Noise Control: How to Plan for OSHA’s New Interpretation

Designing to achieve the desired reduction in noise without excessive capital cost and negative operational impact is often a delicate balance.

    * By Mike Taubitz
    * Jan 01, 2011

OSHA is making noise about noise and industrial employers need to be thinking about how they might retrofit plants as a result.

Industry has had nearly three decades of relative peace and quiet with its noise control programs. Since 1983, OSHA has typically not cited employers who deployed personal protective equipment and a hearing conservation program to address noise, rather than using engineering and administrative controls. The exceptions were for noise so loud that it borders on 100 dBA when the most effective hearing protection is used or in cases where the controls cost less than an effective hearing conservation program. In practice, controls are usually more expensive, so citations for failure to use them have been rare. However, that could change.

Employers in construction and general industry are likely to have a new category of expenses — and potential OSHA citations — to worry about if the agency’s “proposed interpretation” on noise regulations goes into effect.

That’s because OSHA now proposes to interpret 29 CFR 1910.95(b)(1) and 1926.52(b) as written.

These sections of the two noise standards are almost identical. They say, “When employees are subjected to sound exceeding those listed [in tables within the standard], feasible administrative or engineering controls shall be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels within the levels of the tables, personal protective equipment . . . shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels within the levels of the table.”

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