OSHA Withdraws Unworkable Occupational Noise Plan

By January 19, 2011Regulations

From the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “US Department of Labor’s OSHA withdraws
proposed interpretation on occupational noise

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration today announced that it is withdrawing its proposed interpretation titled “Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise.” The interpretation would have clarified the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as used in OSHA’s noise standard. The proposed interpretation was published in the Federal Register on Oct. 19, 2010.

“Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “However, 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. 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.”

This is the right outcome, and OSHA is to be commended for reaching it. The National Association of Manufacturers had worked diligently on the issue, raising serious objections based on the proposal’s unworkability. (A formal statement from the NAM is coming.)

[UPDATE, 11:05 a.m.: The Wall Street Journal reports, “Workplace-Noise Rule Gets Shelved,” citing the NAM: “Clearly the message has been heard by OSHA,” said Joe Trauger, NAM vice president of human-resources policy.”]

For more, see the NAM’s backgrounder on the OSHA noise proposal. The NAM’s ManuFact summarized the most serious objections, noting that the NAM successfully sought an extension in OSHA’s deliberations. Earlier blog posts:

The announcement is a pretty good way to reinforce President Obama’s new emphasis on reasonable regulation. Of course, this proposal’s excess was so obvious and simply to explain — even if ear plugs and individual noise-reducing earmuffs worked effectively, businesses would still have to redesign their operations — it was an easy one to back away from.

OSHA’s administrator, David Michaels, spoke Tuesday at Public Citizen, one of the leading advocacy groups for the expanded regulatory state. Judging by Public Citizen’s reporting (Tweeting) on the event, Michaels did not give the group a head’s up about the pending withdrawal. Boy, they must feel burned, especially as it came in the wake of President Obama’s executive order on regulations.

Interesting, too, that Reina Steinzor of the all-regulations, all-the-time Center for Progressive Reform decried the President’s regulatory announcement with this observation: “[The] President’s newly stated position diminishes EPA’s Lisa Jackson, FDA’s Margaret Hamburg, and OSHA’s David Michaels, siding instead with his regulatory czar, Cass Sunstein, who has steadily pushed to issue an executive order that throws a net over his colleagues rather than helping them do their jobs.”

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