With little fanfare, OSHA last month said it’s considering what employer groups are calling a “radical change” to employer obligations regarding workers’ exposure to occupational noise.
“The announcement may have been quiet, but the impacts could be loud,” says a report by the Nixon Peabody law firm. “If adopted in their current form, the new obligations will be substantial and the potential cost to employers is likely to be immense.”
Since 1983, OSHA has let employers use a mix of “feasible administrative or engineering controls” and personal protective equipment (PPEs), such as ear plugs, to protect employees from excessive noise. If PPEs were effective, OSHA didn’t require the more costly controls.
The new regulations require employers to evaluate work locations with noise levels above 90 dB to determine if engineering or administrative controls are “capable of being done” before turning to PPEs to protect employees’ ears. (Note: A typical kitchen blender runs in the 88 dB range.)
Business groups argue this could mean employers would have to make expensive changes to quiet their workstations and equipment even if employees are already protected from loud noises with personal ear plugs.
These changes must be done regardless of their costs unless an employer can prove that making such changes would threaten its ability to remain in business.