Citing "concerns raised" and the need for "more public outreach," OSHA is withdrawing its  proposed interpretation on occupational noise.  The proposal would have altered existing Agency enforcement policy for determining when an employer could 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 was proposing to eliminate this framework and consider engineering and administrative controls to be feasible so long as they would "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."

Many stakeholders expressed concerns over the proposal and the potential costs.  OSHA originally set a 60-day comment period for the proposal, but then extended that in response to numerous requests for more time to submit comments.  Now, OSHA appears to be backing away from the proposal altogether.

Instead, the Agency says that it will find other ways to reduce the number of hearing loss cases by:

  • Conducting a thorough review of comments received from the public in response to the proposed interpretation.
  • Holding a stakeholder meeting to discuss ways to prevent occupational hearing loss.
  • Consulting on approaches with NIOSH and the National Academy of Engineering.
  • Initiating a "robust" outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide guidance on "inexpensive, effective engineering controls" to reduce noise exposures.  

Even though OSHA has withdrawn the proposal, all stakeholders are encouraged to engage the Agency on noise exposures and control measures.  OSHA is still asking for input on this issue and employers should take the Agency up on its offer.  As opportunities arise for additional input, we will keep stakeholders apprised.