Why Surrender?

Safety and health professionals ought to be angry and nervous that OSHA has given up its plan to interpret the noise exposure standards properly. I have not seen OSH professional associations take stands on the issue, which left the field almost entirely to the opponents -- manufacturing groups' champions such as NAM's Shopfloor blog and the Chamberpost. Perhaps OSHA lost its nerve when trade associations began shooting at the reinterpretation in their letters identifying "burdensome" rules at the request of House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa, but even that is puzzling -- this wasn't a new or pending regulation, but instead a profound decision to enforce an existing rule correctly.

Why should OSH professionals be upset? Because OSHA's surrender undercuts their chief argument for safety investment and budgets. The hierarchy of controls, OSHA regulations, and the profession's creed agree that engineering controls are the first and most effective line of defense, although more expensive than the less-effective PPE, because they prevent exposures and eliminate hazards. Surrendering leaves the status quo in place, true, but how can OSHA now claim to be serious when it says it is determined to prevent hearing losses? Dr. Michaels had found a way that might make that possible -- a way that would not have been ruinously expensive, despite the protests from manufacturers -- and now says it must be abandoned out of concern about its costs.

I don't buy that. Do you? Did talking with the staffs of two U.S. senators suddenly make high costs an overriding obstacle? The OSHA announcement of the reversal suggested this, but it's hard to believe.

Posted by Jerry Laws on Jan 21, 2011