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Back to the drawing board

March 1, 2011

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OSHA withdraws proposals for its noise standards, 300 log

By Kyle W. Morrison, senior associate editor

In the span of one week in January, OSHA withdrew two major proposals it had been pursuing, attributing the move to business concerns.

The “Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise” was withdrawn Jan. 19. The noise interpretation would have clarified the term “feasible” in the general industry and construction noise standards by making it consistent with its usual definition – “capable of being done.”

The noise standards originally were intended to have employers rely on controls to reduce noise exposure, according to OSHA. However, the agency’s enforcement policy has allowed employers to use hearing conservation programs instead, including hearing protectors.

Agency administrator David Michaels said as early as Dec. 6 that hearing protection by itself does not protect workers from hearing loss, and administrative or engineering controls “can and must” be used.

In a press release announcing the withdrawal of the noise standards interpretation, Michaels said concerns about resources, public outreach and costs led to the decision to scuttle the interpretation.

The interpretation had a public comment period scheduled to end March 21. But the work and resources necessary on OSHA’s part to explain the policy change and address the concerns raised were greater than the agency originally anticipated, an OSHA spokesperson said, leading to the withdrawal before the comment period ended.

The noise interpretation withdrawal was followed on Jan. 25 with the announcement that OSHA was temporarily withdrawing a revision to its occupational injury and illness recording and reporting rule.

The revisions would add a specific work-related musculoskeletal disorder column to employers’ 300 logs. Under the proposed rule, employers who are required to keep injury logs would be required to record MSD injuries in that column instead of the “other” or “injury” column.

Addressing the 300 log problem

The proposed rule change on OSHA’s injury and illness recording and reporting requirement ...

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OSHA temporarily withdrew the rule to hear from small businesses on the rule’s potential impact. OSHA said a joint meeting with the agency and the Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy would take place within 30 days of the withdrawal for small businesses to weigh in on the proposal. The meeting had not been scheduled when Safety+Health went to press.

Reactions

The withdrawals have created a mixed reaction. The Washington-based National Association of Manufacturers welcomed the moves, calling them a sign of OSHA listening to employer concerns.
“This action … is an encouraging signal that the agency is slowing down on excessive government regulations that hinder job creation,” NAM Vice President of Human Resources Policy Joe Trauger said in a press release.

But a representative from Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocate in Washington, said he was “mystified” by the withdrawals and suggested OSHA was backing away from its mission to ensure a safe workplace.

“We are troubled by the implications of these actions, and urge OSHA to resume its efforts to protect workers from injuries and illnesses,” said Alex Chasick, policy counsel at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division.

OSHA promised to continue moving forward in endeavors to protect workers from both noise exposure-induced hearing loss and MSDs. The agency also said it will study approaches to workplace noise hazards abatement, including hosting stakeholder meetings and initiating a “robust” outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide guidance on effective engineering controls.

Regarding the MSD column, Michaels indicated his agency still would move forward with the rule. Noting that MSDs account for 28 percent of all occupational injuries and illnesses, Michaels said the new column would help employers and OSHA better identify problems in the workplace.

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