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Hearing loss a significant cause of Boston work injuries as government hedges on new rules

Though hearing loss is not fatal, it remains a serious occupational hazard for workers who earn their paycheck from noise-related industries like construction, manufacturing, entertainment, transportation, mining, or military.

An average of only 15% of employees uses hearing loss protection in these high-risk occupations. This is why our Boston workers’ compensation attorneys are concerned about a recent announcement from U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is backing away from enforcing tough new rules on noise pollution in the workplace after complaints from big business.
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OSHA released a statement that they are not proceeding with the proposed “Interpretation of Provisions for Feasible Administrative or Engineering Controls of Occupational Noise” due to lack of resources and public outreach needed.

What this means is they won’t make an attempt to define what feasible administrative or engineering controls are as established by OSHA’s noise standard. Essentially they are backing off of a plan to require employers to do more than just provide ear plugs to employees endangered by excessive noise in the workplace.

“Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country,” said Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health. “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.”

Michaels emphasizes that OSHA remains dedicated to finding solutions and preventions to reduce the toll some workplace environments can take on workers’ hearing. What else is he going to say?

However, OSHA’s lack of action means either that it did not properly consult with the various industries, which it had decades to do before making the announcement, or that it is buckling under the pressure of industry complaints.

In 2008, Bureau of Labor Statistics reported over 22,000 hearing loss cases. OSHA said it will regroup and work on the issue by:

-Getting the views of employers, employees, and public health officials by holding stakeholder meetings to discuss occupational hearing loss prevention.

-Consulting with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health experts about cases and feedback they can offer for hearing loss prevention.

Gotta love those stakeholder meetings.

As part of a hearing conservation program evaluation checklist, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health offers the following questions to determine engineering and administrative controls in the workplace:

-Has there been an evaluation conducted to determine the full potential of administrative controls? For example, break or lunch rooms are sound treated for employees; noisy processes conducted during less popular shifts.

-Are projects determining noise control completed in a timely manner?

-What training has been given to employees or supervisors who operate and maintain noise control devices?

-Are workers consulted and asked opinions about plans for noise control measures?

-Has various options for cost-effectiveness been discussed?

-What priority has been associated with noise control needs?

If you have been injured on the job or have a Boston workers’ compensation claim, contact the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for assistance. Accountability is the number one priority so call toll free at 1-877-617-5333 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.