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.
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.
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.”