OSHA Withdraws Proposed Occupational Noise Interpretation

OSHA announced they are withdrawing their proposed interpretation of the noise standard, which would have clarified the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” of noise hazards.

According to OSHA’s press release:

“Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “However, it is clear from the concerns raised about this proposal that addressing this problem requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated. We are sensitive to the possible costs associated with improving worker protection and have decided to suspend work on this proposed modification while we study other approaches to abating workplace noise hazards.”

Thousands of workers every year continue to suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2008 alone, BLS reported more than 22,000 hearing loss cases, and Michaels emphasized that OSHA remains committed to finding ways to reduce this toll.

Here is our perpective:
You as an employer have less than complete control over how (and if) an employee wears hearing protection.  It is still preferred, if possible, to engineer out the noise (isolate compressors, use mufflers on equipment, etc.). This will often prove less expensive in the long run then requiring hearing protection. Keep in mind that the costs associated with requiring personal protective equipment includes not only the equipment itself, but worker productivity loss from dealing with the PPE, and management time for enforcing the policy.

If you need sound levels in your facility tested, ideas on reducing sound levels, an assessment of personal protective equipment, a hearing conservation program or assistance with other safety concerns, please contact us.

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