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Stating it was sensitive to potential costs and other concerns raised by NAHB and other trade associations, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) withdrew its proposed interpretation of noise standards on Jan. 19, three months after it was published in the Federal Register.
OSHA had intended to revise its current enforcement policy to require employers to use administrative or engineering controls rather than personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise exposures below the permissible level when such controls are “feasible.”
The interpretation would have defined the term "feasible administrative or engineering controls" used in the noise standard as meaning “capable of being done” regardless of cost, so long as it does not put a company out of business.
In an OSHA press release announcing the interpretation’s withdrawal, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, said, “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."
OSHA said it was also abandoning the proposed interpretation because of concerns over resources and public outreach.
Instead, Dr. Michaels said that OSHA, while still committed to reducing thousands of cases of workplace-induced hearing loss annually, would undertake the following actions:
Review comments submitted on the issue
Host a stakeholder meeting on preventing occupational hearing loss
Consult with experts at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Academy of Engineering
Initiate a "robust" outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide guidance on inexpensive and effective engineering controls
Since 1983, OSHA’s enforcement policy has allowed employers to rely on a hearing conservation program based on the use of PPEs, such as ear plugs and muffs, if such a program reduces noise exposures to acceptable levels and is less costly than administrative controls, including different work practices, or engineering controls such as different machinery, equipment or materials.