OSHA Delays Recordkeeping Rule Will Affect Occupational Audiologists and Workers Exposed to Noise Policy Analysis
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Policy Analysis  |   November 01, 2001
OSHA Delays Recordkeeping Rule
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Regulatory, Legislative & Advocacy / Policy Analysis
Policy Analysis   |   November 01, 2001
OSHA Delays Recordkeeping Rule
The ASHA Leader, November 2001, Vol. 6, 3-21. doi:10.1044/leader.PA2.06202001.3
The ASHA Leader, November 2001, Vol. 6, 3-21. doi:10.1044/leader.PA2.06202001.3
Occupational audiologists and workers were dealt a setback when OSHA announced in the Oct. 12 Federal Register that the effective date of several sections of the final rule on Occupational Injury and Illness Recording and Reporting Requirements will be delayed until Jan. 1, 2003. Until then, interim criteria for recording of work-related hearing loss will be established.
Earlier this year, occupational audiologists heralded the long-awaited revised recordkeeping rule (Jan. 19 Federal Register) incorporating the strict recordability criteria—10dB STS—recommended by the ASHA-led Coalition to Preserve OSHA and NIOSH and Protect Workers’ Hearing. Because of its late issuance, it became subject to a regulatory review quickly issued by the Bush administration. (January 24, Federal Register).
OSHA Backs Off
As a result of this process, the agency identified grounds for reconsidering two elements of the final rule, namely the recording of occupational hearing loss cases and the definition of a musculoskeletal disorder. On July 3, OSHA announced a proposed delay of the effective date of these two requirements. Industry trade groups were also persuasive in their arguments to OSHA that a standard threshold shift (STS) is not a serious health problem and is not reliable under real-world testing conditions. (An STS is defined by the occupational noise standard as a 10dB shift in hearing averaged across 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hz in one or both ears compared to the employee’s baseline audiogram.)
Coalition Opposes Delay
In response to the proposed rule, the coalition submitted comments to OSHA strongly opposing the proposed one-year delay (for a copy of the coalition’s testimony, visit ASHA’s Web site and search for OSHA). The coalition argued that an age-corrected STS represents a significant amount of cumulative hearing change that is consequential enough to affect communication competence, safety, and job productivity in the workplace. An STS is comparable to other permanent injuries that are recorded on the OSHA Form 300 (e.g., an amputated finger) and, therefore, the coalition believes that if such an injury is recorded, then it is reasonable to request that a permanent STS be recorded as well.
OSHA also announced that a new paragraph (c) will be added to Section 1904.10, which codifies the enforcement policy in effect since 1991, under which employers must record work-related shifts in hearing of an average of 25dB or more at 2000, 3000, and 4000 Hz in either ear. OSHA will continue allowing employers to correct an employee’s audiogram for presbycusis using the age-correction tables in the occupational noise standard. In addition, work relatedness will be presumed if the employee was exposed to noise at or above an eight-hour, time-weighted average of 85 decibels.
In its October announcement, OSHA indicated that it was not persuaded by arguments from the coalition that recording a 10dB STS on OSHA Form 300 affords the opportunity for early intervention and action on the part of the employer as already required in the Occupational Noise Exposure Standard (29 CFR 1910.25). OSHA stated that Congress intended the recordkeeping system to capture non-minor injuries and illnesses, and they are reconsidering the finding that a 10dB shift in hearing acuity represents such a health condition. Unfortunately, OSHA believes that there is sufficient question concerning the appropriateness of 10dB as a recording threshold to justify a limited delay in implementing Section 1904.10 (a) and (b).
The one-year delay, OSHA states, will not negatively affect employers and workers because the occupational noise standard requires that employees in general industry be tested for hearing loss when noise exposure exceeds an eight-hour, time-weighted average of 85dB. The standard also requires that employees be informed in writing if a 10dB STS has occurred, and specifies the protective measures to be taken to prevent further hearing loss for employees who have experienced a 10dB shift. When OSHA issues a final determination for the recording of occupational hearing loss for calendar years 2003 and beyond, the states will be required to have identical criteria.
The coalition will continue to advocate for its position on this issue by meeting with OSHA officials. For more information, contact Maureen Thompson through the Action Center at 800-498-2071, ext. 4431, or by email at mthompson@asha.org.
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November 2001
Volume 6, Issue 20