When Wyeth’s Pearl River, NY, facility recently earned an OSHA Voluntary Protection Program (VPP) “star”, designating excellence in workplace health and safety, it was mere coincidence that the plant was the 2,000th site in the U.S. to earn such status. The milestone number seems fitting given that the company has earned a reputation for safety and has seven other sites with VPP stars (sidebar).
Pharma Facilities With VPP Star Designations
Medicinal Chemicals and Botanical Products
The VPP program began in 1982 as a proactive effort to encourage safety and health management through collaboration between OSHA, corporate management, and facility workers. It has since become the gold standard for workplace safety. Pearl River’s initiatives began nearly three years ago, when management asked a volunteer team of “nonsafety” professionals to objectively critique the facility in a number of key safety categories. Their rating system was simple—either yes, the site complied with expected standards for a given category, or no, it didn’t. It came as a bit of a shock that just 33% of the areas rated were in full compliance.
“It was a hard message to deliver to management, because it made it seem like we weren’t doing our jobs,” says Susan Rera, associate director of safety at Pearl River, a 550-acre facility comprising more than 40 buildings. Management took note. “Gap improvement” teams consisting of volunteers from across the facility were set up and began addressing specific deficiencies.
An example: The 4,000-plus fire extinguishers at Pearl River were not getting their monthly inspections by the two full-time employees assigned to the task. There just wasn’t enough time. A gap improvement team decided that it would make more sense to have the site’s security force perform the inspections during their regular rounds, and the force has now been trained and is doing just that.
Wyeth’s corporate culture of safety has nourished change. Company and facility management regularly talk up the VPP program, and employees at Wyeth sites coach each other on ways to improve health and safety, says Eric Nelson, senior director of environment, health and safety (EH&S) at Pearl River. Now Pearl River has its VPP star. “Any site on the star list has gone well beyond what it is required to do,” says Ted Fitzgerald, an OSHA spokesperson.