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OSHA Drops Noise Plan Amid Reg Review

Thursday, January 20, 2011

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President Obama

One day after President Obama announced a sweeping review of federal regulations, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration dropped its controversial proposal to mandate quieter workplaces.

The rule—“Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise”—would have clarified the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as used in OSHA’s noise standard.

The effect would have been to require that employers rely primarily on engineering controls to keep workplace noise exposures below 100 decibels, rather than force employees to rely on hearing protection.

‘Controls Must Be Used’

The proposal was published Oct. 19 in the Federal Register.

“[H]earing protection alone cannot prevent workers from suffering preventable hearing loss,” Dr. David Michaels, OSHA Administrator, said at the time. “Easily applied administrative or engineering controls can and must be used to protect workers.”

Business and employer groups, however, called the measure a reversal of decades of OSHA practice, said it would be too costly to implement, and requested more time to review the proposal. That extension was granted in December.

On Wednesday (Jan. 19), however, OSHA abruptly backed down and withdrew the measure altogether.

“[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,” said Michaels.

“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.”

Obama Orders Regulatory Review

OSHA’s retreat came a day after President Obama announced a government-wide review of federal regulations “that stifle job creation and make our economy less competitive.”

Obama said his goal was to “help bring order to regulations that have become a patchwork of overlapping rules, the result of tinkering by administrations and legislators of both parties and the influence of special interests in Washington over decades.”

He said the government would continue to enforce safety, including “efforts to target chronic violators of workplace safety laws,” but would “root out regulations that conflict, that are not worth the cost, or that are just plain dumb.”

He also said he was “directing federal agencies to do more to account for—and reduce—the burdens regulations may place on small businesses,” which “drive growth and create most new jobs.”

“We need to make sure nothing stands in their way,” he said.

The review follows widespread and growing criticism by many industries that Obama’s OSHA and Environmental Protection Agency have overstepped their authority and are mandating measures that accomplish little while choking economic growth.

Noise Proposal

The unpopular noise proposal led to a meeting this month between Michaels and the offices of Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT). They are members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and co-chair the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing.

While changing course, OSHA noted that high workplace noise levels still cause preventable hearing loss in thousands of workers each year—a toll it remained determined to address.

The agency said it would continue to review comments on the noise proposal and initiate “robust outreach and compliance assistance” to provide guidance to employers on reducing workplace noise.

Decision Praised

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), which represents manufacturers in every industrial sector, called the proposal’s cancellation “an important step in beginning to restore the collaborative relationship between OSHA and employers that has proven over the years to be the most effective approach to improving workplace safety.”

Withdrawing the “unnecessary proposal is a clear sign that the agency heeded the calls of manufacturers regarding the economic impact of these expensive and burdensome noise control requirements,” said Joe Trauger, NAM vice president for human resources policy.

“Manufacturers hope this decision signals that OSHA will slow down on other costly and unwarranted rules that will crush economic growth and job creation.”


Tagged categories: Health and safety; Hearing protection; OSHA; Regulations

Comment from Jerry LeCompte, (1/21/2011, 9:09 AM)

Too little too late. Legislated costs of doing business have caused irrevocable losses to this Nation.

Comment from Richard McLaughlin, (1/21/2011, 9:57 AM)

There is a lot of truth to what you’re saying, Jerry. The additional cost of doing business due to unevenly enforced government regulation is one of the reasons I got out after 30+ years in the business. I now use my experience and knowledge to help fight government-sponsored ignorance, whenever possible, by joining every committee creating new or updating old standards used to build these regulations. You wouldn’t believe the weird ideas some of these folks, many of which have never even seen a jobsite, have about what it takes to get a job done.

Comment from Jerry LeCompte, (1/21/2011, 3:20 PM)

Richard, you are to be commended for still trying to do something and restore some sanity to ill gotten laws that effect business at every level. Between the frivolous lawsuits, federal, state and local government compliance, I was being challenged at every corner. My wake-up call was an illness, so I decided to walk away.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/25/2011, 8:52 AM)

There are also a lot of workers out there with permanent hearing loss that could have been prevented cheaply and easily. As an example, Grainger sells mufflers for compressors starting at $100 - but I never see them on a jobsite. You can also reduce noise through thinking through where and how you place your equipment. Engineering controls for noise don't have to be costly.

Comment from Richard McLaughlin, (1/25/2011, 10:18 AM)

True, Tom, and a responsible contractor will try to protect his employees, and anyone else, who might be exposed to conditions generated during their operations. And they do this not because of fear of a fine, but because it is the right thing to do. You mentioned mufflers. I’m currently working on a new muffler design for a system that uses and regularly releases compressed air. I’ve done testing on several existing muffler devices and even though it “sounded” like they lowered the decibels significantly, in reality the meters showed there was more of an octave shift that was less noticeable, but still as damaging. It is this type of testing that very often is not done at the regulatory generation level that causes undue burden on the guys trying to do the right thing. The keywords there were “generation level.” I’ve seen too much subjective conjecture and not enough empirical data used to create new regulations. If you've ever had the "pleasure" of being on some of the committees that write the regulations, you would quickly see often many members' lack of real-world experience causes the creation of difficult, if not impossible to follow, regulations that get enforced unevenly. And that actually leads to more people being exposed to unhealthy conditions. The “fly-by-night” or “blow-n’-go” guys never seem to get fined, but the responsible contractors do. I'm not against protections; I'm for reasonable and fair solutions.

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (1/26/2011, 9:29 AM)

Kudos to you, Richard!

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