While many manufacturers likely see the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as a necessary evil, L'Oréal USA Inc. instead sees the U.S. regulatory body as a partner in safety. The U.S. subsidiary of Paris-based cosmetics maker L'Oréal SA in November 2003 publicly announced its commitment to bring all nine of its U.S. manufacturing plants to OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs (VPP) Star status within five years. VPP recognizes achievements in workplace health and safety that exceed OSHA standards, with Star status being the highest level of achievement. Four of L'Oréal USA's manufacturing facilities already have earned the Star distinction. Zack Mansdorf, director of safety, industrial health and environment, L'Oréal Group, says L'Oréal already sets aggressive internal goals for safety. In the last three years, in fact, it has reduced lost-time injury rates by some 44%, while lost-time injury rates at its VPP Star status plants are 49% below the industry average, L'Oréal states. "Our products are intended to promote a sense of well-being in all of our clients," Mansdorf says. "It would not be reasonable for us not to practice what we preach [by] ensuring the well-being of our employees." But why pursue VPP Star status? Why invite OSHA into your workplace? "I recognize fully that a lot of people view [OSHA] as a purely adversarial, police-like organization," he says. "The VPP program is the demonstration of being the best of the best. We want to be known for our excellence, and I just don't see working with OSHA as putting us in jeopardy." Additionally, Mansdorf says, "We truly believe it provides a competitive advantage, not only in terms of the cost issues and issues of productivity, but we believe the sense, the feeling of success for our employees and our managers in achieving these goals . . . that gives us a tremendous advantage." The requirements to qualify as a VPP site are extensive, so "you don't [pursue] it on a whim," states Jack Bucher, vice president of manufacturing at L'Oréal USA's North Little Rock, Ark., manufacturing plant. The North Little Rock site achieved Star status in late 2002 after a year of preparation. The factory's safety program is extensive, comprehensive and includes multiple safety committees: a steering committee, plant safety committee and departmental committees. "With all those levels, you don't go more than a couple of days without seeing or hearing something about safety in the plant somewhere," says Jim Fossitt, director of engineering for the North Little Rock plant. Additional components of the plant's safety program include: a formal approach to rigorously inspect the safety of plant equipment; a Web-based safety incidence system that has streamlined administrative tasks associated with tracking safety issues; and safety training for employees that averages six hours of training per 1,000 hours worked. The plant also stepped up employee involvement in safety, an area of emphasis for VPP consideration. "We evolved our training to the next level, where hourly employees present some of the training, and they also do a lot of the inspections," notes Fossitt. The effort to gain and maintain VPP Star status reaps rewards. "It's definitely raised awareness of safety in the plant. That pays dividends by fewer accidents and keeps employees safer," Bucher says.