Stakeholders React to OSHA’s Withdrawal of Proposed Noise Control Interpretation

On Jan. 19, OSHA withdrew its proposal to revise the interpretation of its noise standard, a decision based in part on concerns surrounding the proposal’s associated costs and other resource requirements. While OSHA pledged to seek other approaches to abate workplace noise hazards, several stakeholders spoke up about the withdrawal and its impact on worker safety.

The National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) stressed that while hearing conservation strategies such as education and effective, consistent use of personal hearing protection help to reduce the risk of injury from this hazard, they are meant to supplement, not replace, hazard abatement.

The revised interpretation would require noise control, where economically and technologically feasible, for work environments which expose employees to or above the permissible exposure limit of 90 dBA (8-hour time-weighted average). NHCA supported the proposed interpretation as a significant step in reducing the incidence of work-induced hearing loss and other health conditions related to excessive noise exposure. According to NHCA, noise control is a crucial component of hearing loss prevention and should be recognized as a primary strategy for effectively reducing the amount of noise exposure in the work environment.

NHCA went on to express continued support of OSHA’s efforts to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for employees through the provision and enforcement of effective safety standards.

“While disappointed by the recent events, we are encouraged by [OSHA Administrator] Dr. Michaels’ confirmation that OSHA is not abandoning the cause of abating this pervasive workplace hazard. It is our hope that OSHA will continue to address the concerns surrounding noise control, and to emphasize the critical role it plays in preventing occupational noise-induced hearing loss,” NHCA stated.

COSH: Workers Deserve Better

Following OSHA’s announcement of the withdrawal, the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH) also expressed disappointment.

“This decision by OSHA is bad for workers and, without a doubt, some workers will suffer hearing loss because of it,” COSH stated, adding that the current standard “is not strict enough to prevent permanent hearing loss in the first place, and now OSHA has stated that it will not even enforce the rules as they are currently on the books in this respect.”

COSH also suggested the decision is “disturbing” because it “seems to indicate a willingness on the part of the president and the administration to sacrifice the health and well-being of America’s workers for the sake of political expediency.”

“The Obama administration should not be fooled into accepting the canard that worker protections are ‘job-killing.’ Economic growth and job creation can, and must, go hand in hand with safe and healthy jobs for American workers,” COSH stated. “The fact is, nearly 5,000 workers die on the job each year, and tens of thousands more are injured. American workers deserve better. They deserve a workplace where, at a minimum, the most basic protections are in place to make sure they can go home after a hard day on the job, safe and sound.”

Sensear Applauds OSHA

Sensear, a provider of high noise communication headsets, supported OSHA’s decision to withdraw proposal as well as the agency’s goal of reducing workplace-related, noise-induced hearing loss.

“We applaud OSHA’s goal of reducing noise induced hearing loss, one of the most prevalent work-related injuries in the [United States],” said Sensear CEO Justin Miller. “The attention that OSHA is bringing to this issue is going to benefit countless people by raising awareness of the issue, provoking discussion about possible solutions and spurring innovation and investment, which is the only way this problem will ever be solved.”

Miller also lauded the agency’s willingness to “seek wider input from stakeholders and industry about how to best reduce occupational hearing loss … Clearly, OSHA listened to the initial concerns expressed by industry about the undue cost and complexity the initial proposed interpretation would have caused.”

Miller pointed out that while past solutions have not been effective in significantly reducing noise-induced hearing loss, current hearing protection technologies may provide a solution.

“Before formally implementing any new regulations around noise reduction in the workplace, OSHA should evaluate the products and technologies available now and planned for release in the near future in the hearing protection industry,” he said. “They offer a real solution at a significantly reduced cost for industry and go a long way towards achieving the goal of reducing occupational hearing loss.”

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