Safety and OSHA News

Is OSHA changing its tune in 2nd half of Obama’s term?


One day after President Obama signed an Executive Order requiring a government-wide review of federal regulations to uncover ones that hurt job creation, OSHA has pulled a revised interpretation of its noise standard.

Just last month it looked like OSHA was moving forward with its noise proposal after a short extension of the comment period.

But only a few weeks later, OSHA has decided that it needs a lot longer to address this issue and has taken the proposal off the table — for now.

OSHA wanted companies to use “feasible” engineering and administrative controls to address loud workplaces instead of relying on hearing protection for workers. Examples: making machines quieter or implementing job rotation to reduce employee exposure.

OSHA wanted to define “feasible” as those changes that are capable of being implemented without threatening a company’s ability to stay in business.

Significant opposition

The proposal faced a large amount of criticism from industry groups.

The National Association of Manufacturers said businesses, particularly smaller ones, would face “staggeringly high costs” under the proposal.

Among other groups objecting to the proposal were the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Home Builders.

“It is clear from the concerns raised about this proposal that addressing this problem requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated,” said OSHA administrator David Michaels. “We are sensitive to the possible costs associated with improving worker protection and have decided to suspend work on this proposed modification while we study other approaches to abating workplace noise hazards.”

Permissible noise exposure didn’t change in the proposal. OSHA standards require companies to administer a hearing conservation program whenever employee noise exposures equal or exceed an 8-hour time-weighted average sound level of 85 decibels.

Interesting timing

On the day OSHA announced it was withdrawing the noise proposal, The New York Times reported, “The president has made no secret of his desire for détente with the business community that was so alienated by the agenda of his first two years.”

In announcing his executive order requiring review of certain regulations on business, Mr. Obama said he’d prefer regulatory questions be resolved through negotiation with industry rather than confrontation.

The regulatory process requires time for industry to comment on proposed rules, particularly after they’ve been proposed. There’s no requirement that the business community be consulted before a regulation is proposed.

The president’s statement seems to point toward more collaboration between the administration and businesses before proposals are made.

Time will tell whether this really results in a change in how President Obama’s OSHA seeks regulatory changes in workplace safety.

What do you think about OSHA’s withdrawal of changes in interpretation of the noise standard? Was it a result of an overall desire by the Obama administration to work better with industry? Let us know what you think in the Comments Box below.

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  1. You can read a statement from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health on this topic here:

  2. Laura Safety says:

    Finally I have a reason to brag about Mr. Obama. This “interpetation” was (in Mr. Obama’s word, in part) “Dumb”. 29CFR1910.95 is an expensive standard. You need audiograms, training, hazard assessment, proper training for: use, wear, care, limitations, etc.) and annual updates. That was not enough for some including The National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) Misperception #4 that stated (in part) that OUTSOURCING was keeping Americans hearing safer! OUTSOURCING! Giving jobs to countries without (dumb) laws like outlawing hearing protection.

  3. MSHA has been requiring engineering controls to reduce noise levels for decades – large or small companies. What’s the big deal? It works and reduces hearing loss. That should be done in the first place. Hearing loss is an aggravation – I know… Low frequency noise is not reduced by hearing protectors – but contributes to hearing loss – that is why engineering controls are needed. OSHA is usually ahead of MSHA in proposing rules. This time they are behind…

  4. sheralroh says:

    I doubt that there is as much hearing loss from work related activities as there used to be…. especially since iPods and earbuds came along. Young people are destroying their own hearing.

  5. Jim Westmoreland says:

    I now use hearing aids because of exposure to loud noise over the past 38 years. I have been in the Rental Industry all those years as well as being an amature woodworker. I was warned many times to use hearing protection. The advise fell on deaf ears. (pun intended). I ignored the advise because I was young and indestructable and also never seemed to notice any hearing loss. What I didn’t know was that the damage I was doing today would not affect me for 15 to 20 years. I learned that when I saw the audioligist to be fitted with hearing aids. My hearing loss is my fault, no one elses. Education and enforcing work place rules are important. Taking responsibility for your own actions is even more important. Do I protect the hearing I still hve today with PPE. You Bet!

  6. Heidi Brightly says:

    Jim-very well put. The hearing you protect today will be that you will use tomorrow. Too soon old, workers fight wearing hearing protection, yet when they get off work they do plug in their ipod and blast away.


  1. […] days earlier, OSHA withdrew its proposed interpretation of the noise standard that would have forced companies to use more […]

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