2010 was tough year for workers in noise in both the U.S. and Canada. First the EPA tried to address problems with the labeling of hearing protectors. What problems? Well, currently the label on a hearing protector tells workers of the potential hearing protection that could be obtained from a protector. The problem is that few achieve this level outside of the laboratory. The problem is so acute that OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) insists companies de-rate hearing protection (by a lot) when calculating how much protection they need to give a worker. This de-rating lowers the protection value of a hearing protector with a lab rating of 30 to 11.5. – over 60%.
So the EPA asked the ANSI working group on hearing protection for a better way to rate hearing protection while still measuring the “potential” of the protector. The new rule will provide 2 numbers for rating hearing protection. The lower of these 2 numbers will be higher than the number used today (meaning further away from what happens in the real world – back to the drawing board).
OSHA announced yesterday that it is withdrawing its proposed noise interpretation that originally appeared in the Federal Register on October 19, 2010. OSHA had planned to insist companies with noise levels above 90 dB, engineer out the noise because hearing conservation programs are not working. They point to the fact that since 2004, 125,000 workers have had permanent damage to their hearing. OSHA, after meeting with Senators Leiberman and Snowe, of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship Sens. Snowe and Lieberman are also co-chairs of the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing. Canadian regulations tend to follow the U.S. as these economies are closely linked.
So hearing protection labels are more misleading and no one will have to reduce the noise their factories make. It was a tough year for workers in noise. Better toughen up your ears.