Lots of Noise Around OSHA’s Reinterpretation of Noise Standards

Employers are becoming increasingly disturbed by the potential costs of complying with regulations coming from federal agencies in Washington, D.C. One recent item has been keeping employers awake at night is OSHA’s plan to re-interpret what’s required to protect employees from harmful levels of noise. OSHA’s proposal would not improve workplace safety but would place a huge new cost burden on employers.

The agency purports it wants to tweak an existing noise abatement standard, but in the process OSHA would reverse almost three decades of OSHA regulatory policy – a policy that’s worked quite effectively. Put simply the proposal would reinterpret the word “feasible” to mean “anything capable of being done” in the form of certain noise control efforts. The consequences are so dramatic, so costly, that the full federal rule-making process should be required. Instead OSHA is downplaying its significant by calling the proposal a “reinterpretation,” so will acknowledge cost concerns ONLY if the new requirements might put a company out of business. Is the threshold of closing down businesses going to be the new determining factor for federal regulations? We hope not.

OSHA has given the public a mere 60 days to comments on one of the most expansive proposals that the agency has crafted during this Administration, an unreasonably short period given the sweeping changes that are being sought. That’s why the National Association of Manufacturers and numerous other groups are requesting an extension to the comment deadline. Our request is available here, and the request from the Coalition for Workplace Safety is available here.

A few groups have already analyzed the impact of OSHA’s proposal. One such group, the Alaska Fire Service, highlighted some of the many flaws in a comment filed on the regulatory docket:

Interpreting “feasible” as only “capable of being done” would be an inappropropriate determining factor in enforcing aregulatory safety standard, especially this one. In our business of wildland firefighting using the above interpretation: it would be “feasible” to only fly our fire crews mid-way to a fire 200 miles away in a helicopter and then, to implement our administrative controls, land half way there & force them to hike the remaining 100 miles in the Alaska bush. Is it capable of being done? Absolutely. At the cost of potentially drowing in rivers, being attacked by bears & wolves, increasing the likelihood of slips/trips/falls, and taking an additional 8 days to reach the fire which has now grown by 5000%. Of course, 8 days would be over halfway of their maximium  14 day tour so once they arrived they have to turn around and start hiking back to base. Is this any way to implement a hearing standard?

To the Fire Service’s question we would respond a resounding “no.” Just because it may be “feasible” doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be done.

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