Unions, Companies Clash Over Proposed OSHA Hearing Loss Rule

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By Bruce Rolfsen

Union and industry representatives are raising their voices over OSHA’s proposal to revise its rule for whether an employee’s hearing loss should be considered job-related.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration and labor-related organizations called the possible change a “clarification” of existing requirements.

“The proposed change will clarify that hearing loss must be recorded if work has contributed to it in any way, even if work is not the predominant or substantial contributor,” the Laborers’ Health & Safety Fund of North America told OSHA.

Employer representatives said the change would lead to companies recording in their injury and illness logs hearing losses that weren’t job-related.

“This proposed revision is more than a clarification, it is a substantive revision to the record-keeping provisions for occupational hearing loss,” the Construction Industry Safety Coalition advised OSHA.

The proposed revision is one of 18 potential rule updates OSHA calls Standard Improvements Project-Phase IV (RIN:1218-AC67). OSHA is deciding which of the possible revisions will be included in a draft rule (81 Fed. Reg. 68,504). The comment period closed Jan. 4.

The agency believes many on-the-job cases aren’t recorded in OSHA-mandated injury and illness case logs. Based on information from logs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that there were 195,000 workplace hearing loss cases in 2015.

Is or Isn’t?

According to OSHA rules for listing hearing loss cases in company injury and illness logs, if a health-care professional determines that the hearing loss isn’t work-related or hasn’t been “significantly aggravated” by on-the-job noise, then an employer isn’t required to record the case on the company’s OSHA 300 log (29 C.F.R. 1904.10(b)(6)).

Another section of the record-keeping rule discussing injuries and illness in general, however, says an employer “must consider an injury or illness to be work-related” if an on-the-job event or exposure either contributed to the condition or significantly aggravated a pre-existing injury or illness (29 C.F.R. 1904.5).

The change that OSHA is proposing would add a cross-reference to the hearing loss provision (29 C.F.R. 1904.10(b)(6)) clarifying that the mandate in the general requirements (29 C.F.R. 1904.5) should be adhered to when deciding whether to list a hearing loss.

In its explanation of the potential revision, OSHA said the change would be consistent with record-keeping guidance the agency issued in 2012. The guidance said “any contribution from work” makes a hearing loss work related (CPL 02-00-135).

A group of employer organizations, the Coalition for Workplace Safety, disagreed with OSHA’s assertion that there isn’t a difference between the hearing loss and general record-keeping requirements.

The coalition said in a letter to the agency that when the hearing loss record-keeping rule was issued in 2002, OSHA noted that “it is not appropriate to include a presumption of work-relatedness for hearing loss cases to employees who are working in noisy work environments.”

The coalition called for OSHA to strike the hearing loss proposal from the rulemaking. If the agency wants to continue pursuing the change, then the revision should be a stand-alone rulemaking, the letter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington, D.C., at BRolfsen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The rule proposal and comments are available at http://www.regulations.gov by referencing Docket No. OSHA-2012-0007.

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