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PPE No Longer Enough? OSHA Considers the Term “Feasible”

OSHA LogoFor 27 years OSHA has not cited any company for the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in order to minimize effect of noisy environments.  This all may change with a new interpretation of the word “feasible.”

The standard states, “When employees are subjected to sound exceeding those listed [in tables within the standard], feasible administrative or engineering controls shall be utilized. If such controls fail to reduce sound levels within the levels [of the tables], personal protective equipment . . . shall be provided and used to reduce sound levels within the levels of the table.”

However, after 27 years OSHA proposes to interpret “feasible” in the standards as meaning the same thing as it does in section 6(b)(5) of the OSHA Act: “capable of being done” or “achievable.” The agency further explained that it proposes to consider administrative or engineering controls economically feasible “if they will not threaten the employer’s ability to remain in business or if the threat to viability results from the employer’s having failed to keep up with industry safety and health standards.”

Under the standard, employers must use administrative or engineering controls rather than personal protective equipment (PPE) to reduce noise exposures that are above acceptable levels when such controls are feasible.

The agency said it welcomes comments (www.regulations.gov, Docket No. OSHA-2010-0032) by Dec. 20 from interested parties on the proposed interpretation.

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