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OSHA drops workplace noise plan, cites employer costs


WASHINGTON—The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational and Safety Health Administration said Wednesday that it is withdrawing its proposed change to workplace noise standards.

OSHA withdrew its workplace noise standard proposal that would have toughened employers’ requirements to protect workers’ hearing in loud workplaces by clarifying the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls” within its rule.

David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, said in a Wednesday statement that while hearing loss is a serious occupational health problem in the United States, more work needs to be done to determine how employers can address the problem without incurring excessive costs.

OSHA’s move came just one day after President Barack Obama asked federal agencies to review pending regulations that could unduly restrict business and job growth.

OSHA’s workplace noise abatement proposal, announced in the Dec. 14 Federal Register, drew the ire of industry groups that included the National Assn. of Manufacturers.

In a notice to manufacturers following OSHA’s proposal, NAM said it would require employers to “make sweeping changes to their workplaces,” including developing new workplace practices, procedures and work schedules; installing new equipment to contain sound; and retrofitting machines and production systems with noise-dampening controls.

“These changes would be required even if effective mechanisms are already in place to protect employees from loud noises,” NAM said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this proposal will force manufacturers to divert additional resources away from job creation, investment and expansion.”

“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,” OSHA’s Mr. Michaels said in a statement announcing withdrawal of the proposal.

“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,” Mr. Michaels said.