OSHA is proposing a new interpretation of the term "feasible administrative or engineering controls" as used in the general industry and construction occupational noise exposure standards and plans to amend its current enforcement policy to reflect the interpretation.

Under the noise standard, employers must use administrative or engineering controls rather than personal protective equipment to reduce noise exposures that are above acceptable levels when such controls are feasible.

The proposal clarifies that "feasible" has its ordinary meaning of "capable of being done" or "achievable." Administrative or engineering controls will be considered economically feasible if they will not threaten the employer's ability to remain in business or if the threat to viability results from the employer's failure to keep up with industry safety and health standards.

Under current enforcement policy, OSHA issues citations for failure to use administrative or engineering controls only when hearing protectors are ineffective or the cost of such controls are less than the cost of an effective hearing conservation program.

OSHA says this policy is contrary to the plain meaning of the standard and thwarts the safety and health purposes of the OSH Act by rarely requiring administrative and engineering controls, even though these controls are affordable and generally more effective than hearing protectors in controlling noise.

Every year, approximately 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise that is ignored because the harmful effects of overexposure are typically not visible and develop over an extended period of time. Workers exposed to high noise levels can develop elevated blood pressure, ringing in the ears, or permanent hearing loss.

OSHA is seeking comments on the interpretation through Dec. 20, 2010. For details: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2010/2010-26135.htm