OSHA Has a Big Week: Withdraws Occupational Noise Interpretation, Targets Diacetyl, and Fines Grain Elevator Operators

It’s been a busy week for OSHA, with the agency changing course on its occupational noise interpretation, revising its National Emphasis Program on Diacetyl and Diacetyl substitutes, and taking a strong stand in the deaths of three grain workers.

Interpretation on Occupational Noise

First, on January 19, OSHA announced that it was withdrawing proposed interpretation on occupational noise. The interpretation, entitled “Interpretation of OSHA's Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise,” was intended to provide clarity to the OSHA Noise Standard, in particular the phrase “feasible administrative or engineering controls.”

As currently written and understood, OSHA is concerned there is too much ambiguity in the phrase which can lead to insufficient protection for employees from excessive noise levels. Citing the need for more public outreach and greater resources to address the issue, as well as concerns about the costs for greater protection, OSHA has decided to spend more time studying the issue.

According to the press release, going forward, OSHA plans to:

  • Conduct a thorough review of comments that have been submitted in response to the Federal Register notice and of any other information it receives on this issue.
  • Hold a stakeholder meeting on preventing occupational hearing loss to elicit the views of employers, workers, and noise control and public health professionals.
  • Consult with experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the National Academy of Engineering.
  • Initiate a robust outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide enhanced technical information and guidance on the many inexpensive, effective engineering controls for dangerous noise levels.

National Emphasis Program Re-Focused on Diacetyl

On January 24, OSHA announced that had revised its NEP on Microwave Popcorn Processing Plants in order to “minimize or eliminate worker exposure to hazards associated with microwave popcorn manufacturing.”

OSHA is primarily concerned with the use of the chemical diacetyl, and diacetyl substitutes like 2,3-pentanedione, diacetyl trimer and acetoin, which it says is used to “add flavor and aroma to food.” These chemicals have been linked to high rates of worker death and lung disease in the microwave popcorn industry.

For more information on the hazards and health effects of diacetyl and diacetyl substitutes check out OSHA’s Web page Lung Disease Related To Butter Flavorings Exposure. Also of related interest is OSHA’s standard on Respiratory Protection.

Grain Elevator Operators Fined In Death’s of Three Workers

Finally, on January 24, OSHA also announced it had fined two Illinois grain operators nearly $1.4 million for the deaths of three workers, including two teens, who suffocated after being “engulfed by grain.” The fines were for willful safety and child labor violations.

About the incidents, Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis said, "The tragic deaths of three people could have been prevented had the grain bin owners and operators followed the occupational safety standards and child labor laws. It is unconscionable to allow a minor to work in any high-hazard area.”

OSHA’s announcement cited a Purdue University study which found the 25 deaths by grain entrapments in the year 2010 was the largest number of such related deaths since 1978.

The OSHA press release also contained a fact sheet about the two cases.

If this week is any indication, OSHA will continue to be an agency to watch closely in the coming months.

-The MSDSonline Team-