Hearing loss is a major problem for Laborers, many of whom endure slow but steady loss through their years of exposure to excessive noise on construction sites. However, OSHA’s standard, adopted in 1971, requires constant testing and, at best, only requires protection too late, after excessive noise is documented.
Through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the OSH Division proposed a new approach – no testing but, instead, the identification of situations, tools, tasks and work areas that, based on their typical noise levels, require efforts to minimize exposure. This proposal would then require administrative or engineering controls to restrict exposure or, if not feasible, the distribution and use of personal protective equipment.
Though ANSI standards are voluntary, because they result from a very broad consensus-building process, they tend to carry weight with employers. Sometimes, they are formally incorporated in federal or state law, and they are often cited to establish “accepted practice” in legal actions. However, because consensus is required, the adoption of an ANSI standard requires persistence and patience.
The OSH Division pursued the hearing loss standard through work in the ANSI A10.46 committee. After a year of drafting and refining the standard, it was passed by the necessary two-thirds majority in December, 2005. However, one dissenter exercised its right of appeal. Resolution of the appeal required a series of further discussions and negotiations involving the dissenter, the A10 committee members and other industry stakeholders. Those discussions required another year of negotiation and compromise. A modified standard was accepted in December, 2006 and again presented to the full committee. When no objections to the compromise were filed by the January 18 deadline, the modified standard was submitted to ANSI for final, formal adoption. Sometime this spring, it will be published and printed.
The whole process should be complete in May and construction, for the first time ever, will have a standard to prevent hearing loss.
In addition to the work on the ANSI noise standard, the Division continued efforts to advance a voluntary ANSI standard to reduce musculoskeletal problems in construction. That, too, will hopefully come to fruition in 2007.
The Division also submitted comments on a variety of other regulatory matters, including EPA regulations regarding chat (the gravel that is mixed into concrete and asphalt in road paving), lead abatement and asbestos removal and a New York City regulation that requires quieter equipment on city construction sites.