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June 18, 2021
OSHA begins regional emphasis program for noise

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) Region V office in Chicago recently established a regional emphasis program (REP) of targeted outreach and enforcement of the agency’s occupational noise exposure standard (29 CFR 1910.95) in Midwest manufacturing facilities. OSHA Region V includes the states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

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“Earning a living should not come at the expense of hearing loss,” OSHA Acting Regional Administrator William Donovan said in a statement, “Hearing conservation programs are designed to prevent workplace hearing loss, protect remaining hearing, and provide employers and workers with the knowledge and equipment to control and reduce exposure to noise.”

The Region V REP will involve outreach followed by enforcement and include:

  • Outreach activities such as letters to employers, training sessions with stakeholders, electronic information sharing activities, and news release broadcasts.
  • Enforcement, beginning no earlier than three months after outreach is initiated, involving the inspection and review of injury and illness records, operations and working conditions, and safety and health programs to identify and obtain corrections of workplace hazards at all applicable inspection sites.

The initial outreach phase of the REP will include agency presentations to industry organizations and stakeholders as well as informational mailings to employers and apprenticeship programs; local hospitals, occupational health clinics, and safety councils; and professional associations within the region.

Industry groups targeted in the REP include agriculture, construction, and mining machinery; household and institutional furniture; metalworking machinery; nonmetallic mineral products; paper; plastics and rubber products; primary metal products; printing; transportation equipment; and wood product manufacturing as well as other miscellaneous manufacturers.

During inspections, agency compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs) will follow a set of procedures that include:

  • Reviewing the OSHA 300 injury and illness logs for any standard threshold shifts in hearing, and any noise monitoring data collected by the employer;
  • Conducting a walk around of the facility to obtain sound level meter readings, identifying noise levels in excess of OSHA’s exposure limits (both the action level and permissible exposure limit)–if sound level meter readings are below OSHA’s exposure limits during working conditions representative of a typical work shift, the CSHO will terminate the portion of the inspection related to noise hazards; but
  • If the sound level meter readings indicate a potential for noise overexposures, the CSHOs will conduct full-shift noise monitoring, including sound level meter readings and personal noise dosimetry.

The Chicago Regional Office noted that Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) research found that over half of workers (52.3 percent) in production occupations–a group that includes computer-controlled machine tool operators, engine assemblers, forging machine setters, machinists, structural metal fabricators and fitters, and tool and die makers–did not use personal protective equipment to mitigate workplace noise exposure. The national average hearing loss rate in manufacturing is 8.6 cases per 10,000 full time workers, according to BLS data, which is much higher than the 1.4 case rate for all private-sector industry.

OSHA enforcement of the occupational noise standard has been strong elsewhere. OSHA’s Bangor, Maine area office cited a Waterville, Maine, auto body manufacturer this spring for 2 willful and 10 serious safety and health violations involving noise and fall hazards, seeking $393,992 in fines.

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