Dixie Consumer Products' Leominster, Mass., manufacturing plant has earned membership in the prestigious "Star" Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) of the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Voluntary Protection Programs recognize worksites committed to effective employee protection beyond the requirements of OSHA standards and encourage cooperative relationships among labor, management, unions and government. The Leominster plant's "Star" designation came after an OSHA team's on-site review of its application and safety and health programs, interviews with employees and a complete tour of the worksite.

"Our review found the Leominster plant's safety and health management system to be consistent with the high quality expected of VPP participants while its illness and injury rates remain well below the industry average," said Marthe Kent, OSHA's regional administrator for New England. "Employees and management at this workplace have reason to be proud of their joint effort to enhance employee safety and health."

The Leominster plant employs 245 people and manufactures a variety of consumer products, including plastic cutlery and drinking straws. The facility now joins an elite corps of more than 1,600 worksites in 280 industries nationwide that have earned entry into the VPP.

Through the VPP, employers and employees have experienced significant decreases in fatalities, injuries and illnesses; associated cost reductions including lowered workers' compensation expenses; positive changes in company culture and attitudes toward safety and health and average injury rates 50 percent lower than other companies in their industry. VPP membership is open to deserving employers in any industry.

Requirements include a high degree of management support for and employee involvement in job health and safety; a high-quality worksite hazard analysis; prevention and control programs and comprehensive safety and health training for all employees. Each of these elements must be effective, in place and in operation for at least one year before a company can apply to join the program.