© Auremar | Dreamstime
Hearing Protection

Regulatory Update: Midwest OSHA Makes Noise a Priority

July 23, 2021
New regional emphasis program takes aim at manufacturers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Region V, which enforces federal workplace safety and health in the Midwest, has created a new Regional Emphasis Program (REP) for conducting inspections of select manufacturing industries that have hearing loss rates higher than the national average.

Headquartered in Chicago, OSHA’s Region V covers Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The REP is intended to encourage employers to take steps to identify, reduce and eliminate hazards associated with exposure to high levels of noise, OSHA said. The agency also explained that it intends to deploy outreach activities such as letters to employers, training sessions with stakeholders, electronic information sharing activities and news release broadcasts.

Three months following the outreach portion of the program is initiated, OSHA intends to engage in enforcement activities that cover such things as the inspection and review of operations and working conditions, injury and illness records, and safety and health programs to identify and obtain corrections of workplace hazards at all applicable inspection sites.

The new REP will cover establishments in 50 heavy industries, designated by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. The REP provides OSHA staff with programmed inspection lists, which will result in programmed inspections of employers whose establishments are randomly selected from a list of workplaces in these industries.

To enforce the REP, OSHA said it has created a programed list that instructs Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) about how they should go about conducting walk-around inspections and do individual dosimetry if any noise hits at least 85 decibels.

During these noise REP inspections, compliance officers will walk the production areas with a sound level meter. Any observations above the action level of 85 decibels will result in “full shift noise monitoring,” including personal noise dosimetry, to ascertain the extent of any noise hazards.

Not mentioned in the REP is an employer’s right to conduct companion dosimetry at a mutually convenient time, point out attorneys for the law firm of Seyfarth Shaw.

Statistics Raise Alarm

“Earning a living should not come at the expense of hearing loss,” OSHA acting regional administrator William Donovan said. “Hearing conservation programs are designed to prevent workplace hearing loss, protect remaining hearing, and provide employers and workers with the knowledge and equipment to control and reduce exposure to noise.”

Recent data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has indicated that noise continually presents an occupational hazard. In 2019, “about 25% of all workers had been exposed to hazardous noise, with 34% of noise-exposed workers reporting not wearing hearing protection, while approximately 12% of all workers have hearing difficulty,” NIOSH reported.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019 (the most recent year for which data is available and not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic), for all civilian workers in United States, a moderate noise intensity level was present for 76.9% of workers, and another 8.6% were exposed to a loud noise intensity level.

During that same period, OSHA noted that Region V issued 47 citations (6.2%) to manufacturing establishments in NAICS super sector 31, which covers food manufacturing; beverage and tobacco products; manufacturing; textile mills; textile product mills; apparel manufacturing; and leather and allied product manufacturing.

In the production occupations group (for goods produced)—a category that includes engine assemblers, structural metal fabricators and fitters, computer controlled machine tool operators, forging machine setters, machinists, pourers and casters, tool and die makers, and furniture finishers—about half (52.3%) of workers were not using personal protective equipment to mitigate noise intensity.

For FY 2019, OSHA Region V issued 681 citations (89.7%) to manufacturing establishments in NAICS super sectors 32 and 33, which cover the rest of the industrial manufacturing base.

BLS reported that the incident rate for hearing loss for all private industries nationwide was 1.4 per 10,000 full time workers. However, the national average hearing loss rate for all private manufacturing remains much higher, with 8.6 cases per 10,000 full time workers.

Given the scope of this new initiative and its potential for citations and fines, employers should take proactive steps immediately to minimize liability due to increased enforcement in this area, the Seyfarth Shaw attorneys warn.

Sponsored Recommendations

ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS)

March 28, 2024
ISO 45001 certification – reduce your organizational risk and promote occupational health and safety (OHS) by working with SGS to achieve certification or migrate to the new standard...

Want to Verify your GHG Emissions Inventory?

March 28, 2024
With the increased focus on climate change, measuring your organization’s carbon footprint is an important first action step. Our Green House Gas (GHG) verification services provide...

Download Free ESG White Paper

March 28, 2024
The Rise and Challenges of ESG – Your Journey to Enhanced Sustainability, Brand and Investor Potential

Work Safety Tips: 5 Tactics to Build Employee Engagement for Workplace Safety

March 13, 2024
Employee safety engagement strategies have become increasingly key to fostering a safer workplace environment. But, how exactly do you encourage employee buy-in when it comes ...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!