OSHA Re-interpreting the Word “Feasible” for Noise Exposure

OSHA is proposing changes to its interpretation of the word "feasible" as relates to the use of administrative or engineering controls to reduce hazardous workplace noise.

Hazardous workplace noise is a silent threat (pun intended) that 30 million workers are exposed to each year, with the long-term effects of such exposure often not felt until years later.

As written, OSHA's noise standards require companies to use administrative or engineering controls to reduce hazardous noise when feasible and to supplement employee protection with PPE's when necessary.

For some time, however, OSHA has issued citations for failure to use administrative controls only when hearing protectors were ineffective or the costs of such controls were less than the cost of an effective hearing conservation program.

As a result, OSHA says its policy rarely required administrative and engineering controls even though such controls are “affordable and generally more effective than hearing protectors in reducing noise exposure.”

Going forward, OSHA proposes "feasible" to mean capable of being done - a definition recognized by the Supreme Court.

In other words, OSHA now proposes that if the cost of implementing administrative or engineering controls to reduce hazardous noise will not threaten the employer's ability to remain in business, or if that business’s viability is threatened as a result of the employer's failure to meet industry safety and health standards, then administrative and engineering controls are feasible.

In such a case, administrative or engineering controls must be used and PPE’s must be used only as supplements “when administrative or engineering controls are not completely effective.”

OSHA is seeking comments on its new interpretation before a December 20, 1010 deadline. You can read the full proposal entitled “Interpretation of OSHA's Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise” on the Federal Register and  submit comments at http://www.regulations.gov.