Feds Drop Plan to Change Workplace Noise Standards

January 20, 2011 - 7:04 AM

Washington (AP) - The government is scrapping plans to change workplace noise standards after business groups and lawmakers complained about the costs.

The announcement Wednesday from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration comes a day after President Barack Obama told agencies to go after rules that place an unreasonable burden on businesses.

Agency head David Michaels said excessive noise experienced by employees working around heavy machinery is a serious health concern. But he said the problem requires more public outreach than the agency expected, given the costs of better worker protection.

OSHA spokeswoman Diana Petterson said the noise standards decision was "completely unrelated" to Obama's order. The proposal did not involve issuing a new rule, but reinterpreting an existing rule.

Under current regulations, employers can offer workers ear plugs or other protection if it is more cost effective than engineering fixes like noise-dampening equipment and muffling systems. OSHA was considering a change that would have required employers to make more expensive engineering remedies unless they would put the company out of business.

The National Association of Manufacturers had vigorously opposed the change, saying it would cost businesses billions of dollars.

"Manufacturers hope this decision signals that OSHA will slow down on other costly and unwarranted rules that will crush economic growth and job creation," said Joe Trauger, NAM's vice president for human resources policy.