The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced today it is withdrawing its proposed interpretations regarding noise and sound control in the workplace. The agency cited the need for more resources as well as pressure from Congressional leaders as the reason for withdrawing the interpretation.

The interpretation, published in the Federal Register on Oct. 19, sought to clarify the terms "feasible administrative or engineering controls" as used in the agency's noise standard.

The agency will now review comments submitted in response to the interpretation and will meet with employers, workers, and public health officials to gather more opinions. OSHA also plans to consult with experts from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Academy of Engineering. After that, the agency said it will initiate a robust outreach and compliance assistance effort to provide enhanced technical information and guidance on the many inexpensive, effective engineering controls for dangerous noise levels."

Over the past few weeks, Dr. David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for occupational safety and health, has also met with staffers to Sens.. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., in response to a letter from the senators. Both senators are members of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship and are co-chairs of the Senate Task Force on Manufacturing.

"Hearing loss caused by excessive noise levels remains a serious occupational health problem in this country." said Michaels. "However, it is clear from the concerns raised about this proposal that addressing this problem requires much more public outreach and many more resources than we had originally anticipated."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) nearly 125,000 workers have reported suffering significant, permanent hearing loss since 2004. In 2008 alone, BLS reported more than 22,000 hearing loss cases.

OSHA offers an On-site Consultation Program for small businesses, which includes free and confidential advice and instruction on health and safety solutions with priority given to high-hazard worksites. Through this program, small- and medium-sized employers can obtain free advice on addressing noise hazards. On-site consultation services exist in every state, and they are independent from OSHA's enforcement efforts.