Seyfarth Synopsis: OSHA Region V has recently adopted an Instruction to establish a Regional Emphasis Program (REP) for conducting inspections of select manufacturing industries with hearing loss rates higher than the national average. OSHA has a programed list that instructs Compliance Safety and Health Officers (CSHOs) to conduct walk-around inspections and do individual dosimetry if any noise hits at least 85 decibels. Not mentioned in the REP is an employer’s right to conduct companion dosimetry at a mutually convenient time.

Recent data from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), has indicated that noise continually presents an occupational hazard. In 2019, “about 25% of all workers had been exposed to hazardous noise, with 34% of noise-exposed workers reporting not wearing hearing protection, while approximately 12% of all workers have hearing difficulty.”

As such, OSHA has issued a new REP that will cover establishments in 50 heavy industries, designated by North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code. The REP provides programmed inspection lists, which will result in programmed inspections of employers whose establishments are randomly selected from a list of workplaces in these industries. During the Noise REP inspections, compliance officers will walk the production areas with a sound level meter. Any observations above the action level of 85 decibels will result in “full shift noise monitoring,” including personal noise dosimetry, to ascertain the extent of any noise hazards. Employers have a right to conduct companion dosimetry at a mutually convenient time, to the extent it believes OSHA may not be obtaining accurate information in its monitoring.

The REP is intended to encourage employers to take steps to identify, reduce, and eliminate hazards associated with exposure to high levels of noise. OSHA intends to use both outreach activities such as letters to employers, training sessions with stakeholders, electronic information sharing activities, and news release broadcasts. OSHA will also engage in enforcement activities that will include the inspection and review of operations and working conditions, injury and illness records, and safety and health programs to identify and obtain corrections of workplace hazards at all applicable inspection sites.

Accordingly, employers must take proactive steps now to minimize liability due to increased enforcement in this area.