OSHA Withdraws Workplace Noise Standards Proposal

Industry concerns included cost of compliance.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday withdrew its proposed interpretation change to workplace noise level standards, reporting that it required more outreach and resources than initially anticipated.

"Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country," said David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, in a press statement. "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."

The National Association of Manufacturers quickly applauded the decision in its Shopfloor blog.

This is the right outcome, and OSHA is to be commended for reaching it. The National Association of Manufacturers had worked diligently on the issue, raising serious objections based on the proposals unworkability, posted Carter Wood, a writer at the association.

The proposal would have clarified the term feasible administrative or engineering controls, according to OSHA, which first published the interpretation in the Federal Register on Oct. 19, 2010. In December it extended the official comment period for an additional 90 days.

In announcing the proposal, OSHA said it grew from continued high levels of hearing loss among workplace employees. Evidence suggested that hearing protectors alone, such as ear plugs, were insufficient in protecting workers hearing, the agency said. The proposal would have introduced a more rigorous requirement to abate noise.

Opponents to the proposal worried that it would add significant costs to compliance, possibly requiring noise-dampening equipment or other expensive technologies.

While OSHA has withdrawn its proposal, the agency said would thoroughly review the comments it has received on the issue; hold a stakeholder meeting on preventing occupational hearing loss to get additional views; consult with experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, as well as the National Academy of Engineering; and start robust outreach and compliance assistance efforts.

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