The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has announced (pdf) that it intends to hold a public meeting to solicit input on preventing occupational hearing loss. Last October, OSHA issued a proposed reinterpretation of the phrase “feasible administrative or engineering controls” as it is used in the agency’s General Industry and Construction Occupational Noise Exposure standards. The standards require employers to use administrative or engineering controls instead of personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise exposure that is above the acceptable level when such controls are feasible. The proposed interpretation would have clarified that feasibility in this instance means “capable of being done” or “achievable.” Amid an outcry from many in the business community, the agency withdrew this proposed change in January 2011.

In announcing the withdrawal, OSHA’s Assistant Secretary of Labor David Michaels said:

Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country. . . . 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.

To that end, the agency considers the upcoming stakeholder meeting – scheduled for November 3, 2011 – to fulfill part of its commitment to work with members of the public in developing approaches to curb occupational hearing loss. According to the notice to be published in the October 6 edition of the Federal Register, the purpose of the meeting is to “provide a forum and gather information on the best practices for noise reduction in the workplace, including a discussion on personal protective equipment, hearing conservation programs and engineering controls.” Specific topics that will be addressed include:

  • What are the best practices regarding hearing conservation programs?
  • What are the best practices for, as well as concerns with, using personal protective equipment for noise control?
  • What are the best practices for using feasible engineering controls?
  • What are examples of companies that have effective noise control programs and what are the key elements of their programs?

Those interested in attending the forum, which will run from 9:00 a.m. through 1:00 p.m. EST in the Francis Perkins Building, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-4437 A/B/C/D, at 200 Constitution Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20210, must register by October 27, 2011. Beginning October 6, registration may be made electronically, by phone: (781) 674-7374, or via facsimile: (781) 674-2906. Faxes should contain the subject line: “Attention: OSHA Preventing Occupational Hearing Loss: Stakeholder Meeting.” Registrants must provide the following information: 1) Name, address, phone, fax, and e-mail address; 2) Employer; and, 3) Organization represented (if different than employer). Participation is limited to 30 stakeholders, and individual presentations will not be permitted.