Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Ranking Member Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-Conn.) sent a letter to Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis expressing concern about the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) proposed changes regarding workplace noise exposure.  Senators Snowe and Lieberman, Co-Chairs of the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing, noted that OSHA decided to publish the change as a “proposed interpretation,” rather than submitting the proposal for a notice and comment rulemaking, which allowed the agency to circumvent critical input small business stakeholders.

“I have significant concerns about the process OSHA used to develop this proposed interpretation, which could have costly consequences for America’s small manufacturers,” said Senator Snowe.  “Specifically, this change would add to the staggering regulatory burden facing small businesses, without offering any noticeable improvement to the hearing loss injury rate, which has already been on the decline in recent years.  Additionally, it is unfortunate that OSHA did not utilize a notice and comment rulemaking to propose this shift in policy, which would have afforded the small business community an opportunity to thoroughly convey its concerns through a small business advocacy review panel.”

Currently, businesses may provide employees with “personal protective equipment” – such as ear plugs and ear muffs that are fitted to the individual employees – if those items are more cost-effective than far broader “administrative or engineering controls,” to protect employees from elevated noise levels.  A proposed new interpretation by OSHA would require employers to utilize more significant control measures – such as installing expensive new equipment or reducing the amount of time employees can work in an area with high noise – unless the company can demonstrate that these changes would force them out of business. 

A copy of the letter may be accessed by clicking on the link below.