OSHA has issued a proposed interpretation of the terms "feasible administrative or engineering controls" as they are used in OSHA’s general industry and construction occupational noise standards.  Under these standards, employers must first implement feasible administrative or engineering controls before utilizing personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce employee exposures.  According to OSHA, the proposed interpretation will "clarify that feasible as used in the standard has its ordinary meaning of capable of being done."  This proposed interpretation will have a major impact on all general industry and construction employers, who are encouraged to submit comments to the Agency on the proposed interpretation.  Comments are due by December 20, 2010.

The proposed interpretation would alter existing Agency enforcement policy for determining when an employer may utilize PPE to protect employees from noise exposures, as opposed to relying on engineering and administrative controls.  Existing policy provides that employers will be cited for not implementing certain engineering or administrative controls when hearing protectors are ineffective or the cost of such controls are actually less than the cost of implementing a full hearing conservation program.  OSHA is proposing to eliminate this framework and consider engineering and administrative controls to be feasible so long as they will "not threaten the employer’s ability to remain in business or if the threat to viability results from the employer’s having failed to keep up with industry safety and health standards."

Aside from the importance of the issue to many stakeholders, by issuing the proposed interpretation in the Federal Register, OSHA is further elevating its status.  It is incumbent upon all stakeholders to comment on this proposed interpretation so that OSHA has the best information available to it when determining how to approach this important issue.