s Carter Creek facility in Evanston and the Phillips 66 facility in Evansville participate in VPP.
The bill to codify the safety program was introduced Thursday. Enzi sits on the Senate health committee.
The Wyoming Chamber of Commerce and Wyoming AFL-CIO did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Arno Rosenfeld covers state politics.