OSHA Announces Stakeholder Meeting, Extends Comment Period on Noise Control Interpretation

On Dec. 6, OSHA announced that it is extending by 90 days the official comment period on the proposed “Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise,” which was published Oct. 19 in the Federal Register. Comments may be submitted through March 21, 2011; the agency will hold a stakeholder meeting before this date to listen to the concerns of businesses and workers.

“We’re very eager to get input from those parties who would be affected by this proposed interpretation,” said OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels. “We have by no means completed our review of the issue and seek to make an informed decision that is in the best interest of protecting workers, yet sensitive to the operating changes businesses would need to make.”

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 more than 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2008 alone, BLS reported 22,000 hearing loss cases.

Responding to continuing high levels of hearing loss among employees in the nation’s workplaces, the notice proposed to make enforcement of the hearing conservation standard consistent with enforcement of other OSHA standards by clarifying the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as used in OSHA’s general industry and construction occupational noise exposure standards.

OSHA’s current enforcement policy for noise exposures less than 100 decibels has not accurately reflected the noise standard’s requirements that feasible engineering and administrative controls be used as the primary means of reducing noise exposure. Instead, OSHA has allowed many employers to rely upon a hearing conservation program, including the use of hearing protectors such as earplugs.

“There is sufficient evidence that hearing protection alone cannot prevent workers from suffering preventable hearing loss,” said Michaels. “Easily applied administrative or engineering controls can and must be used to protect workers. There are plenty of employers out there who play by the rules and want to do the right thing, and we’re hopeful we can work with them to craft a policy that’s good for all.”

Comments may be submitted online at http://www.regulations.gov. Alternatively, individuals may mail or deliver comments (three copies) to the OSHA Docket Office, Docket No. OSHA-2010-0032, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2625, 200 Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20210.

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