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OSHA Withdraws Proposed Interpretation on Occupational Noise, Will Examine Other Approaches

Feb. 17, 2011
Agency maintains it is committed to reducing the incidence of work-related hearing loss

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) withdrew a proposed standard titled “Interpretation of OSHA’s Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise,” which would have clarified the term “feasible administrative or engineering controls,” originally published in the Federal Register in October 2010. The proposal had stirred widespread opposition from industrial groups, including metalcasters.

Asst. Secretary of Labor for OSHA Dr. David Michaels met with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT), members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship in response to their letter on behalf of manufacturers and their associations, and in response to an executive order advising federal agencies to be mindful of the impact of regulations on economic growth.

Michaels indicated that OSHA is still committed to its goal of reducing the incidence of work-related hearing loss, but that they were suspending work on the policy modification to study other approaches.

“Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country,” stated Michaels. “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.”

Annually, thousands of workers suffer from preventable hearing loss due to high workplace noise levels. Since 2004, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss. In 2008, the BLS reported more than 22,000 hearing loss cases.

OSHA committed to conducting a thorough review of the comments and additional information on the issue. The agency stated it will hold stakeholder meetings on preventing occupational hearing loss to elicit the views of employers, workers, and noise control and public health professionals. In addition to consulting experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Academy of Engineering, OSHA will initiate a “robust outreach and compliance assistance effort” to provide enhanced technical information and guidance on many inexpensive, effective engineering controls for dangerous noise levels.

OSHA offers a free and confidential on-site consultation program for advice on health and safety solutions for small businesses, giving high priority to high-hazard worksites. Consultants are employed by state agencies or universities and work with employers to identify workplace hazards, provide advice on compliance with OSHA standards, and assist in establishing safety and health management systems. This program is offered in every state and is independent from OSHA’s enforcement efforts.

The National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) issued a response, continuing its support of OSHA’s efforts to comply with the congressional mandate — to ensure safe and healthy working conditions for employees through the provision and enforcement of effective safety standards. “While disappointed by the recent events, we are encouraged by Dr. Michaels’ confirmation that OSHA is not abandoning the cause of abating this pervasive workplace hazard. It is our hope that OSHA will continue to address the concerns surrounding noise control, and to emphasize the critical role it plays in preventing occupational noise-induced hearing loss.”

Iron Foundry Completes Full Year Without OSHA Incident
Central Castings Corp. in Anniston, AL, recorded no OSHA recordable or lost-time incidents during the 2010 calendar year — “zero for both categories,” according to the foundry’s statement.

The malleable iron foundry is an operating subsidiary of TYCO Fire Suppression and Building Products. It emphasized that as of December 31, 2010, the company had completed 368 consecutive working days since its last OSHA recordable incident. It added that the plant exceeded 1,684 consecutive working days and over 2,072,469 hours without a lost-time accident.

“The Anniston team is very proud of this achievement,” according to the plant’s director of operations Robert Smith. “We feel it demonstrates TYCO’s and this team’s commitment to a safe workplace.

“Our team’s collective focus over the past several years has been to make a safe work environment a core value of the plant’s culture, rather than a program,” Smith continued. “While we celebrate the good performance, we are not driving numbers, but rather we believe a safe work environment is not a priority but a precondition. There are numerous benefits of this employee-driven culture. Just one example is that there are no active workman’s compensation cases for this plant. The last open case was closed over six months ago.”

Aluminum Caster Faces $220,000 in Proposed OSHA Fines
OSHA cited Syracuse, NY-based Oberdorfer LLC for 28 alleged violations of workplace health and safety standards, including failing to correct hazards cited during a previous inspection.

Oberdorfer has been in continuous operation since it was established in 1875. The foundry produces highly engineered cast aluminum components for aviation, transportation, utilities, aerospace, military, high-performance automotive, and medical markets. It uses various molding methods to produce castings, including Isocure (cold box), shell core (the Rock Shell process), and no-bake processes.

OSHA has proposed a total of $220,000 in fines following an inspection conducted last July. In an earlier inspection the agency cited the foundry for employee overexposure to airborne concentrations of silica. The July 2010 inspection found that Oberdorfer had failed to implement engineering controls to reduce workers’ exposure to silica and that those employees who were exposed lacked respirator devices.

OSHA maintains that breathing in crystalline silica dust can lead to silicosis, which causes trouble breathing due to the swelling from the silica dust in the lungs and chest lymph nodes. Over time, it may advance to causing progressive massive fibrosis, or severe scarring of lung structures.

As a result of the latest inspection, OSHA issued two failure-to-abate notices, carrying $75,000 in fines for uncorrected conditions, and one willful citation totaling $70,000 due to the lack of a respirator. Oberdorfer was also issued 21 serious citations with $72,000 in fines for a series of fall, electrical, and machine guarding hazards. An additional $3,000 fine was added for inadequate recording of workplace injuries and illnesses.

Oberdorfer LLC was allowed 15 business days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, meet with the OSHA area director, or contest the findings before the independent OSHA commission.

MANCOMM’S OSHA General Industry Regulations Book is designed with readers in mind, using RegLogic, a graphical approach that eases reading of government regulations. The book’s Quick-Find Index helps readers quickly and easily access needed information. Included in this volume are the 1903 regulations about inspections, citations, and proposed penalties; the 1904 regulations about recording and reporting occupational injuries and illnesses; the 1928 regulations for agriculture; and the 1910 regulations applying to all general industry operations. Also included are MANCOMM’s Sharps Injury Log (an improved version of the OSHA 300 Log), incident report forms, and selected OSHA letters of interpretation, locations, and phone numbers.

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