Employer protests compel OSHA retreat on workplace noise interpretation

Source: U.S. Department of Labor

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has withdrawn its proposed “Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise.” Published last October in the Federal Register, it would have clarified the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” in the agency’s noise standard.

“[Worker] hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious problem,” 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.”

Michaels met recently with members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, in response to a letter from Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), Task Force on Manufacturing co-chairs.

Following withdrawal interpretation, the agency will review of comments on the Federal Register notice; hold a stakeholder meeting on preventing occupational hearing loss to elicit the views of employers, workers, and noise control and public health professionals; and, initiate a robust outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide enhanced technical information and guidance on inexpensive, effective engineering controls for dangerous noise levels. OSHA will likewise continue its On-site Consultation Program, providing small- and medium-sized employers free advice on addressing workplace noise hazards.