American Industrial Hygiene Association Government Affairs Director Aaron Trippler offers in his latest Washington insider’s newsletter, “Happenings From The Hill,” this assessment of hot or emerging issues that did not find their way on to OSHA’s regulatory agenda released earlier this week.

“While the semi-annual regulatory agenda provides a good overview of the issues deemed important by the agency, there are several “off-line” issues that deserve discussion. I really feel these issues will receive more discussion than many of those on the regulatory agenda.

“Safety and Health Program Standard - An issue long-supported by AIHA; we even suggested that the Protecting America’s Worker Act be amended to include a requirement for a written health and safety program. OSHA chief David Michaels has also hinted he supports initiating rulemaking for a safety and health program standard. On the Hill, AIHA has heard discussions that perhaps the House will hold hearings on this issue sometime in 2010. Don’t be surprised if this issue becomes more active.

“State Plans - After the concerns with the number of construction fatalities in Nevada were aired and reports showed that federal OSHA lacked adequate oversight of State Plans, there has been considerable discussion about introducing legislation that would provide OSHA with more authority over these state plans. While this will continue to be discussed, I would be very surprised to see anything that would change the legal authority. The state plans are opposed to providing OSHA with more control and legislation is the only way to change the situation. This just won’t happen. However, OSHA will become more active in providing recommendations and guidelines for these state plans.

“Safe-Patient Handling – Congress has two separate bills introduced to require OSHA to enact a safe-patient handling standard. Past legislative efforts to require OSHA to enact standards have failed, but this one has a decent chance of passage. Nearly a dozen states have enacted safe-patient laws and regulations and labor feels this is an issue the federal government must address. Besides, this may be the best chance labor has to have some sort of standard addressing these types of ergonomic injuries. Look for this issue to be more active in 2010.

“Recordkeeping – OSHA is currently conducting a National Emphasis Program on recordkeeping issues. The program is slated to run until around fall of 2010 when OSHA will then review the results. Underreporting of injuries and illnesses has become a rallying cry for many. You can add to this the issue of employers providing incentives for employees to forego the reporting of injuries and illnesses. A recent GAO report confirmed this and Congress is now becoming more interested in the issue. While the House says they have already held hearings on this issue, don’t be surprised if you see the Senate hold a hearing in 2010. You may even see additional language inserted into the OSHA legislation pending in both the House and Senate.

“Ergonomics – Notwithstanding the support of Dr. Michaels to address this issue, I’m not sure this issue will go anywhere in 2010. OSHA may continue to beef up its enforcement of ergonomics injuries through use of the general duty clause, but I doubt if they can move forward with any attempt at an ergonomics standard.

“Voluntary Protection Program – I’m still not sure where this program stands. Most will tell you OSHA will simply assume more oversight of the program and they have no intention of shutting the program down. However, don’t be surprised if this issue has its ups and downs in 2010. I base this on many things that when looked at individually do not concern me but when added together provide a little caution. I keep seeing quotes from OSHA personnel saying they will continue a “vigorous evaluation” of VPP.