The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on Jan. 19 announced that it is withdrawing its proposed interpretation under its occupational noise standard that could have required most facilities to implement costly engineering controls to protect employee hearing.
The proposed interpretation, published in the Oct. 19 edition of the Federal Register, would have "clarified" the term "feasible administrative or engineering controls" as used in OSHA's occupational noise standard in a way that could have reduced significantly the ability of employers to utilize personal-protective equipment for employees as an alternative to costly engineering controls. OSHA had proposed to interpret feasibility as requiring the use of administrative or engineering controls unless they "threaten the employer's ability to remain in business" or if the threat to (the company's) viability results from its failure "to keep up with industry safety and health standards." Under that interpretation, employers would have had to implement engineering controls unless doing so would have financially put them out of business.
That interpretation would have differed markedly from the agency's current enforcement policy under the noise standard, which since 1983 has allowed employers to rely upon a hearing conservation program based upon the use of personal protective equipment if it reduces noise exposure of employees to acceptable levels and is less costly than administrative and engineering controls. Administrative controls refer to management practices that avoid placing employees in proximity to noise levels exceeding limits established under the standard, while engineering controls refer to design or structural changes to the physical operation of the facility.
In its announcement available by clicking here, OSHA indicated that it received extensive feedback from business groups and employers -- the NGFA was among those submitting comments -- that cited major concerns about the agency's ill-conceived, unworkable and costly proposal. While announcing it was "suspending work on this proposed modification," OSHA Administrator David Michaels said the agency would initiate several actions to "abate workplace noise hazards." As part of the effort, Michaels said OSHA will: 1) conduct a thorough review of comments submitted, as well as other information; 2) conduct a "stakeholder meeting" focused on preventing occupational hearing loss, soliciting advice from employers, labor and noise-control and public health "professionals"; 3) consult with "experts" from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and National Academy of Engineering; and 4) initiate 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."
OSHA Withdraws Proposal to Include Column for Work-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders on Injury-and-Illness Logs: In a related action, OSHA also announced on Jan. 25 that it temporarily was withdrawing from review by the White House Office of Management and Budget its proposal to restore a column for work-related musculoskeletal disorders on employer injury-and-illness logs. The agency said it took the action to seek greater input from small businesses on the proposal's impact, and said it will solicit that advice through the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OSHA said MSDs accounted for 28 percent of all reported workplace injuries and illnesses requiring time away from work in 2009.
The proposed rule would not have changed existing requirements about when and under what circumstances employers are to record MSDs on their injury-and-illness logs. While many employers currently are required to maintain a record of workplace injuries and illnesses, including work-related MSDs, on the OSHA Form 300 (Log of Work-Related Injuries and Illnesses), the vast majority of small businesses are not required to keep such records. The proposed rule would have required those employers already mandated to keep injury-and-illness records (and to record MSDs) to place a check mark in the new column to reflect MSD incidents.
Prior to 2001, OSHA's injury-and-illness logs contained a column for repetitive trauma disorders that included noise and many kinds of MSDs. In 2001, OSHA separated noise and MSDs into two columns, but the MSD column was deleted in 2003 before the provision became effective. The OSHA announcement indicated that the agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy will conduct a joint meeting to solicit small businesses' views about the agency's proposal.