OSHA Withdraws Costly Noise Proposal

The Coalition for Workplace Safety is pleased that OSHA has announced that they will be withdrawing their proposal that would have required employers to implement costly and disruptive new controls for employee exposure to noise. OSHA indicated that they received a tremendous of amount of feedback from employers that have detailed their concerns with the agency’s ill-conceived and unworkable proposal. The CWS was preparing extensive comments and an economic analysis that would have reinforced the concerns OSHA has already heard. We were also concerned that the agency had sought to implement these sweeping changes to OSHA policy outside the traditional rulemaking process with none of the protections of that process in place.

In OSHA’s announcement the agency explained that they will be performing additional research and outreach to stakeholders. Such outreach had not been performed prior to the agency’s initial announcement of their proposed changes. Additionally OSHA indicated that they have become aware of the possible costs of complying with the proposal – which are estimated to be in the billions of dollars.
While OSHA finally offers some data about hearing loss injuries, the numbers they provide do not indicate that existing employer efforts have led to the steady decline of work related hearing loss injuries since this OSHA began collecting such data in 2004. This hearing loss data does not reflect the widespread use of personal listening devices and other personal habits which are now being identified as a major source of hearing problems in the population.

Additionally, the agency’s announcement details that OSHA’s on-site consultation program as a resource for small and medium size businesses to seek advice on noise exposure problems. However, this is the same program about which OSHA has an open rulemaking which will clarify that employers in this program are subject to inspections and enforcement.

Finally, OSHA commits to providing “a robust outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide enhanced technical information and guidance on the many inexpensive, effective engineering controls for dangerous noise levels robust outreach and technical assistance.” We will be interested to see what OSHA promotes as “inexpensive” engineering controls, and whether OSHA uses this as a way to impose engineering controls on employers who are already providing effective noise protection through other means.

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