Noise Protection

What’s Going On With Noise Protection Changes?

Date First Published on SafetySmart Compliance: April 11th, 2012
Topics: Noise & Hearing |

noise protection

One of, if not the scariest OSHA initiatives of recent years is the proposed  reinterpretation of the Occupational Noise Exposure standard (Section 1910.95) as requiring employers to implement more in the way of expensive engineering controls than in relatively inexpensive hearing protection.

OSHA quietly dropped the proposal last January (2011). But the results of a recent stakeholder meeting suggest that OSHA hasn’t completely abandoned the idea—at least in its heart of hearts. Among the items discussed at the Nov. 3, 2011 meeting is whether OSHA should place more emphasis on engineering controls and the return of investment on using such controls.

Engineering controls also figured prominently in discussion of the central item on the agenda: hearing conservation program best practices. Key items discussed: (Click here for the entire Meeting Summary Report.)

  • Audiometric testing procedures and standards;
  • Hearing protector selection and use;
  • How to provide noise exposure training and education to workers;
  • Noise monitoring and exposure assessment methods;
  • Noise exposure threshold levels and whether to keep using the 85 dB exposure limit;
  • Best practices for noise control PPE, including fit testing and developments in hearing protector technology;
  • Noise exposure and control for particular industries or operations including construction, flight attendants and manufacturing; and
  • Actual hearing conservation program models and approaches like NASA’s Buy Quiet and Quiet by Design and other noise control programs that have worked well at different companies.

What’s Next for Noise Protection Engineering Controls?

It appears that OSHA’s current leaders still believe that making employers implement expensive engineering solutions is the best way to protect workers from noise exposure. But the idea is simply not viable as a matter of politics.

Last January’s decision to pull back the proposal is a clear indication of the Obama Administration’s unwillingness to incur the business community’s wrath over this issue. Don’t look for this to change any time soon, especially during an election year.

But an Obama victory in November would, at a minimum, keep the proposal on a backburner for the next 4 years; a Republican victory would take it out of the oven completely.