OSHA Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels

OSHA Retreats on Noise Exposure Change

Saying the problem of excessive occupational noise exposures “requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated,” Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels says OSHA is going back to the drawing board.

So much for enforcing regulations the way they were written. Abruptly reversing the reinterpretation it published Oct. 19, 2010, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration announced Wednesday that it will seek another way to address excessive noise exposures of American workers.

"Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country," said Assistant Secretary Dr. David Michaels. "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 OSHA release announcing the reversal said Michaels met earlier this month with the offices of U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Joseph Lieberman, who are members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and also co-chairs of the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing, after they wrote him a letter about the proposal reinterpretation, which would have emphasized the use of engineering controls as the first step in noise reduction, under a more liberal interpretation of "feasible" controls.

He said OSHA remains committed to reducing hearing loss cases and, as part of this effort, will:

  • Conduct a thorough review of comments that have been submitted in response to the Federal Register notice and any other information it receives on the issue.
  • Hold a stakeholder meeting on preventing occupational hearing loss.
  • Consult with experts from NIOSH and the National Academy of Engineering.
  • Begin 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."

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